The Hot Zone

The Hot Zone

The Hot Zone Part 3, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At 4:30AM on Friday, December 1st, Jerry Jaax gets up and puts on civilian clothes in order to head to the Institute. Gene Johnson is already there with his gear from Kitum Cave: spacesuits, rubber gloves, needles, dissection tools, flashlights, biohazard bags, and handheld sprayers to decontaminate spacesuits. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has run a story about the Reston monkey house, stating that Ebola has been found in Virginia, and quoting C. J. Peters, who asserts that there’s no reason for panic. The article does not state that a vast military biohazard operation is about to take place “in a suburb of Washington,” a fact that would surely cause widespread panic. Peters hopes that his comments have created an appearance of calm and control, but acknowledges that a large part of the operation is going to be media control.
Now more than ever, readers see the value of Gene Johnson’s constant vigilance and foresight. Although his original expedition to Kitum Cave was completely unsuccessful, the knowledge and the gear from that trip now prove crucial in the operation that is to come. Meanwhile the Washington Post article gives readers a sense of how perilous (but vital) the secrecy of the operation is.
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C.J. Peters privately acknowledges that he doesn’t know whether or not the operation is safe. He thinks about the 500 monkeys within the building, knowing that it is possible that more and more will fall ill very shortly.
C. J.’s private fears highlight how little USAMRIID actually knows about the virus, and how brave the soldiers about to combat it are. The reminder that there are 500 monkeys in the house emphasizes for readers how overwhelming the epidemic could easily become.
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After arriving at the Institute at 5 AM, C. J. gives the order to move out at 6:30 AM. A line of unmarked cars is followed by an also-unmarked Level 4 biocontainment ambulance, which contains an Army medical-evacuation team, and a biocontainment pod—called a bubble stretcher—designed to get someone who has been attacked by a monkey from the building to the Slammer. Because of traffic, it takes two hours to reach the monkey house. As the team begins to unload, they hear the shouts of children at a nearby day-care center. Jerry Jaax and Gene Johnson decide to have their team put spacesuits on inside the building so that television crews can’t film them. Jerry resolves to go in first, accompanied by Mark Haines, a veterinarian and former Green Beret. The men put on surgical scrub suits and enter the storage room, where an ambulance team led by Captain Elizabeth Hill helps them put on their orange Racal spacesuits. Over these they tape gloves and bright yellow rubber boots. Jerry Jaax and Mark Haines enter the corridor of the monkey house and realize that they have forgotten to bring flashlights. Still, they decide to continue going forward, making their way to the far end of the corridor and the monkey rooms beyond.
At last, we witness the full intricacy and scope of the USAMRIID operation. The ambulance at the ready only underscores the potential dangers that lie ahead, while the presence of both traffic and children near the monkey house help to remind us of the everyday life that is put in peril by an Ebola outbreak. Jerry, as is typical of him, demonstrates great bravery and responsibility by making sure that he is the first man inside the monkey house, despite never having worn a spacesuit before. The fact that the men forget their flashlights, meanwhile, demonstrates the tiny errors that can occur in such an operation despite the utmost caution. While missing flashlights are not deadly, a mistake involving a spacesuit or a glove easily might be.
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Meanwhile Nancy wakes her children at 7:30 AM and reminds them that she and Jerry will be working late. She watches as they walk to school and remembers being told that the kind of work she is about to do was not appropriate for a “married female.” When she arrives at the preparation room, it is crowded and confused. Nancy trains the soldiers as they suit up, reminding them to always check their spacesuits for rips, and to put extra tape on their ankles to repair rips and tears in order to keep outside air out of their suits. She also warns them of the danger of monkey bites, and the risk of potentially being exposed to Ebola. Last, she reminds them to rinse the blood off of their gloves frequently in order to spot holes or tears. Preston notes that these types of suits have a battery life of six hours—after that, the person inside won’t be able to breathe.
As Jerry is in the monkey house, Nancy is at home, a fact that reminds us of the domestic life that they are both protecting and imperiling by working to combat Ebola—and yet again Preston only shows Nancy having to “balance work with family”—none of the other characters. Meanwhile Nancy’s lecture reminds both readers and soldiers of the many different dangers that Ebola poses, even when wearing a spacesuit. The mention of blood, in particular, recalls Nancy’s scare with Ebola, emphasizing just how delicate this operation is, and how easily it could go wrong.
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Jerry Jaax and Mark Haines enter the hot zone, hearing monkeys screaming as they do so. The temperature in the building is above ninety degrees. As they continue walking, Jerry sees two unauthorized Hazleton employees who have entered the monkey rooms through a back way—they are wearing respirators, but no other type of gear. The workers are shocked by the soldiers in spacesuits, and Jerry at last asks them which way to Room H. Afterwards, the two report to Dan Dalgard, who shows up in Room H wearing a respirator. Jerry is shocked that Dalgard is not protected, while Dalgard is unhappy about the potential news panic that the spacesuits may cause. He shows them the room, and the monkeys panic at the sight of the spacesuits. Jerry decides to look at all the monkeys. He and Captain Haines go from room to room, finding other monkeys that appear ill. Jaax and Haines both sense that something’s wrong—“[s]omething lived here other than monkeys and people.”
The idea of the “hot zone” becomes literal now, due to the monkey house’s malfunctioning heating system. The presence of the Hazleton employees, meanwhile, demonstrates both their staggering complacency and exactly the kind of human error that could potentially lead to an actual outbreak. Even Dan Dalgard, despite his fears and his contact with the officials at USAMRIID, still does not seem to understand the lengths to which he must go to protect himself—in fact, he seems to care more about public image than remaining safe from the virus. Jerry and Mark’s discovery that many other monkeys seem ill serves to deepen the sense of foreboding.
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Nancy gets into a scrub suit, puts on her spacesuit, gathers boxes of syringes, and goes into the building with Captain Steven Denny. They head into Room H where Jerry is with his team. Dan Dalgard, meanwhile, picks four monkeys that look the sickest and gives them injections to sedate them and then stop their hearts. More and more people come in, and the room becomes increasingly crowded and confused. Nancy, meanwhile, sees that Sergeant Curtis Klages has a rip on his suit, which she tapes for him. She then removes the dead monkeys from their cages, double bags them, sprays Clorox bleach on both bags, and loads them into biohazard containers, which she sprays as well. Last she loads these containers into another plastic bag, which she also sprays. Finally she exits, and is sprayed with bleach for five minutes in the airlock. The support team then takes off her suit, and, soaked with bleach and freezing cold, Nancy changes back into her civilian clothes. As she does so, the containers are loaded into a refrigerator van. Nancy rides the van back to Fort Detrick to dissect the monkeys.
Nancy, as usual, displays great competence and efficiency when it comes to performing her part of the operation. The crowding and confusion within Room H, however, shows how easily the operation could go wrong, despite being carried out by trained, disciplined soldiers. Sergeant Klages’ ripped suit also reminds readers of the many ways an Ebola breach could take place. The many precautions that Nancy takes in order to transport the dead monkeys back to the Institute adds to the sense of precariousness and danger, emphasizing the fear that Ebola inspires and the potential power of the virus to infect humans.
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After Nancy has left, Jerry counts sixty-five more monkeys in the room. He uses a special device that Gene Johnson brought back from Africa to inject them: a pole with a socket on the end for a syringe. It is also necessary to hold the monkeys down as the needle comes towards them, and for that the soldiers use a mop handle with a soft pad at the end. Captain Mark Hanes immobilizes the monkeys with this tool, while Jerry injects their thighs with ketamine and general anesthetic. After this, Jerry gives them a shot of a sedative. Last, the team takes blood samples from the monkeys and then injects them with a lethal drug called T-61. After the monkeys die, Captain Steven Denny dissects them, taking samples of their livers and spleens, and their remains are put into biohazard containers. During this process, Dan Dalgard heads to his office, where he stays for the rest of the day.
The clinical and elaborate description of the process by which the soldiers euthanize the monkeys is horrific, but not melodramatic. Whether sick or well, all of these living creatures have been exposed to the Ebola virus, and are therefore a danger to the human public. The multi-step process also emphasizes how delicate the operation is, especially because they are dealing with wild, unpredictable, and intelligent animals. Despite the large number of monkeys that must be killed (65 in Room H and potentially 500 in the building), the process must be followed methodically and calmly.
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The operation in Room H is finished by late afternoon. As parents pick their children up from the nearby daycare, the team exits the hot zone in pairs, looking pale and weak. Preston notes that the wind is strong and cold, and that Jarvis Purdy is resting comfortably not too far away.
The juxtaposition of parents picking up their children and soldiers leaving the building emphasizes the everyday life that the operation is striving to protect. The mention of Jarvis Purdy reminds us that the virus may have already spread.
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At USAMRIID, Nancy Jaax and Ron Trotter stay up till 1 AM dissecting monkeys. This time, the monkeys clearly have Ebola. Their guts are filled with lesions, their intestines are brimming with blood, and they show signs of massive blood clots. Some of the monkeys are so liquefied that they’ve “become essentially a heap of mush and bones in a skin bag, mixed with huge amounts of amplified virus.”
This dissection confirms that the monkeys have Ebola, and it also reminds both Nancy and readers how horrific and powerful the virus truly is. More than ever, we understand why USAMRIID’s operation is necessary—and Preston lingers on the gore to emphasize how dangerous the mission is.
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On Monday, December 4th, Dan Dalgard drives to the monkey house and notices that one of the monkey caretakers is outside in a mask and a jumpsuit. Furious, he goes over to tell the man, named Milton Frantig, to get back inside. Suddenly Frantig begins vomiting uncontrollably.
This sense of danger and impending disaster reaches a climax as another employee falls ill. Suspense is even more heightened than before, as readers and characters alike wonder whether an Ebola outbreak has truly begun.
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