The headache begins, typically, on the seventh day after exposure
to the agent. On the seventh day after his New Years visit
to Kitum cave-January 8, 1980-Monet felt a throbbing pain behind
his eyeballs. He decided to stay home from work and went to bed
in his bungalow. The headache grew worse. His eyeballs ached, and
then his temples began to ache, the pain seeming to circle around
inside his head. It would not go away with aspirin, and then he
got a severe backache. His housekeeper, Johnnie, was still on her
Christmas vacation, and he had recently hired a temporary housekeeper.
She tried to take care of him, but she really didnt know what
to do. Then, on the third day after his headache started, he became
nauseated, spiked a fever, and began to vomit. His vomiting grew
intense and turned into dry heaves. At the same time, he became
strangely passive. His face lost all appearance of life and set
itself into an expressionless mask, with the eyeballs fixed, paralytic,
and staring. The eyelids were slightly droopy, which gave him a
peculiar appearance, as if his eyes were popping out of his head
and half closed at the same time. The eyeballs themselves seemed
almost frozen in their sockets, and they turned bright red. The
skin of his face turned yellowish, with a brilliant starlike red
speckles. He began to look like a zombie. His appearance frightened
the temporary housekeeper. She didnt understand the transformation
in this man. His personality changed. He became sullen, resentful,
angry, and his memory seemed to be blown away. He was not delirious.
He could answer questions, although he didnt seem to know
exactly where he was.
When Monet failed to show up for work, his colleagues began to
wonder about him, and eventually they went to his bungalow to see
if he was all right. The black-and-white crow sat on the roof and
watched them as they went inside. They looked at Monet and decided
that he needed to get to a hospital. Since he was very unwell and
no longer able to drive a car, one of his co-workers drove him to
a private hospital in the city of Kisumu, on the shore of Lake Victoria.
The doctors at the hospital examined Monet, and could not come up
with any explanation for what had happened to his eyes or his face
or his mind. Thinking that he might have some kind of bacterial
infection, they gave him injections of antibiotics, but the antibiotics
had no effect on his illness.
The doctors thought he should go to Nairobi Hospital, which is
the best private hospital in East Africa. The telephone system hardly
worked, and it did not seem worth the effort to call any doctors
to tell them that he was coming. He could still walk, and he seemed
able to travel by himself. He had money; he understood he had to
get to Nairobi. They put him in a taxi to the airport, and he boarded
a Kenya Airways flight.
A hot virus from the rain forest lives within a twenty-four hour
plane flight from every city on earth. All of the earths cities
are connected by a web of airline routes. The web is a network.
Once a virus hits the net, it can shoot anywhere in a day æParis,
Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, wherever planes fly. Charles Monet
and the life form inside him had entered the net.
The plane was a Fokker Friendship with propellers, a commuter aircraft
that seats thirty-five people. It started its engines and took off
over Lake Victoria, blue and sparkling, dotted with the dugout canoes
of fishermen. The Friendship turned and banked eastward, climbing
over green hills quilted with tea plantations and small farms. The
commuter flights that drone across Africa are often jammed with
people, and this flight was probably full. The plane climbed over
belts of forest and clusters of round huts and villages with tin
roofs. The land suddenly dropped away, going down in shelves and
ravines, and changed in color from green to brown. The plane was
crossing the Eastern rift valley. The passengers looked out the
windows at the place where the human species was born. They say
specks of huts clustered inside circles of thornbush, with cattle
trails radiating from the huts. The propellers moaned, and the friendship
passed through cloud streets, lines of puffy rift clouds, and began
to bounce and sway. Monet became airsick.
The seats are narrow and jammed together on these commuter airplanes,
and you notice everything that is happening inside the cabin. The
cabin is tightly closed, and the air recirculates. If there are
any smells in the air, you perceive them. You would not have been
able to ignore the man who was getting sick. He hunches over in
his seat. There is something wrong with him, but you cant
tell exactly what is happening.
He is holding an airsickness bag over his mouth. He coughs a deep
cough and regurgitates something into the bag. The bag swells up.
Perhaps he glances around, and then you see that his lips are smeared
with something slippery and red, mixed with black specks, as if
he has been chewing coffee grounds. His eyes are the color of rubies,
and his face is an expressionless mass of bruises. The red spots,
which a few days before had started out as starlike speckles, have
expanded and merged into huge, spontaneous purple shadows: his whole
head is turning black-and-blue. The muscles of his face droop. The
connective tissue in his face is dissolving, and his face appears
to hang from the underlying bone, as if the face is detaching itself
from the skull. He opens his mouth and gasps into the bag, and the
vomiting goes on endlessly. It will not stop, and he keeps bringing
up liquid, long after his stomach should have been empty. The airsickness
bag fills up to the brim with a substance know as the vomito
negro, or the black vomit. The black vomit is not really black;
it is a speckled liquid of two colors, black and red, a stew of
tarry granules mixed with fresh red arterial blood. It is hemorrhage,
and it smells like a slaughterhouse. The black vomit is loaded with
virus. It is highly infective, lethally hot, a liquid that would
scare the daylights out of a military biohazard specialist. The
smell of the vomito negro fills the passenger cabin. The
airsickness bag is brimming with black vomit, so Monet closes the
bag and rolls up the top. The bag is bulging and softening threatening
to leak, and he hands it to a flight attendant.
When a hot virus multiplies in a host, it can saturate the body
with virus particles, from the brain to the skin. The military experts
then say that the virus has undergone "extreme amplification."
This is not something like the common cold. By the time an extreme
amplification peaks out, an eyedropper of the victims blood
may contain a hundred million particles. In other words, the host
is possessed by a life form that is attempting to convert the host
into itself. The transformation is not entirely successful,
however, and the end result is a great deal of liquefying flesh
mixed with virus, a kind of biological accident. Extreme amplification
has occurred in Monet, and the sign of it is the black vomit.
He appears to be holding himself rigid, as if any movement would
rupture something inside him. His blood is clotting upæhis
bloodstream is throwing clots, and the clots are lodging everywhere.
His liver, kidneys, lungs, hands, feet, and head are becoming jammed
with blood clots. In effect, he is having a stroke through the whole
body. Clots are accumulating in his intestinal muscles, cutting
off the blood supply to his intestines. The intestinal muscles are
beginning to die, and the intestines are starting to go slack. He
doesnt seem to be fully aware of pain any longer because the
blood clots lodged in his brain are cutting off blood flow. His
personality is being wiped away by brain damage. This is called
depersonalization, in which the liveliness and details of character
seem to vanish. He is becoming an automaton. Tiny spots in his brain
are liquefying. The higher functions of consciousness are winking
out first, leaving the deeper parts of the brain stem (the primitive
rat brain, the lizard brain) still alive and functioning. It could
be said that the who of Charles Monet has already died while
the what of Charles Monet continues to live.
The vomiting attack appears to have broken some blood vessels
in his noseæhe gets a nosebleed. The blood comes from both
nostrils, a shining, clotless, arterial liquid that drips over his
teeth and chin. This blood keeps running, because the clotting factors
have been used up. A flight attendant gives him some paper towels,
which he uses to stop up his nose, but the blood still wont
coagulate, and the towels soak through.
When a man is ill in an airline seat next to you, you may not want
to embarrass him by calling attention to the problem. You say to
yourself that this man will be all right. Maybe he doesnt
travel well in airplanes. He is airsick, the poor man, and people
do get nosebleeds in airplanes, the air is so dry and thin. . .
and you ask him, weakly, if there is anything you can do to help.
He does not answer, or he mumbles words you cant understand,
so you try to ignore it, but the flight seems to go on forever.
Perhaps the flight attendants offer to help him. But victims of
this type of hot virus have changes in behavior that can render
them incapable of responding to an offer of help. They become hostile,
and dont want to be touched. They dont want to speak..
They answer questions with grunts or monosyllables. They cant
seem to find words. They can tell you their name, but they cant
tell you the day of the week or explain what has happened to them.
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. Copyright 2002 by Richard Preston. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The Hot Zone
A Terrifying True Story
Science - Research | July 1995 | $7.99 | 0-385-47956-5
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