by Janet Sever
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
At the end, there hadn’t been much to think about. Dr. Gilbert told Farren what she’d be paid for the organs she’d grow. Most in demand was the heart, but right now there were concerns about the risks of growing a heart inside a human host; apparently the new heart could crowd out the host’s heart, and also something about beating and bioelectrical signal incompatibility that Farren hadn’t really followed.
Farren had settled on a pancreas, which offered the highest price with the least scarring. Farren immediately added $2500 to her bank account with another $2500 coming when they harvested it.
“Harvested.” She hated that word, and every time Gilbert or Judith said it, she pictured a John Deere tractor ploughing through her guts. But she also got paid $60 for every visit to the lab for check-ups, so all in all it ended up being a much better deal than selling plasma.
Thus far she hadn’t had any side effects — no allergic reactions, no bleeding, no death — none of the many, many things that the 10-page exculpatory agreement Judith made her sign had warned about.
Farren had no regrets about her decision; two days after she came home from the initial procedure, she’d gotten a cheerful letter in the mail from Sallie Mae: “Congratulations! Graduation is on the horizon! Remember that your first student loan payment in the amount of $1,336 will be due on March 1.”
That same day she got two letters and a phone call thanking her for applying for positions she would not be hired for. One pancreas equalled three months of student loan payments. She’d figure out the rest later.
Farren reviewed her answers on her last final exam, while someone’s future pancreas nestled against her own. It had been growing there for about two weeks now. Dr. Gilbert called it a “bud.” Last night she’d begun to feel an odd sensation; she couldn’t have explained it exactly. A buzzing maybe? It was worse this morning, but she was able to finish her final in the Politics of Migration course, and she’d already turned in her senior project, “Ramifications of increasing tick-borne diseases and reduced public health funding.” She was now done with college.
Only $175,000 in loans to pay back, give or take, no employment in sight, and not for the first time was she questioning her decision to major in environmental sciences, although she enjoyed it and was pretty good at it. Except for Applied Statistics which had ruined her 4.0 grade point average. Confident she’d aced the exam today, she left Robertson Hall and headed over to Bluff City Biologics. But the buzzing was getting worse.
* * *
“It feels like — I know this sounds weird — but like you put a bunch of angry bees in a balloon, and they are flying around like crazy.” Farren winced as Dr. Gilbert pressed her abdomen.
“Like the bees are stinging you?” Dr. Gilbert frowned.
“No, not stinging... I can’t say it’s painful, exactly, but this weird sensation of... lots of things going on in there. Activity.” She shifted on the exam table. No matter how she moved, the bees got mad.
“Well, everything looks good on the CT scan. Better than good. I think the organ is probably going to be ready in maybe two more weeks.”
“Seriously? That’s a lot faster than you said.”
Gilbert held up his hand. “As we’ve talked about, this is still experimental, so it’s hard to predict. All I can say is, your body is an optimum environment.”
“Two weeks,” Farren mused. “I never asked this, but can I do this again? I mean, after the pancreas is removed?” Farren was picturing the Sallie Mae bill, and wondering how long she’d be able to sleep in the library. She could always move back home to Kentucky, but there weren’t a lot of jobs in Louisville.
Gilbert nodded. “Yes... but not the same organ. We think it’s important to give your organ — your pancreas — time to rest until another procedure. But you could probably do a kidney, or maybe even a lung, a couple weeks after harvest.”
Farren winced. The John Deere image again. “I think I’d like to do that,” she said.
Gilbert smiled and patted her arm. “Let’s get through this one first, ok?”
Farren nodded. The bees were fluttering more than ever, she wasn’t sure if it was in agreement or disagreement. She finished getting dressed and walked out to the front desk to get her money. Judith stood there. “Hey, Farren, I heard you were coming and saw the CT scan. Everything’s coming along great! How are you feeling?”
“Good, actually, except for the bees in my gut.” Farren rubbed her stomach slightly.
“I guess it’s those nanites doing their job. Looks like they’ll be gone before long. As soon as we harvest, we deactivate the nanites, and they are shed from your body.”
Judith leaned in closer and whispered, “You pee them out.” She handed Farren $60 in cash. “Everything else OK?” she asked. “You need anything?”
“No, I’m good. I just finished my last final, and graduation is in three weeks. Just working on finding a job at this point.”
Judith patted her arm in what Farren had come to see as sisterly. “You have a lot to offer. Someone will snap you up soon.”
“Hope so.” Farren said and turned to leave, but then stopped. “Say, Judith, how much does Bluff City Biologics get for this pancreas I’m growing? You’re paying me over $5,000, so what do you guys get?”
Judith stopped, and studied Farren carefully. “Well... why is that important?” she said slowly.
“I’m just curious. I was reading about the organ trade in other countries like Iran, and they pay big money.”
Judith’s face became blank. “This is a scientific endeavor, Farren, and we obtain funding from several sources, so that’s part of where your money is coming from. Of course we’re not paying you for the organ, per se, but for your time and because you are taking part in an experimental procedure. And you did read the agreement in full, didn’t you?”
Judith knew that Farren had not read the agreement, and Farren hadn’t even kept a copy to look at later. She didn’t have any reservations about the project; she was getting her money, and it looked like she could get more if she did a kidney or a lung or a liver, so ultimately, she really didn’t care.
But Farren had been a little curious after reading an article about illegal organ trade; most countries had an agreement that body parts wouldn’t be bought and sold, but organs had been traded illegally all over the world for years. If people were going to be able to start growing extras, things might change.
Right now, people were sometimes paying $100,000 or more to buy certain organs on the black market, so she had started wondering what would happen to this extra pancreas in her gut that was buzzing like a million bees right now. She’d just assumed it would be sent over to St. Jude or Methodist Hospital to someone who needed it, but now she was wondering if Bluff City Biologics might be selling. Farren knew they sold sperm and donor eggs and plasma, of course. Why wouldn’t they be selling pancreases and livers and kidneys, too?
Farren shrugged to herself and waved goodbye to Judith. “Gotta go,” she said. “I’ve got an Uber shift this afternoon.” Once outside of the building she looked back and saw Judith still staring at her through the glass door.
* * *
The “harvest” went off without a hitch, and not a John Deere in sight. Just before she went under, Farren joked with Dr. Gilbert to make sure he pulled out the correct pancreas, and the last thing she saw before the gas kicked in was Gilbert’s slight look of horror. However, he apparently got the right one, because she felt great and was $2500 richer. She’d gone ahead and made the first two payments on her student loan — might as well pay it when I have it, she thought — and no one had asked for the key back to the library carrel, her rent-free bedroom, and she’d been able to pick up extra Uber shifts and bakery hours over the holidays while her co-workers went on vacation.
Dr. Gilbert checked her incisions — no stitches; since they were so small he’d used glue, and he scraped away the last little bit with a fingernail. “Feeling OK?” he asked.
“Fantastic!” Farren answered. And she did. By the end of “Project Pancreas,” as she called it to herself, she’d been feeling a little bit tired, was hungry all the time, and the buzz of angry bees in her gut was constant. It didn’t hurt, it was just annoying and made it hard to sleep, and Dr. Gilbert said that as far as he could tell, it was a slight electrical charge that the nanites held, and it sort of sparked somehow when they communicated with one another. He’d told her no other donors had reported the sensation. “But the nanites are all gone now,” he said. “You remember that stuff you drank before the harvest?”
How could she forget? It was the most foul-tasting thing she’d ever put in her mouth — hot liquid garbage with notes of foot funk, armpits and butt. “That was,” she said truthfully, “the absolute worst part of the entire experience.”
“It was worth it,” he said. “I’m told that the recipient of the pancreas has had no rejection issues and is recovering well.”
Farren was happy to hear it. While she’d entered into this project to earn money, after reading up on how many people died waiting for transplants, she was glad to be able to help someone. That’s why she’d started studying environmental science — she wanted to help the world heal. She certainly did that by giving one of its denizens an organ.
“You mentioned you might want to try it again,” Dr. Gilbert said. “Are you up for it? We could start today.”
Farren didn’t hesitate — he’d just brought it up before she could. “Absolutely. I was thinking a kidney.” And $7,000, she thought.
Twenty minutes later, she was in the lab room, nanites and stem cells sliding into her body through a small tube in her stomach. This was the easy part, though Dr. Gilbert reminded her that there would be a larger incision for the harvest than there had been for the pancreas. Soft music played, and she let the Valium she’d been given take over. Dr. Gilbert touched her arm and told her that it would be about ten more minutes, and then he stepped out.
Farren closed her eyes and let the sounds of Enya wash over her, but she opened them when she heard Judith’s voice in the hallway.
“I’m telling you, I think she’s going to make a side deal,” Judith’s voice was quiet, but it carried into the room, and Enya didn’t do quite enough to muffle it.
“No, she’s not,” Gilbert said. “She’s just a kid. She has no idea who to contact, how to work it.”
“I’m telling you, she’s going to try to sell that kidney herself,” Judith spat. “I warned you before, and that’s $100,000 you need to keep the lights on in this place.”
Gilbert looked in and saw that Farren was listening and ushered Judith down the hallway. Farren closed her eyes and sailed away with Enya.
* * *
Copyright © 2021 by Janet Sever