My Minor Miracle During The Anthrax Attacks Redux

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The deaths in the currently unsolved 2001 Anthrax Attacks began ten years ago this month.  The country in general and New York specifically had just begun to heal somewhat from the 9/11 terror attacks and then wham, here comes what we all thought at the time was phase two.  This time, instead of using our transportation system, the bad guys were using the US Mail to wreak havoc among the general populous of the Republic.

As reported by the press, the Anthrax was sent in powder form.  Initially sources claimed the DNA of the bacteria had been traced to a US Weapons Laboratory.  Then claims of Iraqi complicity in the attacks were published.  Finally, the government settled on various ‘homegrown’ suspects as the attacks drew to a close in late of October of 2001.

As of this writing there have been no arrests, no Perp walks, no closure to this nearly forgotten chapter in the weeks following the destruction of the World Trade Center.  The singular suspect, a Dr. Bruce Edward Ivins, committed suicide in 2008 after the FBI declared the man to be the sole perpetrator of the crime despite having never arrested Ivins using the circumstantial evidence at their disposal.

Back in 2001, the direct result of theses biological attacks was annoyance and fear of the innocuous task of opening the mailbox.  When those of us New Yorkers did open the post box, surgical masks or holding our breath were the illogical but most popular safety constructs in wide usage.

Of course, it never occurred to the average New Yorker or Washingtonian that the Anthrax letters were sent to media outlets or political figures.  Thus the media helped whomever was responsible use the old Sun Tzu edict: kill one man terrify a thousand.

Friday December 7, 2001.  I woke up with a nondescript rash all over my body.  It didn’t itch and no one but me noticed.  Frankly, it made me look slightly redder than I usually look.  However, it annoyed me to no end.  And a New York annoyed by something not off the street is one pissed off being.  Thus, when I called my doctor and found out he was in Belize; I demanded he call me back.  I was terrified I’d look like a spotted lobster for weeks on end.

To my surprise, the physician called me back within twenty minutes and demanded I describe my symptoms in clear minute detail.

“Do you have a fever?”


“Any chills, coughing, sneezing?”


“Shortness of breathe or trouble breathing?”

“No,” I said.  It was just some non-descript rash.  Why was he asking me so many fucking questions, I wondered.  I had one in the early summer and would probably have one again sometime in the winter.  All I wanted was the Benadryl prescription to clean it the damn thing up.

He took a deep breath and pushed on.  “Did you change your laundry detergent or touch any strange animals lately,” he asked.

The question took me by surprise.  The night before I had a date with a rather fetching blonde woman and did, in fact reach down to pet some adorable mutt at he corner of 30th Street and Madison Ave.

“The dog probably had some flea powder on you were allergic to.  It’ll go away in a couple of days with some over the counter Benadryl.  No big deal.  But you’ll have to go to the emergency room to get checked out,” he told me.

“Why do I have to go to the emergency room,” I asked.

“Alex, in case you haven’t been reading the papers, there is this thing called the Anthrax Attacks going on.  You’re fine I’m sure but I’m not there to see it and we have to be careful.  You live downtown on the east side, right?  Go to Bellevue.  They have the best trauma unit in the city.”

I packed my backpack with my Walkman, two books, my notebook and several pens.  The usual wait in a New York City emergency room could take upwards of several hours and I firmly believed I’d sit through at least seven gunshot victims, four heart attacks, two stabbings, a broken arm and one screaming lunatic demanding to be admitted because he was Napoleon and needed his Thorazine.

The triage nurse took one look at my slightly rash covered left arm and signaled to a male nurse who took me down the hall to a secluded, dark beige and green corner that smelled like fresh ammonia and lemon zest.  He took my vital signs and asked me the same questions as my doctor.

He pulled my right arm out and glared at it as he moved it in and out.  “Have you ever had the Chicken Pox,” he asked.

“I had four Pox when my brothers had full blown attacks,” I offered.

“How old were you?”

“Five or six,” I said.

“You might have the Shingles.  I’m going to take you back and have a doctor look at you,” he said.  The nurse hustled me to a gurney and closed the white and blue curtains.  No one could see me, which was fine as far I was concerned.  I didn’t need to see the latest victim of the Crack Wars missing part of his cheek.

Two minutes later, a doctor in a Hazmat suit, surrounded by three nurses covered head to toe in surgical garb including masks burst through the curtains.  The nurses ringed my gurney while the doctor roughly grabbed my arm poked it, prodded it and moved it in and out.

“Fuck,” she swore as she threw off her headpiece.  “Do any of you idiots remember what an allergic reaction looks like?”

She wrote me a script for industrial strength Benadryl and told me to beat it as she berated her underlings for miss diagnosing my light allergic rash as the next Anthrax outbreak.

However, I was in and out of the Bellevue Hospital Emergency Room in just under 45 minutes on a Friday night in early December.  Even in pseudo war zones, miracles do happen.

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