Even when your city is under biological attack, the first lesson of healthcare never goes away: You always have to wait.
Outliers was reminded of that as we sat in an auditorium last Wednesday at 231-bed George Washington University Hospital in Washington, some two hours after being cleared from office buildings on Capitol Hill when congressional leaders shut them down to test for the presence of anthrax spores.
Though the risk seemed small-probably far smaller than the chance of being involved in an accident on the one-mile taxi ride to Capitol Hill-it also seemed like receiving an anthrax test was an appropriate precaution.
Anticipating a long wait, Outliers bypassed the free screenings in the Capitol complex that served hundreds of spooked congressional aides and went to GWU.
It was a smaller crowd, to be sure, but it didn't appear that the testing was going much faster. Scattered throughout the small auditorium were about 30 people-mostly in suits and ties, with one man in a denim shirt and windbreaker, another in a Washington Capitals sweatshirt and sweatpants. In our midst was a former congressman who now is a lobbyist. The chirp of mobile phones and click of handheld computers was constant.
The medical procedure to test for anthrax is a simple one, taking less than five minutes. It's one swab of the nostrils-deep enough to raise tears-wiped onto a petri dish, followed by a second swab of the nostrils, just as deep, dipped into a fluid in a test tube.
Yet it took nearly 90 minutes to get to the swabbing. And on a day in which confusion reigned on Capitol Hill as well as at the hospital, getting clear answers was not easy.
Swabbing stations initially were set up by the front-row seats of the auditorium, only to be moved to folding tables in another area of the auditorium. After allowing Outliers directly into GWU's impromptu anthrax clinic, hospital officials told those who arrived later to first go to the emergency room. Paper shuffling appeared to consume about 99% of the hospital workers' energy, with 1% to actual clinical work.
Outliers left knowing only two things: the hospital will call those who contracted anthrax, and a prescription for the antibiotic doxycycline will protect those who were exposed. Late last week came good news: initial test results were negative.
Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), one of Congress' best storytellers, summed up the experience for a jittery capital in the words that medical personnel said to him before the test. "They said, `This won't hurt much,' " Breaux said. "They were wrong."
Bathroom breakthrough. Artificial hearts and genetic research may be modern miracles, but the next step in medical technology may be taking place in the bathroom.
British fixture maker Twyford Bathroom is developing a futuristic toilet that analyzes human waste for diseases, low fiber and pregnancy. It will even send an e-mail warning your doctor about potential medical problems.
Called the Versatile Interactive Pan, the new toilet will screen for such health problems as diabetes and colon cancer by examining your urine and stool samples. The VIP also will monitor your hormone and nutrient levels and examine your waste for dietary content.
"We want to link it to the local supermarket," Twyford spokesman Terry Wooliscroft told the BBC. "If, for example, a person is short on roughage one day, an order of beans . . . will be sent from the VIP to the supermarket and delivered that same day."
The Cheshire, England, company says the VIP will be the biggest breakthrough in toilets since 1883, when Thomas Twyford created the freestanding porcelain model we know today. Although it's not yet in production, the model could be on sale in the U.K. by 2006.
Good vs. bad. There are good Binladens and then there are bad bin Ladens. Some of the nation's most prestigious hospitals participate in an international telemedicine venture that received funding from Omar Mohammad A. Binladen, brother of terrorist Osama bin Laden. Officials at Massachusetts General Hospital and Johns Hopkins University have had to explain to the media in recent weeks that WorldCare, the nation's largest telemedicine company, which lets patients around the globe access specialists from prominent U.S. hospitals, has absolutely no connection with Osama.
The Binladen family has favored investments in projects to improve healthcare access in Saudi Arabia, according to a Boston Globe article published earlier this month.
After scrutinizing WorldCare's financial backers following the Sept. 11 attacks, Massachusetts General and other hospitals say they are satisfied that there is no financial connection between the side of the family investing in the telemedicine venture and Osama. Omar Mohammad and other members of the Binladen family have reportedly disowned their infamous brother.