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“A woman returns from Central Africa and notices strange red lesions on her shoulder. When she sees the doctor about them, he immediately calls the cops. What happens next is entirely unbelievable.

Janie Cunningham was perplexed. Her body still ached from her Central African adventure. Four weeks in the equatorial rainforest trekking after mountain gorillas had left her more than a little exhausted. But this morning, she was more than tired; she was running a slight fever, and the ache in her muscles was unlike anything she had ever experienced.

Janie dragged herself out of bed and waddled into the bathroom. She laughed at her image in the mirror. She had a weird tan that framed her face and left the area around her ears and the side of her neck white. She’d worn a hat the entire time, and these were the results. But there was something else that was bothering Janie too. She had a sensitive spot on her right shoulder that had started bothering her during the night.

The sensation was a little weird, a combination of a severe itch and a burning sensation. It was simply too sensitive to scratch. She pulled the side of her t-shirt down to get a look. Janie had to shift and turn a little to see the spot in the mirror, and what she saw left her perplexed. A huge red blotch had appeared on her shoulder, and it seemed to spill down onto her shoulder blade. Inside the angry mark, tiny red dots had appeared. It was as if the skin had been punctured by hundreds of needles; each dot had a minuscule droplet of blood in the center.

Janie’s first thought was that something might have bitten her in the equatorial jungle. There were creatures there that most Westerners had never even heard about. Millipedes were everywhere, not to mention jungle spiders. There was no telling what a bite from something like a rainforest spider could cause. Everybody who knew Janie thought of her as a wild child. She was her mother’s greatest concern and her father’s hero.

Obsessed with scuba diving, she was always in one exotic destination or another, exploring underwater wonderlands or diving on shipwrecks. And when she wasn’t in the water, she was scaling a mountain or doing some kind of impossible wilderness trek. The mountain gorillas in Central Africa had always tickled her fancy, so when the opportunity arose to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, she grabbed it with both hands.

Initially, Janie had checked into a lodge on the shores of Lake Koo. It was a popular hangout for workers and expats who craved a slice of calm in a chaotic city. But she wasn’t there for the calm; she was there for the adventure. The day after checking in, she woke up at 6:00 a.m., had a speedy breakfast, and was met by someone from Binga National Park.

Janie’s excitement mounted on the way to the starting point of her trek. She learned that gorilla conservation is taken extremely seriously in the DRC, and it is a dangerous business. On average, a ranger at Virunga National Park loses their life every month. It was simply the harsh truth of holding the world’s most perilous wildlife job. Over 200 rangers have made the ultimate sacrifice in Virunga, facing poachers and rebels while striving to protect the gorillas from harm.

The minibus stopped, and Janie and two rangers set off on foot. Within 2 hours, they’d reached an altitude of 1,500 meters. The heat and humidity made the hike exhausting. They trekked up and down the rolling hills, eagerly searching for any sign of black among the green. They were truly in untouched territory. There were no tracks to follow, no well-trodden path created by tourists. Instead, one of their guides wielded an enormous machete, hacking away at the vines and bushes to forge a trail for them to follow.

Finally, they spotted a family of primates. Six mountain gorillas lounged on the forest floor just meters above them. Two silverbacks, a baby, and three youngsters. Suddenly, one of them let out a loud sneeze, and the baby initiated a playful somersault towards their group. These were untamed creatures, simply going about their usual business as if Janie and the rangers weren’t even there.

They displayed boundless playfulness, with adults and youngsters rolling around, hugging, and lightly pushing each other. To her right, a female gorilla playfully tapped one of her babies on the face with her feet. The experience was mesmerizing.

During the descent, Janie thought she was a changed person, that she could never be the same person again after contact with these incredible creatures. While in the DRC, she did the trek up to the gorillas another four times, and each time she came away with a sense of awe. For the first time in her life, Janie had felt totally humbled.

Now, standing in front of her mirror back home, she thought of the jungle, the persistent insects, and the two times she had to brush scorpions from her jeans. It was more than likely something had bitten or stung her when she was trekking after the gorillas. She touched the red welt with the tips of her fingers. Again, the sensation was unlike anything she’d felt before. Her skin was hypersensitive to the touch, but the red blotch itched like crazy.

“Better safe than sorry,” she thought. She found her phone on the bedside table and dialed her doctor. He would know what to do. He was familiar with her propensity for traveling to remote areas of the globe and always made sure she had the correct inoculations and took the relevant preventative measures before she departed. This was the first time she had ever come back with something, though, even though she’d been responsible with her health and followed his orders to a tee before she departed. This was something he couldn’t have foreseen.

An hour later, she walked through the doors of his room. There was nobody else in the reception area, and it took no longer than 5 minutes before she was called in. Sitting across his desk from him, Janie recounted her experiences. Dr. Collins had been her physician for almost a decade, and like always, he hung on every word. When she mentioned the strange spots on her shoulder, he instructed her to show them to him. Janie pulled one sleeve of her shirt down to expose her shoulder. Dr. Collins walked around the desk to have a better look. Then he fell silent. Janie could see the deep furrows appear on his forehead. For the first time since she’d met him, he couldn’t look her in the eye. Something was seriously wrong, and worse than that, Dr. Collins wasn’t telling her what it was.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Why do you suddenly look so worried?”

Dr. Collins rubbed his chin and said nothing. “I’m not sure, Janie. I will be back shortly to carry out some tests. Just wait here for a second.”

He headed out the door, deep in thought. Through the closed door, she heard the doctor tell the receptionist to cancel all his appointments for the day. Then she heard him make a phone call to someone at the CDC. Once he disconnected the call, he phoned the local police.

“The Center for Disease Control,” she thought. “What on Earth is this all about?”

When Dr. Collins reappeared, he was wearing a face mask, and he didn’t venture further into the room than the door. “I’m worried you brought something nasty back from Central Africa, Janie,” he said. “And I’m not equipped to run the necessary tests here or to put the relevant protocols in place if it is what I think it might be.”

She wished he would just come out and say it. From the way he was acting, one would swear she had picked up leprosy or something else disgusting and contagious. Janie was feeling a little panicky, and that quickly turned into irritation. She demanded to know what he was thinking, and now.

Dr. Collins hesitated, then he said, “Were you in contact with any sick people while you were in the Congo?”

Janie thought and thought, and then remembered that there had been a flu going around among the staff at the lodge where she had been staying. But she had had minimal contact with them, and highly doubted she had ever been in the same room as them. But the next question from the doctor made her head spin a little.

“Were they kitchen staff?” Dr. Collins asked.

She didn’t reply, but her eyes filled with tears. The physician took pity on her and finally told her what he was suspecting. “You’re displaying symptoms of a viral hemorrhagic fever, something like Ebola, Marburg, or Lassa fever.”

Janie felt like her whole world was crumbling. In her panic, she asked the doctor why he suspected something so risky.

“The fever, muscle aches, and the skin lesions on your shoulder,” he said. “And of course, the fact that you’ve just returned from the region where these diseases run rampant.”

He explained that he had notified the CDC, but she already knew that. They’re equipped to do the necessary tests in a proper environment. He looked at her but still didn’t come any closer. “These diseases are highly contagious,” he said, “and there are protocols doctors have to follow when they come into contact with a patient they suspect of displaying symptoms of any of them. It’s all about getting you the best possible care and preventing the disease from spreading if it’s what you have.”

“What if it was just a mosquito or a spider?” she asked, her voice quivering.

Slowly, Dr. Collins attempted a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Then I’m wrong, and you’ll be just fine,” he replied.

The rest of the day passed in a haze. People from the CDC arrived, all dressed in hazmat suits, under police escort. They transported her to a quarantine facility and started running tests. For Janie, this was as close as she’d come to an alien abduction. Everything felt surreal. She was given short, curt answers to her questions, and was starting to feel desperately afraid. Dr. Collins had promised to contact her folks, but she had given clear instructions that they should not come to New York from Florida until there was more certainty.

To conduct the tests, CDC doctors in hazmat suits had drawn a complete vial of blood. They took it from her arm and then raced downstairs to their lab. This much they had explained to her. There, a PCR machine would gradually multiply the genetic material in her blood until it reached the detectable level. Altogether, this process could take a long time.

For two days, Janie sat alone in her room, or as she preferred to call it, she was “tied up in her own thoughts.” At least she’d have a great life, she thought, and then she told herself she wasn’t quite done with it yet. Janie tried to keep herself from indulging in worst-case scenarios, but found it hard to maintain a positive outlook.

After lunch, there was a knock on the door. It was Dr. Collins, and he had a broad smile on his face. “Not Ebola,” he said, “or any other hemorrhagic fever. But it is something we need to pay attention to.”

Janie was a tumultuous combination of furious and happy. She shook her head and said, “Then what?”

“Necrotizing fasciitis,” he said, matter-of-factly. “It mimics many of the symptoms of hemorrhagic fever, right down to the skin lesions.”

The totally ridiculous nature of the past 48 hours hit home for Janie. She couldn’t contain her laughter. “So basically, you and the CDC wasted my time?” she asked through the giggles. “You had me locked up like a common criminal with a bad case of leprosy, and for what? An insect bite? Is that what caused this?”

Janie rubbed the spot on her shoulder to emphasize the point. Dr. Collins shook his head. “Not exactly,” he said. “Necrotizing fasciitis is bacterial. It typically gets into your system through a scratch or a lesion in your skin. But it’s highly treatable. A course of the proper antibiotics, and you’ll be right as rain in no time.”

Janie felt as if a huge weight was being lifted from her chest. She could finally breathe again. She wasted no time in calling her parents to relay the good news. And when her phone pinged with a notification for another exotic trip, she happily accepted the invitation. She still had her whole life ahead of her, and she wasn’t wasting another second of it.

What a scary story! What do you think?