Planning a Caribbean getaway this winter?
Then don’t read this.
Today ScienceThrillers welcomes medical thriller author (and physician) Leonard Goldberg to announce the release of his new novel PLAGUE SHIP. He has titled his post “A Doctor’s Nightmare.” I think we readers would agree it’s a passenger’s nightmare too. Find out how Goldberg spins his killer virus tale on a cruise.
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A Doctor’s Nightmare: A guest post by Leonard Goldberg
Being a physician on a plague ship has to be a doctor’s worst nightmare. Just imagine being the only physician aboard who is trained to care for the acutely ill. Of course, there are other passengers who are doctors on the ship – a radiologist, an anesthesiologist, and a retired partially paralyzed surgeon – but they have little experience treating terribly ill patients. And the ship’s doctor is recently retired from the military where he did mostly administrative work. So you are the only physician capable of looking after hundreds of critically ill passengers, all suffering from a horrific disease brought on by a lethal virus. The virus is highly transmissible, resistant to all drugs, and deadly with a kill rate approaching 100%. For fear of spreading the virus to large populations ashore and starting a pandemic, the ship is placed under a strict Federal quarantine and is not allowed to make port anywhere. In essence then, you are the lone physician on a ship of death, a modern plague ship. But wait a minute! You think that’s not possible in this day and age, eh? Well, you’d better think again because this really can happen, given the right set of circumstances. Let me show you how.
First, envision yourself on a luxury liner, along with your young daughter and girlfriend. It’s a liner modeled after the Titanic, with all the lavish appointments one could hope for. Three days out on the cruise, a sick, weakened goose separates from his flock crossing the ocean to America and crashes on the deck of the luxury liner, Grand Atlantic. The goose, infected with the bird flu virus, is found by a well-intentioned boy and is taken below deck to a warm area where the generators are located. As he cares for the bird, it coughs up a spray of virus-laden droplets that splash onto the boy’s face and lips. Heavy doses of the infectious droplets fill the air and float into the ship’s ventilation system. And while the usual avian flu virus is transmitted only to poultry workers who are repeatedly exposed to the infected birds, the virus aboard the Grand Atlantic has mutated into a form that is highly transmissible from one human to another. This mutation is not some science fiction creation. Recent researchers from the Netherlands and from the University of Wisconsin have shown that minor changes in the surface coat of the virus can convert it into a highly transmissible form. Such a change could easily be brought about by a single, naturally occurring mutation.
So now the doctor is faced with a highly transmissible, deadly virus that is spreading like wildfire and for which there is no remedy. It is resistant to all known anti-viral agents. The only help you have is your girlfriend who is a Medevac, ER nurse. But even with her assistance, the task is overwhelming. Not only are you overwhelmed by the mass of critically ill passengers, but to make matters even worse, the sick bay on the Grand Atlantic is not well equipped. It’s designed to treat simple illnesses like colds, seasickness, sore throats, and minor injuries. Other than I.V. setups, antibiotics and oxygen tanks, there is little available to treat the critically ill.
How then does the physician cope with this emerging health disaster? Unfortunately, he has no choice but to deal with it in a rudimentary fashion; Tylenol and Motrin for fever, I.V. fluids for dehydration, supplemental oxygen and antibiotics for those with pneumonia. But these supplies soon begin to run low and resupply is impossible because of rough seas and a damaged heliport on the liner. Now the physician has no choice but to establish a let-die list. The young and those previously in good health, i.e., those with some chance of survival, will be supported with I.V. fluids, antibiotics and supplemental oxygen. The elderly, infirm, those with HIV/AIDS or with other serious, preexisting disease, all of whom have no chance to survive even with supportive therapy, will be allowed to die. It’s a horrific choice for any doctor to make. And what does the doctor do when his young daughter comes down with the bird flu? Does he reserve the best supportive therapy for her at the expense of other equally deserving patients? And when mutinous passengers and crew take over the ship and plan to steer it into a populated port, does he join them, knowing that getting his daughter to an ICU ashore may be her only chance to survive? And knowing that going ashore with the others could set off a worldwide pandemic?
How would you answer these questions? How would you respond when faced with these gut-wrenching decisions if you were the only physician aboard a doomed plague ship?
It’s a doctor’s worst nightmare.