On December 7th Nancy wakes up at 4 AM to a phone call from her brother: their father’s heart is failing, and he is going to die soon. She wakes Jerry and wonders whether she should head home to say goodbye. Once again, however, she decides that she can’t in the middle of the Reston situation—her post comes first. Nancy’s father calls her and asks her if she’s coming home. She says that she can’t yet, and promises to see him at Christmas (although this is unlikely). Then Nancy and Jerry get dressed, and Jerry heads to the monkey house. Nancy puts the children on the bus, and then heads off to work. Once there, Nancy tells Peters about her family situation, and he tells her to go home—but she refuses.
The mention of Nancy’s father again brings us back to the ideas of family and a different kind of self-sacrifice, as Nancy once more puts her duty ahead of the personal tragedy that is occurring within her family. Peters’ response, too, shows his humanity and empathy even at this moment of crisis. We are also reminded of the fragility of the human body, and of all the other things that can kill us—things much more common than the Ebola virus.
Dozens of monkey corpses have been coming in from Reston. Most of them are being incinerated, but Nancy has also been dissecting a large number of them in order to understand how exactly the virus is spreading. As she works, she thinks about her father, remembering how she used to help him farm day and night during plowing season when she was a girl. Nancy’s father dies that day, and she flies home to Wichita for his funeral, sobbing when she sees the American flag draped on his coffin (an honor he earned as a veteran).
This episode, in which Nancy dissects infected monkeys while thinking about her father, illustrates the conflict between her personal life and her work—again a conflict that isn’t emphasized in any of the other (male) characters. The American flag on her father’s coffin is a reminder of the same duty and patriotism that Nancy herself displays, and that ultimately keeps her from being able to say goodbye to him before his death.
At 4 PM on December 7th, the last monkey is killed. Jerry Jaax has spent hours chasing the escapee, finally catching it behind a cage with the help of Sergeant Amen. They radio Gene to let him know, and Jerry orders Sergeant Klages to explore the rest of the building. As he does so, Klages finds a freezer with the corpses of about a dozen monkeys—the original animals in Room F that Dan Dalgard had dissected. Gene orders Klages to decontaminate the bags, and with the help of Mehrl Gibson he tries to put the corpses into biohazard containers, but they are too frozen and distorted to do so. At last they leave them for the decontamination teams that will be entering the building the next day.
Even the news that the final escaped monkey has been killed comes with an unpleasant surprise, as Sergeant Klages discovers a dozen more corpses that have potentially been infected by the virus. These frozen corpses are a final, horrific reminder of the multiple lives that the soldiers have been forced to take because of the virus.
The 91-Tangoes leave the building exhausted and sweat-soaked. They have collected 3,500 samples. Gene Johnson, is exhausted as well, still wondering whether everyone on the operation is indeed safe and uninfected. Meanwhile the decon team, led by Mehrl Gibson, goes in to begin cleaning up the house, chipping monkey dung off of the walls and floor.
As the soldiers emerge from the building, Preston mentions the 3,500 samples in order to give readers a sense of the massive scope of the operation. Mehrl Gibson and his team, serve as a reminder that euthanizing the monkeys was only the first step in the decontamination process.
Meanwhile Milton Frantig appears to be doing much better. He is fever-free, and appears to have a mild flu. Eventually the C.D.C. sends him home.
Milton Frantig’s good health continues to deepen the mystery of the virus and its potential to threaten human lives.
Nineteen days after sniffing a tube of Ebola, Peter Jahrling and Tom Geisbert decide that they are definitely not infected. They are reassured but puzzled by the fact that Dan Dalgard and his men seem fine as well. Why can the virus spread easily through monkeys, killing them “like flies,” yet it leaves humans unharmed?
Preston expands on this sense of mystery by turning back to the narrative of Jahrling and Geisbert, who are (like Frantig) completely fine despite their potential exposure.
The C.D.C., meanwhile, traces the trail of the virus to a Philippine monkey farm where monkeys have been dying in large quantities but no human fatalities have been reported. Preston comments on the strange and mysterious ways of nature.
The theme of globalization returns as we briefly touch on the monkeys’ origins in the Philippines. At the same time, we find out more about the mysterious nature of the virus, which appears not to be infecting humans.
By December 18th the decon team has scrubbed the entire Reston monkey house with bleach, and now it is time to gas the place. They make the building totally airtight with duct tape and then set out samples of a bacterium called Bacillus subtilis niger—this bacteria is harmless but essentially unkillable. If the niger is dead at the end of the process, the Ebola will be too. Using electric frying pans, the army cooks disinfecting crystals which release formaldehyde gas, allowing it to soak into the building for the next three days. Last the team goes back in wearing spacesuits, and finds that the treatment has killed the niger, meaning that the Ebola is most likely sterilized. For a short time, no organisms whatsoever live in the Reston Primate Quarantine Unit.
Preston’s incredibly thorough and detailed description of the final steps in the decontamination process emphasizes for us the extreme measures to which the Army goes in order to ensure that the public will not be exposed to Ebola. The building has gone from a hot zone to a dead zone, a fact that means that the operation has been a success. The difficulty of the decontamination process contrasts with the ease with which the outbreak started in the first place.