Dr. Samuel Michaelson walked into the office of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Utah College of Medicine to pick up his mail. The Departmental Secretary greeted him and said "The Boss would like you to call him at his home as soon as possible."
He walked to his office and phoned Dr. Harry Greenberg, the head of the department. Greenberg's voice was just barely intelligible as he croaked, "Sab (sniff), cad you come over to by house."
"Now?" Sam asked.
"Of course, if you're a coward and don't want to risk your life, I'll make other arrangements."
"I don't believe in germs; I'll be right over," Sam
The usually immaculate Dr. Harry Greenberg sat in an arm chair in his living room. He was attired in a gray bathrobe which looked much to large for him. The graying black hair above his bloodshot eyes was strewn over his head ,and his face bore a three day growth of black stubble. Sam had never seen Harry unshaven, nor when his hair wasn't neatly combed. Next to the chair was a small table that contained a box of Kleenex and a cup of some steaming brew.
Holding a tissue to his running nose, Harry said "I'b a dying man, Sam."
Sam smiled indulgently: "I'm sorry that you feel so lousy, Harry; What can I do for you?"
Greenberg took a long sniff from an inhaler, which made his speech slightly more intelligible. "I'm supposed to be at a meeting in Bethesda tomorrow, and obviously, I can't make it. I'd like you to go in my place. They need an epidemiologist. I told Mike Levering that I couldn't make it and he asked me to find him the best epidemiologist I knew. I said that I'd ask you.
"Thanks, Harry. What's the meeting about.
"Levering wouldn't tell me. Just said that it was a really important group and that it included Arthur Zabalka."
"It sounds a little too important for me. I don't like big science and, from what I've seen of him, I'm not likely to become overly fond of Arthur Zabalka."
"I know," said Greenberg, sighing, " Zabalka is a bit of a horses ass. But he's not in charge of it, Levering is, and he's a damn good man. I think you'll like working with him."
"You mean I'll be expected to work?"
"I think so. Levering hinted that this was a lot more than the usual bull session."
"But he wouldn't tell you what it was all about."
"Nope, he said that it was secret."
"Probably something to do with germ warfare. Sorry, Harry, I'm not interested."
"Levering assured me that it had nothing whatever to do with the military. Please, Sam, do it for me; I want to keep it in the department -it's good for business. If it doesn't suit you, you can always pass it back to me -if I live, that is."
"If you put it that way, it's hard to refuse."
"Do it, Sam; what have you got to loose? You get a free trip to D.C. and a fat consultants fee."
"You should have said that at the beginning. I can use the money."
Greenberg reached into his briefcase and handed Sam a folder of airline tickets. "I have reservations at The Governor's House."
"The Governor's House?" Sam queried.
"Yea, that's the name of a motel right next to the National
Institutes of Health. You take the airport limousine to Bethesda
and it stops right at the motel."
Sam decided not to return to the office. Instead he went to his apartment. If he was going to spend the next couple of days in a stuffy room, he was going to store up a little mountain air. There was little to do at the office, since he had already gone through the mass of mail that he routinely received. He had no teaching duties and was between projects.
When he had separated from his wife Janet, Sam rented an apartment near the university. It was the cheapest place that he could find, since his salary as an associate professor could hardly support two households. It was a studio apartment and consisted of one room and a bathroom. The room contained a rudimentary kitchen, including a stove and refrigerator. It was painted that light cream color which seems to be standard for cheap apartments. The worn, speckled asphalt floor tile had probably been installed when the apartment was new, some twenty years ago. Sam had brought with him only his clothes, desk, typewriter and filing cabinet. The rest of his furniture, such as it was, was acquired from the Salvation Army, St.Vincent de Paul Society and Deseret Industries thrift shops. He had a bed which converted to a couch , a kitchen table, two end tables, a chest of drawers and one lamp. Shortly after he moved in, his sixteen year old daughter visited him.
"Daddy," she said, "how awfully depressing!"
She then undertook to cheer it up with orange burlap curtains and some travel posters. It helped a little -very little. It still didn't feel like a home. It was, Sam thought, a flop house; the place where he flopped his six foot frame when it was time to go to sleep. He spent as little time in it as possible.
Sam changed from his work clothes(slacks, shirt, tie and jacket)
to jeans, a sweat shirt and hiking boots. He ran a comb through
his hair, more from habit than anything else since it accomplished
nothing; his wiry, reddish blonde hair always looked uncombed.
He could hear the voice of his mother saying "Sammy, comb
your hair before you go out." To keep from sun burning (he
never tanned) he smeared some sunscreen over the bridge of his
freckled nose and under his eyes.
Sam drove East, toward the mountains, stopping long enough to pick up a cheeseburger, some fries and a chocolate shake at MacDonald's. He drove for about half an hour up Millcreek Canyon, parked his car and started walking on a trail that led up the side of the mountain. Sam loved to walk. He was a walker, not a hiker; he took his time, watching the color of the leaves and their changes with the seasons, the birds and an occasional animal. He would stop, every now and then, and pick up an interesting rock or examine a flower. When he reached the top of the mountain, he sat down under a large live oak and slowly ate his dinner. this sure beats sitting alone in my apartment or a restaurant, he thought, as he watched the changing colors as the sun set. It would be light for at least another hour, which gave him more than enough time to leisurely walk back to his car.
He thought about how nice it was to have a job where no one cared what he did or where he did it. Still, if he had become a physician like his father, he would be too busy to worry about his future or what was going to happen to his children after the divorce.
At the end of his first year of medical school, he had wanted to drop out, although he had passed all of his courses. He detested gross anatomy -thought that it was very aptly named. He hated the stench of the lab; the combined smell of dead meat, formaldehyde and phenol. Occasionally he would get careless with his thoughts and reflect that the cadavers were once alive. It was then that he most wished that he had chosen some other vocation. His medical school was one of the best and was progressive enough to introduce the freshmen to the hospital clinics. He cared even less for the clinics than he did for the gross lab. He felt helpless in the face of the massive amount of human suffering that he saw there and sensed the same feelings of helplessness in some of his professors. So, at the end of the year, when he returned to his home for the summer, he told his father that he was going to drop out and try to get into a doctoral program in vertebrate zoology.
"Sam," his father said," I can understand your feelings. Still, it's worth considering that an M.D. will allow you to do anything that you want, even vertebrate zoology. The difference is that you'll be better paid than if you had a Ph.D. alone. Besides, if you're ever out of work, you can always hang out a shingle."
"I won't ever want to hang out a shingle!"
"If you're hungry enough, you might. At any rate, you've already gotten through the toughest part of med school. Take my advice and stick it out. You're young and if you still feel the way you do three years from now, you can always get into a Ph.D. program and have a lot of the requirements behind you.
Sam decided to stick it out for just one more year. In that second year, he was introduced to epidemiology; which was one of the strengths of his school. He also had an exciting professor teaching it. At the end of the year, he asked the prof if he could work with him on a combined M.D.-Ph.D. program, and he was accepted. He worked hard and loved it. He got B's and C's in his medical courses and A's in the ones relevant to his Ph.D. program. When he had finished his doctoral dissertation, he received a post-doctoral fellowship to spend two years at C.D.C., the Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta. Its name was later changed to the Center for Disease Control.
During his junior year in medical school, he met Janet, who was a secretary in the Department of Medicine. At the beginning of his last semester, they married. Their first child was born in Atlanta and the second in Salt Lake City, where he went after Atlanta.
As he walked down the trail, he reflected on his loneliness. Besides his physical needs, he thought that it would be nice to have someone to walk with. He thought of Cowper's poem:
I praise the Frenchman, his remark was shrewd,
How sweet, how passing sweet is solitude!
But grant me still a friend in my retreat,
Whom I may whisper, "Solitude is sweet."
He walked back slowly, watching the light fade. He was in no hurry to return to his gloomy apartment. All that he had to do was pack, which would take him five minutes, and the rest of the evening would be occupied with wondering what the meeting in Bethesda was about and watching television.
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