14.The Benedict School

Sam picked up his car at the Salt Lake City Airport and went to his office. Along with the usual mail was a clipping from the Sunday Salt Lake Tribune with a "thought this would interest you" note from Eric. A banner headline proclaimed COMMISSIONER CITES MORAL DECAY. One of the city commissioners made a public statement about the incident at the Benedict School. He stated that "this incident is, without doubt, a direct result of the decay of morality." He further went on to support his allegation with the observation that incidents of this nature were unheard of in Utah before the showing of X-rated movies was permitted. He went on to predict that, if the movie houses showing X-rated films weren't shut down, that the city was in for an unprecedented wave of flagrant immorality. On the same page was a short article citing the flamboyant former mayor of Salt Lake City, who was asked to comment on the commissioner's allegations. He was quoted as saying that "he thought that the commissioner was O.K., except when it came to sex."

Sam chuckled to himself, as he wondered what would happen if that same city commissioner was infected with the virus of Epidemic E. He envisioned a headline that said COMMISSIONER MISBEHAVES IN CITY HALL and an article which describes him as being caught in flagrante delicto with his secretary.

On the following morning, Sam drove to the Benedict School in Ogden.

He explained to the principal that he was more interested in illness than he was in sex and that the results of his investigation would not be revealed to the press without the principal's express permission. The question that he asked him, which was the same question that he intended to ask of everyone he interviewed, was "Was there anything that happened in the month preceding the incident that did not usually happen; that is any unusual occurrences?"

"Not that I am aware of." the principal said.

"No unusual illnesses or incidents?" Sam asked.

"Not any more illness than we usually have at this time of the year. It's the usual thing to have a disproportionally large number of both students and teachers fall ill at that time of the school year."

Sam asked a number of more specific questions with the same negative response.

He questioned the director of the upper school -again nothing.

The director of the lower school, in contrast, was a veritable treasure trove of information. She appeared to know everything that happened to every child and teacher in her jurisdiction. Jackie Smith fell off the rope in gym and broke his leg, Sam Clark had appendicitis, Dee Wilson fractured his skull when he fell off his skate board, Elizabeth Miller sprained her wrist, Jamie Fuller had the flu. The recitation of incidents was beginning to bore Sam when she said, "It seemed as if we had a regular rash of accidents for the whole two weeks after the kids got the polio vaccine."

"The what?" Sam asked, wondering if he had heard correctly.

"The polio vaccine! All of the children in the lower school were given oral polio vaccine about two weeks before that outrageous incident."

"How come the principal didn't know about this?"

"The whole school wasn't involved. Just the kids in the lower school got the vaccine."

"Who administered it?"

"A nurse from the State Department of Health."

"How can I get in touch with her?" Sam asked eagerly.

She copied a name and phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to Sam. Sam thanked her profusely for her help and she said, " I'm sorry that I wasn't of more help."

Sam was elated. It all fit! What better way to explain the epidemiologic findings than with a contaminated vaccine. It would even explained the disproportionate number of school teachers involved.

He went to a pay phone, confirmed that the nurse was in her office, then told her that he would be right over.

When he arrived at her office, he confirmed that she had, indeed, administered the vaccine, and obtained the exact date. Sam asked, "How many other schools did you give the vaccine to?"

"Benedict is the only one. I was able to arrange it on short notice because it's so small. The public schools and larger private schools are due for treatment in a couple of weeks."

Sam jotted down the scheduled dates in his note book and asked if she would show him the vaccine that she administered. She took him to her freezer and showed him an almost empty vaccine bottle. Sam looked at her entire stock. It was all from Schneider Laboratories and all had the same lot number. He copied down the lot number, R7001. It was a number that was destined to remain in Sam's memory along with 606 and The Alamo. He wanted to caution her about using the rest of the vaccine, but decided against it since, at this point, he had no real evidence that the vaccine was involved.

Sam went to his office and phoned the general manager of Schneider Laboratories in Detroit. He explained that he was doing government sponsored work on the effectiveness of the time of administration of polio vaccine and that he was following a single batch of vaccine being used in the Salt Lake City area. Was it possible to find out what other places were using the same batch?

"No problem at all. All that I have to do is transfer you to Henderson in our records section. He can give you that information."

"Would you please do that?"

"Be glad to!" he said. Sam waited for what seemed like an eternity for the telephone transfer to be made."

A Mr. Henderson asked Sam what lot number he wanted traced.

"Lot number R7001"

Half a minute later, he said: "You're in luck. R7001 is an easy one; it just went to four cities."

"What cities?"

"Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake and Buffalo."

Sam almost fell off his chair. He got the names and addresses of the people to whom the vaccine was sent; thanked Mr. Henderson profusely, hung up and screamed "Whoopee!!" at the top of his voice.

The department secretary came in and asked him if everything was all right.

"Boy!" he said "It sure as hell is!"

The first thing that Sam did was to get in touch with Eric in San Francisco. He told him what he had found and gave him all of the information that he had gotten from Schneider Laboratory. He asked him to check the vaccine that had gone to San Francisco and find out whether it had all been used, then to call him back. Sam then called Mike Levering.

"Mike, I've got some great news for you. For one thing, it looks like it's a virus and it's spread in a batch of polio vaccine."

"Slow down Sam and give it to me a little at a time."

Sam told him everything that he had found, from the accident and Solomon's pathology report, the Benedict school and the polio vaccination and, the clincher, the cities that R7001 had been sent to. When he had finished, there was silence at Levering's end of the phone, then,

"Shit!" Levering muttered.

"What do you mean, Shit?" Sam snapped.

"I'm sorry, Sam, I didn't mean it the way it sounded. Your work is a real coup and I can't find words enough to praise it -it's a fine scientific achievement. The 'shit' was for the political end of it. This opens up a real can of worms. No matter what we do, we're damned. If we don't inform the public, we're not protecting them from a potentially dangerous virus and if we do, we're turning them off to the polio immunization program and exposing them to another dangerous virus. You have no idea how tricky the politics of polio can be. It was a political thing to begin with, and it still is."

"I don't understand."

"Remember that the whole program was pushed by the National Foundation financed by The March of Dimes. They funded a lot of the work and had a mammoth publicity machine. When the Salk vaccine came out it was touted as the end of polio. Everyone rushed out to have their kids vaccinated -I even did mine. Then a batch of Cutter vaccine turned out to have live polio virus in it and some kids came down with polio. I watched my kids for weeks for signs of the disease. It almost killed the program. When the Sabin vaccine came out, it was touted as the anti-Salk vaccine. Now polio is almost extinct. Can you imagine the outcry if we say that there's a potentially dangerous contaminating virus."

"But so far as we can tell, it may not be dangerous."

"It's worse than dangerous; it produces sex maniacs, and nothing is worse than sex maniacs."

"Well," said Sam, "we've got a real problem. The rest of that vaccine is due to be used in two weeks in Salt Lake City and who knows what's happening in the other cities."

"Did you say Schneider Laboratory?"


"That makes it even worse. Harvey Schneider is the worst possible person to deal with. With any other outfit, I could get on the phone and they'd recall it in a minute, but not Schneider. If he thought that it might cost him a dime he wouldn't do it. Besides, he wouldn't even talk to me. I once forced him to recall a batch of a contaminated intravenous solution. He's never forgiven me."

"What about Food and Drug?"

"With a two week deadline, they wouldn't be any help."

"What can we do?"

"Would you be willing to go to Detroit and try to reason with Schneider?"

"Sure!" said Sam, thinking how close Detroit was to Chicago."

"Hang around your office. I'll get back to you before five."

Levering called in three hours.

"Sam, I have a friend in Food and Drug who's arranged to get you an appointment with Harvey. Schneider's office should call you today. He told them that it was a matter of life and death and that they might face some big lawsuits unless they did something. All this without telling them what they're supposed to do something about. Now, I've been thinking about how you might go about this. Give him the whole story and keep stressing the words encephalitis and brain damage. Try to reason with him. Try hard and long, and be wary; that sonofabitch is slippery and clever. If all of your arguments fail, then and only then play your trump card. Hit him in his pocket book; tell him that his vaccine may be worth millions as an aphrodisiac. If he doesn't recall that batch of vaccine instantly, I'll eat my hat."

After Sam hung up the phone, he sat back and thought about the amazing competence of Dr. Michael Levering. Not only was he scientifically aware, but he was a master politician.

Once again, the phone rang. It was Harvey Schneider's secretary inquiring whether Sam could be in Detroit for a meeting with Schneider on Friday morning. Sam said that he could and, after the conversation ended, phoned and made plane reservations to Detroit for Thursday.

The phone rang again. This time it was Annabelle wanting to know if Sam could make a meeting with the whole group late the following week. Sam said that he could and asked her to make all of the necessary plane and hotel reservations.

Now it was Sam's turn to phone. He called Sue and told her that he would be in Chicago sometime late Friday or early Saturday and that he would telephone her with the details.

"You'll get to meet the children," she said.

"I'd like that," Sam replied; thinking that perhaps he wasn't quite ready to acquire another family. Still, the children were part of Sue and if he wanted her -which he most certainly did- he would have to accept the children.

That night, Sam dreamed that he was in a large meadow. Two children without faces were dancing around him. A small distance away sat Sue. Sam tried to go to her, but was prevented by the dancing children who kept tripping him. A large number of children joined in the dance and Sue disappeared. Suddenly a large wind came up and the children started falling down as if dead.

Sam woke up in a sweat. As he lay in bed he thought that he was relying too much on the meeting with Schneider. If his persuasion failed, the children in Salt Lake would get the vaccine. Even if his talk succeeded, the vaccine would be recalled, and should he decided that he wanted to test the vaccine for contamination he would have to negotiate with Schneider for it.

When he got to his office, he phoned the public health nurse and asked her how many bottles of the vaccine she had. She told him ten. He asked if she minded if he replaced it with another brand since he wanted to perform some tests on that particular batch. She said that she didn't care what brand it was, as long as it worked.

A call to the wholesale drug company in downtown Salt Lake located ten bottles of Parke-Davis, Sabin-type polio vaccine. He went downtown, purchased them and exchanged them for the Schneider vaccine, which he placed in the department's freezer.

Eric called to tell him that he had telephoned all of the people who had received the R7001 vaccine and had been informed that all of it had been used over a month ago.

"In that case, you'd better pack your bag and head for Buffalo." Sam said. He gave him the names and addresses of the people in Buffalo who had received the vaccine. Then he phoned Jack Monser and told him about the vaccine; asking him to check his patients and find out if they had any contact with a child who had been given polio vaccine. He also gave him the information about who the R7001 vaccine had been sent to.

Then he called Janet and inquired about her and the children. She invited him to dinner that evening and he accepted.

He arrived at his former home at 5:30 and was greeted warmly by his two children and coolly by Janet:

"Children," she said," give your father and me fifteen minutes alone and then he's all yours for the rest of the evening."

When the children went to their room, Janet told Sam that she had been to see the judge and that the divorce decree had been granted. The only thing left was a one year waiting period before either of them could remarry.

"How does it feel to be free?" Sam asked.

"Not so hot; but it's better than what we had before. I'm sorry and glad that it's over -all at the same time."

Sam was relieved, but decided not to tell Janet. Nor did he tell her about Sue. He felt different now; the anxiety and confusion were gone. He now saw Janet, not as an adversary, but as a former good friend. He knew that the divorce was the only way, now, but wondered what would have happened if Janet had been more tolerant of his one transgression.

The children returned and they sat down to dinner. It was Beef Stroganoff, one of Sam's favorites. Lisa, his sixteen year old, talked about the things that were happening in school, while Ellen, age fourteen, was silent. Sam wondered what irreparable damage he had done to them. No one asked him what he was doing and he was glad. It would be difficult explaining away a secret project. Since they were used to his traveling on business, it was adequate to simply tell them when he would be out of town. Everything went well until Sam was ready to leave. Then Ellen looked at him and said, "Daddy, now that you and Mom are divorced, will you be coming to see us?"

Sam choked back his tears and put his arms around her. "Of course," he said.

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