Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Last Time

[Media prompt] A US woman has died from an infection that was resistant to all 26 available antibiotics, health officials said this week, raising new concerns about the rise of dangerous superbugs.

The Last Time

When it was his turn, Mensing entered the airlock. A woman with a CDC IC-4 specialist chevron on her sleeve sealed the outer hatch then leant on a depressor switch until the chamber filled with blue light. Mensing watched the visual on the wall, its screen filling with the universal codes for pathogens. He felt like vomiting, and wished he had accepted the antiemetic at the gate. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and his throat burned.

After the list scrolled off the screen, a man seated at the workstation outside the airlock window turned and said something to the specialist. She laughed, but Mensing couldn’t hear them. The speaker above the airlock door clicked.

“Stand with your feet in the place indicated on the floor, sir.”

Mensing hadn’t noticed the two red footprints when he came in, but he moved quickly into position. He liked doing things right. The feeling of nausea had dissipated, but he found it hard to swallow.

The woman with the chevron on her sleeve tapped at a keyboard. Inside the chamber, Mensing heard nothing, the silence buzzing in his ears. He looked down, moving his left foot until the big toe lined up perfectly with the edge of the red print. Some of the paint had worn off, something he wouldn’t have tolerated if he managed the airlock. His father always told him that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well.

Mensing didn’t feel the physical sweep begin, or the invasives, but he knew they were inside him, and that made it worse than the blue light. Everyone had heard stories about deaths in the chamber, which the CDC refused to confirm or deny. After a while it began to hurt, as though someone were forcing high pressure air into his alimentary canal. The nausea returned, and he felt dizzy enough to want to sit down. And then it was over; the door hissed open and a voice on the speaker told him to exit and proceed to his gate.

Later, seated on board, a glass of water in his hand, he turned to the woman in the window seat beside him.

“That’s the last time,” he said.

She turned to look at him, some stray hairs falling across her eye and cheek.

“I mean flying home for Christmas,” Mensing said, taking a sip of water. “Next year they can come to me.”

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