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Side Gig

by Janet Sever

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3

part 1

The nurse consulted her clipboard and called out, “NL5, NL5,” then shortly after, “I34, I34.” When she heard her own privacy number, “G72, G72,” Farren leaned over to the guy lolling and drooling in the chair to the left, apparently passed out, and said “BINGO!” in his ear. He didn’t budge.

Farren gathered her stuff; final exams were in three weeks, and she’d spread papers and books out on the chair to her right. So far, she hadn’t minded the wait, because she had a quiet place to study. She didn’t have anything else to do until starting time at her bakery job, and it wasn’t quite enough time to pick up an Uber shift. Plus she couldn’t study while driving for Uber.

She came up behind NL5 and, while she couldn’t hear what the nurse said to him, she could tell it wasn’t good. The nurse shook her head and pointed to the front door. The guy reeked of body odor, pee and dumpster, and he moved like he was drunk or high; apparently he was not qualified to sell his plasma.

I34 was directed down another hallway and Farren heard “plasma” and “about two hours.” Presumably I34 passed the test, and soon his vital bodily fluids would be dripping into test tubes. Farren looked down the hall; hopefully she could get her own fluids started and be that much closer to $30.

“G72?” the nurse asked. She wore colorful scrubs with scenes from Scooby Doo emblazoned all over them. Top and pants. It was a lot of Scooby and Scrappy and Velma and Shaggy, and neon pink, green and yellow, so much that Farren was glad she wasn’t here to be treated for a headache.

“That’s me, ol’ G72.”

The nurse smiled kindly. “Please step this way.”

“Wait, aren’t I going to get to donate plasma today?” Farren had been counting on that $30.

“Step this way,” the nurse said again.

The nurse led Farren into a small office with a Swedish modern desk and two straight chairs. A table held a kiosk of brochures for Bluff City Biologics and Laboratory Services, including one about plasma donation, another about egg donation, one about targeted pharmaceuticals for all kinds of diseases, and some others with virtually unpronounceable words and phrases.

After Farren had read the brochures, leafed through the back issues of Memphis Magazine on the table, and a dog-eared Reader’s Digest from 2004, she decided she’d waited long enough.

Just as she stood up, the office door opened and Farren changed her irritated “exit” body language into a stretch and a neck pop.

“I’m sorry I left you sitting for so long. Those chairs make me stiff, too.” The man was tall, bespectacled and bearded, wearing a white lab coat and looking like every good scientist on TV shows or the news.

Farren noted that his shoes looked expensive and were perfectly polished.

“I’m Doctor Gilbert, director of the facility,” and he motioned toward a woman who had just walked in, “and this is Judith Huber, my second in command.”

“Call me Judith.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Farren Leveque, G72 to my friends.”

Dr. Gilbert looked at her for a long moment, then laughed. “Yes, well. I’m sorry we kept you; we were waiting for lab results from one more person and were hoping that we could go over this with the two of you at the same time but unfortunately, she didn’t work out.”

“Um... has there been some mistake?” Farren asked. “I’m really only here for the plasma program. You know, $30 three times a week, all the plasma I can spare.” Then she stopped. “Wait, I’m not sick am I?”

“Oh, no, not at all!” Judith laid a cool hand on Farren’s arm. “Just the opposite. Your results indicate that you’re a good match for a different program, potentially much more lucrative than $90 a week.”

“Tell me more,” Farren said. This was news she could use. Her parents both lost their jobs several months ago as a result of the recent pandemic, and while student loans — oh, so many student loans — were paying for her tuition, she scrambled every month to pay room and board and gas for the car and other stuff that her parents weren’t able to help with anymore.

She’d given up her apartment and was couch-surfing at her friend Jen’s, but Jen’s boyfriend had just moved in, so Farren was going to have to find something else until finals were over. She’d just about worked out how she could sleep in the library if she could finagle a key from Dr. Allagash in the biology department. Showering in the gym and picking up cash selling plasma and doing her other side gigs should get her to graduation. Farren hadn’t come all this way to quit now.

“Before we can talk to you about this,” Judith slid a small bundle of pages across the desk to Farren, “we need you to sign this agreement, which contains a non-disclosure clause. If you sign this, you agree that even if you don’t go forward with the program, you will never speak to anyone about what we’re going to tell you today, nor anything about this program to anyone.”

It was then Farren realized that Judith was not wearing a white lab coat because she was the lawyer.

“Sure, I’ll sign it.” Farren didn’t sign right away, let enough time lapse to make them think she’d at least skimmed it before she scrawled her name to the bottom. The only things she remembered reading were “whereas,” “hereto,” “confidential,” and “penalty.” Oh, and her name, which had been typed in, and “Bluff City Biologics.” She imagined this deal paying double what the plasma donation did, and what she could do with $180 a week.

“Well, Ms. Leveque,” Dr. Gilbert began, “as you know, far more people need organ transplants than we have organs available. Right now, over 110,000 people in the United States are waiting for a transplant, and about 17 people die each day waiting for a vital organ.”

“Wow! That’s terrible.”

“Yes, it is. But we here at Bluff City Biologics and Laboratory Services have actually found a way to grow organs for transplantation.”

“Okay...” Farran remembered an old biology textbook with a picture of a mouse where scientists grew a replacement human ear on the mouse’s back. What were they going to grow on her? “Is this like the ear mouse?” she asked abruptly.

Judith and Dr. Gilbert looked at each other, puzzled. Then Gilbert snapped his fingers. “The Vacanti Mouse! Of course! You know your science. They did grow some skin over some scaffolding of a sort on a mouse’s back, but really not much came of it.” He looked thoughtful. “Though arguably, the Vacanti Mouse was a direct precursor to this project.” He nodded his head, and glanced at Judith. “Yes, in a way you would be like the Vacanti Mouse,” he said. “But not to worry: everything takes place inside. Inside your body, that is.”

He pulled out a spiral-bound flip book and opened the first page in front of Farren. “You are lucky enough, according to our lab tests, to have higher than normal amounts of certain growth hormones and blood factors that we can’t replicate in the lab, but which are essential for cell growth.”

Farren nodded, and he went on. “We use our proprietary process essentially to ‘plant’ some stem cells near the organ we want to replicate. And then we insert nanites — microscopic robots — and tell them to get to work. The nanites use the stem cells and your body’s own hormones and blood factors to build what is essentially a copy of your pancreas or kidney or liver or lung. Once the product is finished, we remove it from your body. The nanites shut down and are flushed from your system.”

“So there’s surgery.”

Judith took over. “We insert the stem cells and nanites without significant scarring — it’s two minor incisions in your abdomen — and we run in a thin tube. We can actually remove the newly-created pancreas and lung laparoscopically; it usually takes a somewhat bigger incision to harvest a kidney. Oh, and we never grow a full-size liver; we can transplant a smaller liver — or even half of someone’s liver — we do that now with living donors. We’ve found that in a few cases, our small livers will eventually grow close to normal size in its new host.”

“How long does it take?” Farren asked. “Will I have to be here the whole time?”

Gilbert laughed. “Oh no,” he said. “We do the procedure in one day — it only takes about an hour — and have you spend the night, to make sure nothing happens, like an allergic reaction. That is somewhat common. Or bleeding, which is much less common. Then you check in with us every other week until the new organ is ready, in which case we remove it and send it where it’s needed.”

Farren asked a few more questions, said, “I’ll think about it,” and after a warning from Judith about the non-disclosure she’d signed, Farren left just in time to make it to her job at the bakery. She thought it was nice that Judith had paid her the $30 she would have gotten from plasma donation anyway.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2021 by Janet Sever

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