Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD (08/03/17)
- TITLE: Of Mice and Ben
By Donna Powers
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With sadness, Flo and Moe had died during the night. Lina, the lab tech on night shift, anticipated my reaction and gave me a sad smile. “Sorry, Ben. You know how it is.”
Yes, I knew how it was.
Blinking back tears, I took a closer look and reassured myself Joe seemed to be breathing comfortably; although Bo looked as though he might be hanging on by a thread.
I know they’re just lab mice. I’m not supposed to get so attached, or even to personalize them. But, for now, I see them as “my patients”. I spend twelve hours a day caring for them and recording their every movement and reaction. With a sigh, I took the clipboard from Lina, who grabbed her thermos and left the lab.
This group of six mice came into the lab two weeks ago, after the last group died. Dr. Farragut didn’t give me time to get upset about the last group; just brought in this group and dropped them off. “You know what to do, Ben. Let me know when this batch needs to be replaced.”
So cold. So clinical. I suppose biologists have to be like that.
I hope I won’t be.
For now, I check closer on Bo’s condition, and increase his fluid intake. I jot notes on the clipboard.
Two of the mice (Rho and Doe) from this group died during the first week. But, maybe these two mice will be the ones. Maybe they will defy the odds, and the serum will have been the right kind to have wiped out the cancer we injected them with.
That’s how we do it: we grow virus cells (which are very “gifted” at quickly reproducing themselves) and then inject them with the cancer we are trying to wipe out. Once the virus has reproduced the cancer, we injected the mice.
But, before we injected them with the cancer, we had injected them with the anti-cancer drug we are testing. Each time we test it, we change its formula. Each time, we pray we have the right combination of ingredients.
But five previous groups of mice (I WON’T call them ‘batches’, Dr. Farragut) have all died. One by one, they all got the cancer. One by one, I watched them develop the signs that signaled the end of their lives - and the end of our hopes for that formula.
Bo’s breathing began to get labored, and I sighed as I got a cloth doused in chloroform. I covered Bo’s quivering nose and watched as his eyes slowly shut. I stroked his white fur and whispered a prayer.
“I’m sorry, Bo,” I told him. “Thank you for your service. Please be at peace.” I held his tiny little paw and watched his torso grow still. He was gone. Silently, I noted the time on my clipboard.
Joe was now the last one of the group. He still looked healthy, but I knew my instructions. I called Dr. Farragut and told him to bring another group. He told me he’d be there this afternoon. He treated the information as emotionlessly as if I’d ordered a ream of paper and a carton of pencils.
This is my summer job, but for me it’s an investment in my future. My mother, aunt and older sister all died of breast cancer. I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember, and their deaths motivated me to be an oncologist. Right now, I’m still in pre-med; studying lots of basic sciences and still very far from seeing human patients. But I know this is how the solution will come.
I stood in front of Joe’s cage. So far, he looked healthy, but his eyes were becoming a bit glazed. It was an early sign.
Right now, Dr. Farragut is putting together the next formula, and will soon inject it into the next group of mice. I wish I understood enough biochemistry to figure out the exact formula for stopping this horrible disease. But I don’t. All I can do is take care of the mice, watch them closely and document their short lives. For today, it is enough. It’s another step in God’s plan for my future.
I just wish my immediate future didn’t include quite so many mouse droppings.
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