2z: I meet the bosses of the zombie ward

So, busy week so far:

A couple mornings after that zombie I bit became dezombified or whatever, they asked me to meet with the co-director of the Center for the Palliation and Treatment of the Living Dead. Aside from a couple of fellows in cryptothanatology and the two directors (one is the practice chair and the other is more involved in administration, fundraising and what passes for research in the CPTLD), the staffers are generally non-physicians. It’s not a place we are usually needed.

Dr. S, the director for research, was what you would call a typical cryptothanatology person. The stereotype is of a super-withdrawn, creepy guy with a strong schizotypal vibe, but those are not that common. Most people who do cryptothan basically want an easy, moderately-well-paying job with minimal late nights. It’s a great career if, midway through med school, you realize that you’d rather be doing something other than medicine.

It was pretty clear right from the beginning that Dr. S was seeing this whole thing primarily as a moderate to severe annoyance. He began by telling me that it was obviously impossible to wake up a zombie, he was sure that wasn’t what had happened, but he still had “a duty to all stakeholders” (yes, he said “stakeholders”) to determine what actually had happened. “Obviously, we are going to have to get ahead of the story. We are getting phone calls.” He kind of laughed uncomfortably, like he was talking about his bowel habits. “I’m sure you know what I mean, and why it’s important to the Institute that we find out what in the world is going on!” He said the last bit in kind of an exaggerated cartoon voice. Not sure who he thought he was imitating. I just smiled weakly and agreed to help. I mean, I’m curious too.

So they had me sign a paper, basically an informed consent for research, saying they could analyze any samples that I was willing to provide. Pretty typical. The way I knew this was a big deal was when I saw an IRB number at the top of the consent form. They must have gotten this through the IRB in two days. That just doesn’t happen at the Institute, even for minimal risk studies. Somebody really is interested, even if it isn’t Dr. S.

They took a lot of samples. I had sort of expected blood testing, but it was actually pretty extensive. Aside from blood and urine, they took like 50 ccs of saliva (if you’ve never tried to drool out 50 ccs of spit, you should give it a shot – it’s more than you think) and one of the cryptothan fellows swabbed everything out of my mouth that wasn’t attached. It was crazy. They actually had me floss my teeth and then they kept the floss. I don’t know whether they will get any weird analytes from the massive amounts of sriracha I had with breakfast, but maybe that’s what they are looking for.

They then interviewed me for 4 hours, no break. What was I doing pacing around down in the basement that night? Do I spend a lot of time in the basement? What had I been eating before I bit the zombie? My favorite part was when they were asking me about my diet, which consists mostly of ramyun, Dr. Pepper and kimchi eaten straight from the bottle. The look of consternation on the face of my interrogator was priceless. I wish I had a picture for you. “You do realize that’s a very high-salt diet, right?” They were actually really interested in the kimchi, once I explained what it was. I guess because it’s fermented. They wanted the last of what I had at home (which is now very sour indeed) and also to know what store I get it from. I gave them directions to Super Asia Fast Mart.

Next day, I was given a little tour of the CPTLD. There isn’t much to see. The zombs are all sort of warehoused in individual 0.5 x 1 x 2 meter large units, which slide into these huge 6-unit-high banks. Mostly they aren’t strapped down, because they pretty much stop moving once they have no more external stimulus. We have like 20 banks on this campus, which also includes some bariatric units for the fatter zombies. There’s also the Revenant Management Consortium in South Dakota, which we are a part of, and they have thousands down there.

Dr. N, the director of practice, was rounding with one of the cryptothan fellows. Rounds are a pretty perfunctory affair in the CPTLD. They basically sit at a table, discuss any outstanding issues, any new zombies (called “units” in CPTLD parlance) who might have been admitted over the preceding 24 hours, etc. Like I said, not much role for a physician.

Unlike Dr. S, Dr. N was very interested in my story. “So you are the zombie fixer!” she shouts in a thick Russian accent. “Can you come and bite all my zombies?” The cryptothan fellow kind of frowned and pecked at his Ipad. Dr. N was in a good mood. I think she spends most of her time as general internist (she has a joint appointment) so rotating on the CPTLD is probably like a vacation.

We went down for coffee after rounds. Richard, the cryptothan fellow, was actually an interesting guy. He has a pretty strong background in research, with a Ph.D. and postdoc at one of the big revenant labs at Oxford before he went to medical school. Basically, it’s getting impossible for researchers in the field to gain access to subjects after the Declaration for the Rights of Undead Persons was adopted by most countries. Even before that, the IRBs made it pretty hard. Richard figured it would be easier if he had an MD, but since destruction of warehoused, restrained, dismembered or otherwise neutralized revenants carries such steep civil penalties, he’s mostly just restricted to epidemiology work right now. Also, zombism remains an uncommon though highly communicable condition (the prevalence in the United States is holding steady at about 0.04%) and so even prospective population studies are hard to do.

So, anyway, to kind of come to the point, they were wondering whether I would be willing to bite another zombie. I said that I was pretty hesitant to do that, because I was afraid of being infected. There was a guy in my high school who got bit when he was visiting his mom (back when that was allowed) and he converted. I didn’t know him that well, but, you know, those sorts of things leave an impression. I know that zombism is only ever transmitted by a bite, not by touch or aerosolization or other exposures (I mean, that’s pretty much all they talk about in high school health class), but it still sort of gave me concern.

“No one would ever force you to do something that you don’t want to do,” said Dr. N. “We will try preparations from the samples that you have given us. But it would be most useful if we could determine whether this was a…a…fluke…or if it was the real thing.”

So I thought about it. I won’t bore you with the details. You know me pretty well, you can probably imagine how it went – I paced around at home, I paced around the hospital, I had a beer. And so of course eventually I said fine, I’ll bite your zombie.

So I guess we’re on for tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.

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