'Poisoned' book excerpt: 'Where Did Your Child Eat?'

By Jeff Benedict

Deseret News

Published: Sunday, May 15 2011 5:54 p.m. MDT

This is an excerpt from "Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. coli Outbreak That Changed The Way Americans Eat," by Jeff Benedict.

It was evening by the time forty-four-year-old Suzanne Kiner pulled into the parking lot at Woodinville Pediatrics, twenty miles from Seattle. Her nine-year-old daughter, Brianne, felt too weak to walk. Topping 250 pounds and with glasses and short wavy hair, Suzanne lifted her sixty-five-pound daughter from the backseat and carried her inside. Brianne had missed the previous day of school with a low-grade fever and stomach ache. Besides liquids, all Suzanne could get in her was raspberry popsicles. Then the diarrhea had started, along with the cramps that reduced Brianne to tears.

As soon as they got inside the clinic, Suzanne hustled Brianne to the bathroom. Once she got her situated on the toilet, Suzanne slipped a cup under Brianne's bottom to collect a urine sample. When she pulled the cup from underneath her daughter, the urine was blood red. So was Suzanne's hand.

"What is that, Mommy?"

"It's the raspberry popsicle you had earlier today," Suzanne said, trying not to panic.

Behind the thick lenses on her glasses, Brianne's eyes were full of fear.

Quickly patting her daughter dry and wiping her own arm with antiseptic, Suzanne stepped into the hallway with the cup of bloody urine in her hand. She held it above her head when she spotted the pediatrician. His eyes widened and he hustled toward her.

By the time paramedics removed Brianne Kiner from the ambulance and wheeled her into the ER at Children's Hospital, Suzanne Kiner was doing all she could to hold herself together. Brianne was writhing in pain, and the diarrhea just kept coming. So did the blood.

The ER was packed, chaotic, and loud. Suzanne's forty-five-year-old husband, Rex, a quiet, unassuming electrical engineer, began filling out paperwork. Suzanne stayed with Brianne as she was wheeled into a private room and her vital signs were taken. Her blood pressure was way up: dehydration had set in. Repeated attempts to get an IV line into a vein in Brianne's arm failed. The more the medic poked, the more Brianne shrieked in pain. Finally a senior nurse got the line in. More doctors and nurses kept coming into the room. And more and more wires and cords were running between Brianne and nearby monitoring devices.

Eventually, an epidemiologist wearing a medical overcoat and carrying a clipboard approached Suzanne with some questions, starting with where and what Brianne had eaten lately.

Hardly anything, Suzanne explained. Brianne had basically been on a liquid diet for the past four days.

Before that?

Before that was hard for Suzanne to remember. Her daughter was screaming in agony, making it hard to focus on what had been cooked for dinner five days earlier. The epidemiologist said she was less interested in what Suzanne had cooked than in whether Brianne had eaten at any restaurants lately.

That was an easier question. Jack in the Box, Suzanne told her.

The epidemiologist asked if she was sure about that.

Suzanne was sure. They hardly ever ate out. But twice in the past week and a half Brianne had eaten out. And both times Jack in the Box was the place.

The epidemiologist asked if Suzanne knew what Brianne had eaten.

That was easy, too: a kid-size burger, french fries, and a milk shake. Same meal both times.

The epidemiologist noted all of this on a form and asked, "Are you sure Brianne didn't eat hamburgers anywhere else, such as McDonald's or Wendy's?"

Suzanne was sure.