Let's review the bidding: You may remember that last week, over the objections of everyone I have ever met, talked to, received a telemarketing call from, or smiled at while walking down the street, I went to Toronto, Canada.

    What could be more benign than going to Canada?

    As it turns out, EVERYTHING could be more benign than going to Canada, at least to Toronto.

    While I was there the World Health Organization -

    SIDEBAR: The acronym for the World Health Organization is, of course, WHO. When the world comes to an end, the last person toting up winners and losers will have to come to the conclusion that the United Nations, year after year, comes up with the WORST acronyms for its agencies.

    First of all, a lot of them start with the letters: UN - as in UNSCOM. No matter how you parse UNSCOM it is a loser. Even if you leave off the United Nations part, you're left with SCOM.

    "So, Mrs. Galen. What's your Richard doing these days?
    "Oh, he's with SCOM."
    "Not to worry. These days they can cure almost anything. I had a nephew who was with flu, but he's fine now.

    Ok, so while I was sitting in the Sheraton Hotel at the Toronto International Airport the WHO issues a travel advisory not to go to some pig farm in China or Toronto.

    The Torontonians (that's what they call themselves - and you wonder why the Maple Leafs lost to the Flyers) were understandably upset about being treated like a giant Ebola incubator, but there I was, right in the middle of it.

    The truth is, I got there on Tuesday evening at about 7:00 pm and left at three the next afternoon and, as I have mentioned, I never left the airport property, so I was feeling pretty cocky. Cocky enough to have written the oh-so-funny SARS piece on Thursday (Don't Let the SARS Get in Your Eyes).


    Big joke.

    I wrote that on Wednesday night. Thursday night I wrote the regular Friday column which began with the words:

    Post-Toronto Day 1: No Symptoms but people are shunning me like I have just returned from a leper colony.


    Big joke.

    Prior to writing the column on Thursday night I had a glass of wine with Mullfriend Juanita Duggan who's son is battling a horrendous case of leukemia - I understand there's no such thing as a mild case of leukemia, but this kid has been through hell. And his mom has been holding his hand every second of the way since January.

    He is scheduled to undergo what they are praying (and if you have a few seconds, please pray, too) will be his last course of chemo.

    Also on Thursday night I called to congratulate the managing partner at American Continental Group, Shawn Smeallie whose wife had presented him with a brand new baby girl on Wednesday. He told me he'd be in the office on Friday.

    These two incidents have a bearing on the story.


    On Friday morning I was hanging around the house because I had a 7:30 hit with Jim Blasingame on his Small Business Advocate radio program. While I was waiting for the phone to ring I watched a doctor from Toronto being interviewed who had contracted SARS and had, obviously, recovered.

    He said one of the reasons he thought he had gotten over it was because he didn't deny the symptoms. As soon as he thought something might be wrong - he developed a fever and he get a headache along with some respiratory discomfort - he instructed the staff to begin treatment which included an anti-viral drug to stop the SARS bugs and heavy antibiotics to halt any pneumonia before it got a chance to take hold.

    "Hmmm," I thought. "Innerestin'." I don't like to waste clear enunciations before I go on the radio.

    I did the Blasingame gig and decided to run some errands before I headed into The District.

    Here's a traveler's tip which I may have shared with you before. Locals rarely refer to the District of Columbia as "DC," just as locals in the Bay Area don't refer to the major city as "'Frisco."

    Locals almost always call it, "The District."

    If I leave the house at about seven, the trip into the office is about 12 minutes. If I leave the house between 7:15 and 8:15 it can take 45 minutes. Better to run some errands.

    As I was leaving the house, I noticed I had developed a little sniffle. I went to the Post Office to pick up yet some more mailed-in subscriptions to Mullings (thank you, you know who you are); went to the cleaners to drop off some shirts; and went to the car wash to scrape about a month's worth of road crud off the Mullmobile.

    Somewhere between the cleaners and the car wash I convinced myself I was going to be the INDEX CASE FOR SARS.

    From this moment on, every person who got SARS would curse my name and, worse yet, would cancel their subscription to Mullings.

    I began to feel like I was developing a little fever. Not a projectile-sweat-put-on-your-overcoat-in-the-summertime-malaria-fever, but a little fever. In addition, I felt a little headache twinge in my right temple.

    And I never get headaches.

    I had SARS.

    Well, I didn't really think I had SARS, but I really thought I might have SARS.

    I drove on into The District for this reason: I don't know anyone who practices at any of the hospitals in Northern Virginia. If I was going to go to the hospital I wanted to be in one where my cardiologist practices so he could tune in on the adventure.

    Sounds like a little thing, but if you have a long-term problem - like heart disease - you want to be where the people who already know your case can find you.

    I parked in the garage under our building and, for the first time since I started parking there, I didn't shake hands with the morning guy who takes my car. I told him I had a cold and I didn't want him to catch it from me.

    I went up to the eighth floor, went into my office, plugged in my laptop (which I carry back and forth each and every day) and wondered what do to next.

    Now, in addition to worrying whether or not I have SARS, I am worried about telling Juanita she can't go near her kid for 10 days and worried about Smeallie walking into my office with a cigar and telling HIM he can't get near his new baby for a week or so.

    As my primary care physician is my cardiologist, I called him. I told the receptionist what was going on and she put me on hold.

    She gave me the name and phone number of an internist at George Washington University Hospital (that's the place they took President Reagan when he got shot) and told me to call her.

    I called but the receptionist there said they didn't have any testing facilities, and I should go to the emergency room.

    Good plan. The ER at GW Hospital is about two blocks from my office, so I turned off my computer, turned out the lights and closed the door to my office.

    I had read in the Toronto Globe & Mail that they thought SARS bugs could live on surfaces for as long as 24 hours. There would have been no reason for anyone to go into my office and, if I did have to stay at the hospital I would tell them to be certain no one went in there for a couple of days.

    I grabbed a book (The Mocking Program by Mullster Alan Dean Foster) and I stole the office copy of the Washington Post from the stack on my way out. I said, noncommittally, to the person at the reception desk that I would be back shortly, and went down the elevator toward who-knows-what.


    I arrived at the hospital at 10:02. I know this because I began noting times in my reporter's notebook. The new George Washington University Hospital is across the street from the old one. The ER waiting room is bright and airy. There is a sign, immediately to the left and right of the reception desk informing incoming patients that if you have symptoms of cold and/or flu and/or respiratory discomfort and you have been to a pig farm in China or Toronto tell the receiving clerk immediately.

    She looked up at me. I pointed to the sign and said, "I have two out of those three including having been to Toronto.

    Woop! Woop! Clang! Clang! Clang! Graaaaaak! Graaaaaak!

    Well, ok, it wasn't that bad, but she said, "Go into that room (pointing to a door marked "Triage 3" immediately to my right), put on the mask you'll see sitting on the table, and lock the door from the inside."


    I did as I was told. I could see through the connecting window that she was putting on a mask of her own, as well as gloves as she prepared to bring me the inevitable forms to fill out.

    She came in through the clinic side of Triage 3 (as opposed to the waiting room side which was now locked) and handed me the clipboard with the usual forms.

    I filled them out and, at 10:12 knocked on the glass to tell her they were done. She signaled that she would need my driver's license and my insurance card, so I got them out of my wallet and put them under the clip.

    She, again, put on a mask and gloves, came in to pick up the info, and told me a nurse would be with me shortly.

    Shortly, was 10:18 when a nurse came in with no mask and no gloves (these kids today) and took my temp, BP, put a thing on my index finger which told her whether or not oxygen was flowing into the tip of my index finger, looked at my chart and asked me how I was feeling.

    I told her the saga during which she took notes. She asked me if I had any other health problems to which I responded I did not if you didn't count that pesky heart disease and the cardiac bypass surgery five years ago.

    She looked at me as if I were a third grader who had forgotten to tell her, as the teacher, that I had needed to go to the bathroom for the past 45 minutes and might, might have just had an accident.

    This took about 10 minutes. One minute later, at 10:19 an aide - in gloves and mask - came in and told me she would be taking me to an examination room which was designed with a separate air filtration system.


    She let me to the room - Examination 2, I believe - which looked like any other exam room, but told me that after she closed the door I could take off my mask. She pointed to a gown and told me to take off my jacket, tie and shirt and put it on.

    I read the Post including my horoscope which said, in part, (this is true) "Don't get infected by gloom and doom today."

    Oh. Ok. Not a prob.

    At 10:41 someone - a male - poked his head in; nodded; and then shut the door. I thought I was in a scene from the Arthur Koestler novel, Darkness at Noon or at least Darkness at 10:41.

    I am reading the front page of the Post about Toronto being furious with the WHO for refusing to back down on the travel warning which was, as I have noted, issued after I had arrived in Toronto. In the immortal words of H.R. "Bob" Haldeman: T-L-Squared. Too Little. Too Late.

    At 10:53 the door opens again and a female doc comes in looking like she's just returned from a fix-it mission to the Hubble telescope. She is wearing a blue surgical cap, mask, gloves, and a gown. I'm thinking "She drew the short straw back in the docs' lounge to see who was going to examine the White guy with SARS in Exam 2."

    I read her the part of my horoscope about not being infected but, if she smiled, I couldn't see it behind her armor.

    She looked at my throat, and checked my lungs - I got the distinct impression she wished she had grabbed someone else's stethoscope - and told me my throat looked a little red, but my lungs were clear. That, I thought, was a good sign. She told me she would discuss the case with the head of the ER and they would decide if I needed a blood test.

    At 10:59 another aide came in - gloved and masked - to put a hospital bracelet on my wrist. This was not a good sign.

    At 11:02 the chief of the Emergency Room came in. She was not wearing a mask, or gloves, or anything other than her lab coat - a very good sign. She explained that SARS is, from the very beginning, presents as a febrile disease.

    I looked this up for you:

    Etymology: Medieval Latin febrilis, from Latin febris fever
    : of or relating to fever : marked by fever

    As I did not have a fever, and as I was not in respiratory distress, it was her considered medical judgement that I had ...

    A runny nose.

    -- END --
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