He had fifteen minutes to complete the procedure.
“Don’t worry….it is a perfectly routine operation”, he lied. His calming words did little to soothe the patient. Terrified, she began to scream and thrash around on the table. The anaesthetist and nurse held her down. Strange, she had appeared calm enough in pre-op. But once you are wheeled through those metal doors and surrounded by masked people wearing the army-green uniform of surgery, even the bravest patients can lose their nerve. It’s the feeling of powerlessness, of not being in control of your own destiny that does it. Your modesty preserved by the thinnest of surgical gowns, tied at the back, you are completely at the mercy of the medical team. Bad enough when you had every chance of coming through the operation, but far worse when you were there to make a donation that will end your life.
Her limbs stiffened as if she was gathering all of her strength to leap from the table in a last-ditch bid for escape. The staff tightened their grip and Dr Sharma gently caressed her hand. He whispered reassuringly “There, there, it will soon be over.” Was he whispering to her, or reassuring himself? He glanced at the clock. Fourteen minutes.
She relaxed slightly, allowing the anaesthetist to place the mask over her face. So young, so pretty…her eyelids grew heavier and flickered. But suddenly her eyes met Dr Sharma’s with a simultaneous look of terror and accusation. Did she know? How could she? The Omega Project was so secret that only a handful of people knew about it. But the accusatory stare was unmistakable. His face would be the last thing she would ever see….
Dr Sharma stood numbly as he washed his hands and stepped out of his blood-stained greens. It had been a good procedure, completed with two minutes to spare. Her organs would save the lives of maybe a half a dozen important people- wealthy businessmen, rock stars, sports people, celebrities. She was no-one, brought into this world to be a donor. She had enjoyed a good eighteen years- she had been fed, clothed and educated. She had grown up with other donors, made friends and believed the lie of a future life in the outside world, away from the facility where she had grown up. Hell, that was a better existence than donors in third-world countries endured under the old system- a lifetime of poverty and chronic ill-health after a kidney or retina was brutally removed and shipped off to a private hospital somewhere in America or Europe. The Omega Project was far more civilized. She was gently put to sleep before the lethal drug was expertly administered. If only we did that with criminals, Dr Sharma thought, there would be enough organs without this filthy business. But society would never tolerate such barbarism.
He had performed procedures like this many times and met every deadline. So why couldn’t he erase the memory of that face and those terrified eyes? And why had he allowed himself to read the name tag on her toe. It said, “Christine.”
It was cold when he left the hospital. Dr Sharma put on his coat- somehow it was a shield against the horrors of the day. He began the long drive home. Busy streets and office buildings gave way to wide tree-lined avenues and expansive gardens behind high fences. He entered the house directly from the garage, hung up his coat and, as usual, his wife brought him a drink. After dinner, he read his girls a story and settled in for an evening of television- something light and escapist. He could never share his day- like other members of the Omega Project, he was sworn to secrecy. The slightest hint, even to his wife, could bring the weight of the law crashing down- or worse, the weight of the Administration, which was far more frightening and dangerous. He remembered how another surgeon had crumbled under the guilt and secrecy. He threatened to go public, talk to an investigative journalist named Masters. Two days later he was killed in a car “accident”. Dr Sharma had to hand it to the Administration- they were efficient and left no evidence. He wondered if their summary justice was aimed at other staff as much as it had been done to eliminate Dr Obuku.
That night he slept in a world of fitful dreams and strange apparitions. He kept seeing her face, those eyes. The name on her identification tag echoed in his head: Christine, CHRISTINE, CHRISTINE. Her hand reached out and grabbed him, pulling him down and down into a black abyss. He felt his whole world convulse and waited for the sickening impact, when he realised his wife was shaking him. “Wake up, you’re having a nightmare!” He was bathed in a pool of sweat. “Who is Christine?”
The shocked look instantly gave him up. She assumed the worst. “You kept saying her name over and over. Are you having an affair?” Silence. “TELL ME!”
What could he tell her? That she was the donor he had just harvested. That he lied to her, reassured her and held her hand as she was given a lethal injection and calmly stood there, her eyes staring into his, as she took her last breath? Then removed any part of her that might be valuable- kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, retinas? “She was a patient. She died during a routine procedure today. I just didn’t want to talk about it.”
His wife hugged him, but he thought more in relief than sympathy. “Thank goodness, I couldn’t stand it if you had an affair.” Her cold lack of empathy made him push her away.
“I can’t get back to sleep. You stay there, I’ll get up. I have some work to do anyway.”
He swiped his phone and dialled Andrew Masters, Investigative Journalist. “Meet me at Max’s Bar, 7.00 pm. I’ll be wearing a coat.”