Dr. Zauberberg
Or: How I learned to stop worrying and believe in the (d)(5) hold.

I'm now rotating. (Of course, we're all rotating together, being on the Earth and all.) I'm currently working on the Chest Service of Bellevue Hospital. "Chest" means "lung" which means (at least for most of our patients) tuberculosis. There are lots of lung diseases, but the most common ones (pneumonia, asthma, COPD [emphysema and bronchitis]) get thrown in the same big barrel as all the other medical conditions, spread out among all the other medicine teams on the regular wards. This particular ward I'm on now is limited to the tubercular.

It is a Manhattan version of the Magic Mountain. There are New Yorkers of unexotic ethnicity (Puerto Rican, say) who have AIDS; there are Asian immigrants who have had the misfortune to contract drug-resistant TB; there are the elderly and demented from Coler-Goldwater, who are exiled from their residence until their cultures come back negative, no acid-fast bacilli swimming redly past the eyepiece.

And then there are those who are under arrest, under Article 11.47(d)(5) of the New York City Health Code. In other words: they have TB, and they can't or won't either take their medications or modify their behavior so as not to pose a risk of contagion; they have been warned, and now they are shut in. They are under (d)(5) hold.

This is justified by public health necessity, which is defined by the New York City Department of Health. On a case by case basis, the DOH balances the danger of contagion, the necessity of treatment, and the contingency of private circumstances.

I wish I had something wise to say here, something which would precisely trace this intersection so we could see it as clearly as pathologists see the offending acid-stained bacilli. All I can do - as usual - is ask myself questions while I immerse myself in the work the system requires of me in the name of the patients.

I've been thinking all day of the word "misprision," but I'm sure it's not as foreboding or relevant here as it seems.

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