It was just after 5 a.m. on a bleak winter morning a decade ago when Susan Sorrenti, a 39-year-old nurse and mother of two, woke from a restless sleep to grab a thermometer from her beside table.
Sorrenti was confined to a room on the second floor of her Peterborough home, a zone off-limits to her husband and girls. She hadn’t seen her little ones in days, not since the hospital phoned to tell her she had been exposed to the mysterious pneumonia-like disease that was killing people around the world.
Terrified, Sorrenti had been taking her own temperature every few hours since she got the call.
For days it sat at a normal 36.7 C, holding steady as she obsessively checked and rechecked. But on that Friday morning before dawn, when she pulled the thermometer out from under her tongue, the reading nearly knocked the wind out of her: 38.1 C.
Sorrenti’s temperature had spiked into the danger zone.
OK, she thought, as her breath quickened and her heart beat rapidly. This is it.
Sorrenti packed a bag and woke her husband. Greg Smith begged his wife to call an ambulance, but she refused. No point in exposing others, she told him. She’d already put her family at risk.
Sorrenti put on a mask, walked out the door and climbed into her dusty old Kia. The girls, 8-year-old Samantha and 6-year-old Angela, waved goodbye to their mother from a bedroom window. Sorrenti waved back. Then she took a deep breath, started the car, gripped the steering wheel and drove herself to Mount Sinai Hospital, where a medical test would confirm she had the deadly disease that would come to be known as SARS.