Captain Parker poised his scalpel poised over the young corpse and made an incision down the center of the chest. Wresting the ribcage open, he exposed the chest cavity. Dr. Nicholas Waering, a researcher from the Rockefeller Institute, looked on in horror.
A nurse recorded as the army pathologist, dictated. “September 18, 1918. Private Bruce Jones: Chest cavity filled with fluid, lungs blue and swollen. Estimate three hundred milliliters of clear fluid in the chest cavity.” Parker reached into the cavity and cut out the left lung. A bloody froth exuded from the insubstantial tissue. “The lungs are distended by an exudation of fluid into the interalveolar walls and by a large emphysematous space due to their rupture. The surface of the lung is mottled with numerous hemorrhages. The fissures range in size from a pinprick to two centimeters in diameter. The bronchi and bronchioles are filled with serous fluid and show necrosis and exfoliation of their epithelium. Death appears to be due to asphyxiation. His lungs were rendered useless.”
Turning to Nicholas, Parker remarked, “This is a most unusual pathological picture. There is a complete absence of pneumonias of ordinary bacterial origin. What do you make of it?”
“Bizarre beyond belief!” Nicholas said. “Healthy men dropping dead on the spot! This epidemic ravages swifter and is more pervasive than the bubonic plague.”
“It’s the most vicious form of pneumonia I’ve ever encountered,” added Parker. “I’ve prepared some swabs of the fluid for you to culture. I would be interested to know is there is some type of secondary microorganism that we haven’t seen before,” He cut off lung sections and dropped them into a vial of formaldehyde. “Could you forward some of the samples to Washington, Nick?”
Two more cadavers presented much the same autopsy features. Both had been healthy, young men who were struck down suddenly. One had presented to sickbay on the morning of September 13th. He ran a high fever and was delirious. The next day his skin turned black. Three days later, his temperature dropped dramatically below normal, and he died. The other soldier became ill on September 16th. He presented to sickbay, at 18:00 hours, feeling achy and feverish and in a state of delirium. His feet had turned black. He died during the night.
When the autopsies were finished, Captain Parker wiped the sweat from his forehead, and said, “I need some fresh air.”
Out in the sunshine, James Parker looked haggard. He was a portly man of about forty, but stress lines etched deep into his face. “The Surgeon General is sending William Henry Welch to Camp Devens tomorrow to try to figure out what is going on,” he said.
To read the rest of the story, log onto www.ruthwelburn.com