Professor Patterson was hunched over his laboratory bench scribbling numbers and figures on the page like his life depended on it, in actual fact it very much might.
For weeks he had been working twelve hour shifts, forgetting to eat, struggling to sleep, cut off from friends and family and any sort of reality, but he was determined to get the answer to this. He knew he could do it, thirty years in the field of virology this thing was not going to beat him. He had total faith in himself, he knew he had the skills, he just needed the time.
This morning had come an important breakthrough, he had spotted a weak link in the alpha helix, if only he could find some chemical that would break the link completely, the virus would not be able to replicate.
The professor got to his feet and paced around the laboratory rubbing his stiff and aching neck. Being continuously bent over his work like an ostrich in a constant state of fear had taken its toll. As he walked he realised it was not just his shoulders that ached, his legs ached, his arms ached, his throat ached. Was he ill? A flutter of panic rose through him. He was overweight, over fifty and not exercised since 1995 unless you counted running for a taxi five years ago.
He couldn’t be ill before finishing his work; this could be the work that saves the world. A wave of heat washed over him his cheeks flushed and perspiration formed in small beads at his temples. He opened the windows, then searched for his water bottle beneath the reams of paper and printouts all over his desk.
He took a sip, even though it had long turned to a luke warm blood temperature, it felt like nectar on his parched throat. His stomach gurgled, “When was the last time he had eaten?” He remembered the half eaten chocolate bar by his printer; he finished it in two bites leaving the wrapper discarded.
Feeling buoyed by the sugar and fluid he sat back down and looked again under the microscope and again at the print outs. He returned to frantically scribbling notes and making calculations, looking at the computer screen and his printed notes. A droplet of sweat hit the paper in front of him with a resounding thud. He was hot, really hot.
“What could break this link?” It was so simple, it must be staring him in the face, but he just couldn’t see it. He put on his mask and gloves for the thousandth time and unlocked his cabinet taking a pipette of the virus and putting two drops into each of the six waiting test tubes.
He searched for chemicals, stopping to mop his fevered brow. He carefully measured the same amount of different chemicals into each test tube. He set the alarm, sat back in the chair rubbed his aching neck and closed his eyes, soon he was asleep, a fitful sleep full of weird dreams and worries. The jarring alarm shocked him awake. He was shivering now; he felt worse than before the sleep. “Keep going the breakthrough is nearly there” he told himself. He had read scientific work from all over the world and he knew he was ahead of the game.
Preparing the slides from the test tubes he examined them under his microscope. The first two were a failure, no change to the virus, he discarded them. Same with the third. The forth looked promising the helix was not totally destroyed but it was frayed. Could it still self-replicate when frayed – possibly not? He checked the last two test tubes no change.
Next step to try and get the virus to reproduce and see if it was possible, if not he had done it, found something to stop the virus in its tracks. He set up the perfect conditions for the virus and gently placed the petri dish with the frayed virus in the incubator. He now needed detailed notes. He sat by the computer coughing, he rummaged around in the mess that had overtaken his laboratory. He found his water bottle and sipped slowly there was not much left. He continued coughing; he was still shivering, aching and feeling really weak. Time was running out he needed to document his work in case the worst happened. He sat by the computer and started to type. His mind was confused and he was having difficulty staying awake and his dreams were so vivid he didn’t know what was real anymore.
“Mr Patterson, Andrew” came a soft voice “Here’s your medication, how are you feeling today?” He opened his eyes; he was in hospital, a room on his own, in isolation. He looked down, no tubes, no machinery around him. The two nurses in their starched white uniforms fussed around him checking his temperature and blood pressure. “What about my work nurse?” He tried to sit up quickly. The nurses gently laid him back down “All under control, you can get back to it when you are better; you just need to rest now”. He was told. The soothing voice quietened his inner panic “Okay, you know best” he closed his eyes again.
The nurses left the room and quietly shut the door behind them. “What work was he talking about?” asked one nurse “I thought he was a roofer”. “Yes he is” the other replied, coating her hands with sanitising gel “but he thinks he is a scientist this week, Professor Patterson, and last week he thought he was a concert pianist”. “Aw that’s sad, how did it happen?” she asked concerned, taking her turn at the hand sanitising station. “He had an obsession with some rundown cottage, his life’s calling was to restore it apparently. It took over his life completely. He had a total breakdown when his wife left him. The medication will confuse him further for a little while until we stabilise him and he gets enough rest, but hopefully he will improve when we get him out of isolation and back on the ward.”