As a Brentwood postal worker dying of anthrax struggled for every breath on his bathroom floor, his wife frantically ticked off his mysterious symptoms for a 911 dispatcher.
The possibility of anthrax was never mentioned. A day earlier, Joseph P. Curseen Jr. was diagnosed with dehydration by doctors at a local hospital and sent home.
The 911 conversation, made public Friday by Prince George's County, Md., officials, took place on Oct. 22. as the trail of anthrax-tainted letters became clearer and thousands of postal workers began taking antibiotics.
Celestine Curseen called 911 before dawn after waking up to find her husband in a heap on the bathroom floor.
"He's breathing just constantly," she told the dispatcher, struggling to remain calm. "He's got asthma and he's just constantly breathing hard and fast."
"How long ago was it that he, um . . . " the dispatcher said.
"I don't know. I fell asleep, I was asleep and I just looked up and he was laying out in the bathroom there."
Curseen, 47, slipped in and out of consciousness during the call, but even when aware of his surroundings, he was barely able to communicate, his wife said.
"Is he able to talk to you normally?" the dispatcher asked.
"No. He's breathing so hard. Sometimes he won't say anything for a period of time, but yes, he's talking."
"OK. Is he able to, say, talk in a complete sentence?"
"No, he's just been answering my questions," she said.
She also recounted that her husband had been to Southern Maryland Hospital the day before after passing out in church. He was released after being diagnosed with dehydration and given medication.
The call ended with the dispatcher telling her to wait for an ambulance. Curseen was taken back to Southern Maryland Hospital where, hours later, he became the second Brentwood postal employee to die of anthrax. Thomas L. Morris Jr., 55, was the first; he died a day earlier.
Both worked at the Brentwood postal facility, which processed the anthrax-tainted letter that was opened Oct. 15 in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.)
Morris called 911 just before he died, telling dispatchers he thought he had anthrax--despite a doctor's dismissal--and recalling that a co-worker handled a powder-containing letter a week earlier.