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As Medical Director and chief of staff of the New Hope neonatology department, Emile Raskin was able to come and go as he pleased. And he was pleased to let himself into the genetics lab early that Sunday morning. Being that it was Sunday, there was no medical staff in the lab and that left Emile free to rummage through the files for the information that would be so critical to his new project. The Panda Project was what he secretly called it. Secret, indeed. There was no-one who knew (or ever would know) about Panda, not even Gemma, his wife. Dr. Gemma Raskin, head of high-risk obstetrics, was a brilliant, sensitive, doctor who was top in her field. She was also infertile and unable to bear a child of her own. How tragic; a woman who was able to grant the wishes of hundreds of women and provide baby after baby to each of them, to every patient, except herself. Every attempt she and Emile tried, from artificial insemination to in vitro fertilization, had failed. All the standard medical treatments and avenues had failed. So, Gemma Raskin gave up and totally, turned her attentions to those women she could help. Emile found the files he wanted and locked the lab, as he left. Then, he walked to the end of the isolated hallway to an old closed-off lab; closed off, since outside funding had dried up for the project that the lab housed. Making sure there was still no-one around,
Emile let himself into the room. Dr. Raskin flipped on the overhead light and the room was bathed in bright fluorescent light. What was supposed to be an empty lab was filled with equipment that he had been squirreling away, little by little. Emile ran his hand over the slightly out-dated respirator and a two year old isolette. It will do nicely, he thought to himself, as he looked around and made a mental note of the few items that he still needed to obtain. Everything’s in place. Now…it’s just a matter of time. He tucked the stolen files into his inside lab-coat pocket, turned off the lights and left for home. Gemma would be waiting. Her wait was…almost over, he smiled.
It had been a long night; two deliveries, back to back. One of them was a rough Csection for a breech birth. Close call, but mother and baby were doing fine. Gemma brushed her long chestnut hair into a metal clip that held it confined neatly at her neck. She slipped into her jeans and favorite sweatshirt and went down into the kitchen to pour herself a very strong cup of coffee. She knew Emile would be home from his jog any minute and she wanted to be at least a little more coherent. Gemma was used to being oncall and her sleep cycles were like wild roller coaster rides. She never knew if she was going to be on the up or down, but her body had learned how to adapt and she could catnap at a moments notice, waking up refreshed and ready to go another round or two. When Gemma heard the front door open, she took down another coffee mug to pour her husband a cup of French roast. Unlike most joggers who quenched their thirst with cold water, Emile liked a cup of coffee first and then downed a large glass of orange
juice. He’s an odd duck, she thought, fondly, as she handed him the mug. “Hi sweetheart,” he said, as he kissed her forehead and took a sip of his coffee. “Well, you didn’t work too hard,” she laughed, as she noticed that he had hardly broken a sweat. “Oh…I got a cramp and had to walk the last couple of miles back,” he made up. He watched Gemma’s face and saw that she bought it. No need to worry. “Want some breakfast?” she asked. “No, thanks. I’m gonna hit the shower, love,” he answered, as he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her tight. She looked up and brushed her lips against his cheek. She’s going to make a great mother, he thought and went to take his shower.
“Well, are you ready for this?” Gemma asked Alicia McDaniel. “I think so,” Alicia said, nervously, as the surgical nurse swabbed the cold Betadine over her swollen belly. “Well, before you know it, you and Jeff will have two healthy little girls and you’re not going to have another good nights sleep again for a long, long time,” Gemma laughed. “Okay, Dr. Raskin,” Alicia tried to smile. This was her first C-section and her first set of twins; her first baby was a boy and an uncomplicated vaginal birth. “Marta, I think you can go get Jeff,” Gemma told the nurse. “Sure, Dr. Raskin,” Marta said, and left to bring Jeff into the OR. “Mr. McDaniel, sit right here, behind the drape” the anesthesiologist told Jeffrey
McDaniel. Marta noticed he was white as a sheet. She patted her pocket and felt the vial of smelling salts. She could spot a fainter a mile away and Jeff McDaniel was going down; she was sure of it. “Here we go,” Gemma said, as she ran the scalpel across the draped abdomen. As the blood oozed from the clean incision, Marta looked over and saw Jeffrey McDaniel slide from the stool to the floor. “Jeff?” Alicia cried out, as he slid from view. “It’s okay, Alicia,” Gemma said, reassuringly. “He’s not the first…and he won’t be the last.” Like a well-oiled machine, Marta tossed the smelling salts to one of the circulating nurses who revived the very embarrassed Jeff McDaniel. He was helped back to the stool, just in time to see his first daughter lifted from his wife’s belly. Gemma dangled the wet, lifeless form covered in bloody secretions and cut the cord. Then, as if by magic, the motionless baby came to life, howling breath into her lungs. Jeff kissed his wife, as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Okay, that’s one. Now, let’s get #2,” Gemma said and went back into Alicia’s belly. Alicia and Jeff could hear their 1st daughter wailing, while one of the nurses tended to the newborn in the heated warmer. They were smiling at each other and were unaware that there was a problem with their other daughter. “Marta, call the NICU,” Dr. Raskin said, quietly. “What is it?” she asked, as she quickly spoke into the intercom behind her on the wall. “Cord around the neck,” she said in a low voice, so as not to alarm the parents. Within 30 seconds, Emile Raskin dressed in scrubs and donning an OR mask rushed
into the room. He was followed by a nurse from the neonatal intensive care unit, who would assist him, if the next baby needed resuscitation. Emile watched, as his wife expertly attempted to free the second twin from the entangled cord. He could see the sweat bead up on Gemma’s forehead and knew that baby “B” was in trouble. His NICU nurse quietly, set up special equipment that might be needed to save the baby. Alicia and Jeff’s attention was finally directed from their first daughter and back to the prolonged birth of their 2nd. “Is something wrong, Dr. Raskin?” Alicia asked. “The cord is around her neck, Alicia and I’m having trouble getting her out,” Gemma said. It was rare that a complication couldn’t be resolved, but every now and then, Mother Nature would interfere with technology. Fate…God…Destiny, something other than science would win out and a baby would be lost or born with severe complications. Gemma feared this was one of those times. Silently, she said a prayer, as she often did in these infrequent circumstances. “Emile!” Gemma said to her husband, as she handed him the lifeless infant. He skillfully listened for a heartbeat with the stethoscope from around his neck. Gemma could see from the eyes above the surgical mask that there was none. She swallowed hard and then went back to suturing Alicia McDaniel’s uterus closed. “Why isn’t she crying?” Jeff asked in a panicked voice. “What’s wrong??” Alicia cried. “They’re doing what they can, Alicia,” Gemma said, compassionately. She knew from the movements behind her that baby “B”…Caroline, as the McDaniels
had named her, was dead. It was rare; it was unfortunate; it was tragic. The McDaniels went into the delivery room expecting two healthy babies and they would leave with only one. It broke Gemma’s heart. She could only imagine the pain they would feel. Yes, she could only imagine…
Emile Raskin had carried the hypodermic syringe in his pocket for many weeks. He knew that it was just a matter of time when he would have the opportunity to use it. New Hope was a large, metropolitan hospital that delivered well over a thousand births a year. Sooner or later, there would be an unfortunate birth and he’d have his chance. He just hoped and prayed it wouldn’t be one of Gemma’s. But, as luck would have it, when the code box screeched “code C in OR 2”, he knew it was, indeed, Gemma’s room. These days, he closely followed her delivery schedule so as not to be caught off guard when the right moment presented itself. Still, as he clutched his pocket and ran down the stairs to the OR, his heart was pounding from more than exertion. It was an all to familiar scene in the OR and he knew from the eye contact above her surgical mask, that the baby was in big trouble. And then, when she passed him the limp body, he knew there was little hope. As he laid the baby in the heated warmer and dried off the skin, the motionless infant remained blue and still. There was no heartbeat, no attempt to breathe. Patty Ferguson, his NICU code nurse, handed him the appropriate equipment to attempt resuscitation. He intubated the baby and she gently squeezed the ambu bag, while he again listened for a heartbeat. Again, nothing. Then, he expertly slipped a catheter into the umbilical vein to
give resuscitation meds in the outside hope of getting the tiny heart to revive. “Epinephrine!” he called to her. She handed him the syringe and he pushed the med through the line…nothing…chest compressions…nothing…more epinephrine…nothing. It was over. Well, almost. Emile reached into his pocket and slipped out the syringe, unnoticed. While the nurses were busy tending to other things and everyone was focused on poor Alicia McDaniel, Emile Raskin injected the lifeless baby with the unknown substance. Then, he threw the empty syringe into the needle box at his side. He could feel his heart thumping so hard, he was afraid it was audible and that everyone including his wife was going to turn around and look at him. But, no-one did. Gemma was finishing up the surgical procedure while at the same time trying to consol the grieving parents. The anesthesiologist sat silently at the head of the bed, next to his equipment, just eyeing the dials. He never knew what to say in these situations and it was one of the reasons he chose anesthesiology as his specialty. His patients were very often unconscious, and he like it that way. Jeff sat at his wife’s side, wiping her tears and kissing her forehead. A nurse had the wherewithal to bring Megan, baby “A”, to Jeff. He cradled the bundled baby in his arms and brought her tiny, wrinkled face close to his wife’s. Alicia turned her face so she could kiss her baby, her only baby. Small comfort, Gemma thought. At least she has one. Then, in a brief instant she thought, again…at least she has one. She shook herself back to the task at hand and finished the surgery.
“I’ll take it, Patty,” Emile said to his nurse. “Okay, Dr. Raskin,” she responded. It would have been her dubious job to take the baby’s body to the morgue and check it in. It was definitely the part of her job she hated the most. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, her heart would break for the grieving parents. What a nice guy, Patty thought of Dr. Raskin. Not many doctors would volunteer for such a task. They’d fill out their papers, say a cursory remark to the parents, and leave her with the distasteful job. Yes, Dr. Raskin was one of a kind. Before he wheeled the transport crib from the room, Emile looked over at his wife. Her face was white and damp and he knew how awful she felt. Don’t you worry, Gemma, he said to himself. You’ll be happy, soon enough. One of the biggest advantages of being the head of his department was that he could do just about anything or go anywhere without being questioned. No-one would ever suspect the esteemed Dr. Emile Raskin of any impropriety. He was without reproach. So, when he wheeled the transport crib, draped with a blanket to shield the lifeless baby, down the hall and into the elevator, no-one batted an eye. He went unnoticed down the corridor and in plain sight of passing staff, he entered the old lab. Quickly, he locked the door behind him. The sign on the door was in place and DO NOT ENTER would ward off any possible intruders. With the precision of an expert, he unwrapped the dead baby and placed her in the already warmed incubator. He flipped on the respirator and heard the whir and hum of the machine as it came to life. Then, he attached the tubing to the endotrachial tube still taped in place in the baby’s mouth from the delivery room. He watched the baby’s chest rise and fall, softly to the tune of the
cyclical sounds of the respirator. He watched as the cold, blue color of the baby’s skin turned first to pasty white and then, light pink. Emile felt for the pulse. It was strong and rhythmic. Guh-gunh…guh-gunh…guhgunh. He smiled, as he reached into his pocket for yet another syringe. He set it to the side and hooked up the IV bag to the umbilical catheter that he purposely left in place in the OR. It was going exactly as planned. Even better because this was a twin. Even though they would be grieving the loss of this child, they would be focused on the baby born alive and that would make this easier for Emile. “It won’t be long now, Gemma,” he said, gently, as he stroked the baby’s soft downy hair.
“I’m so sorry,” Emile told his wife, as she sobbed in his arms that night. “I felt so helpless. If only there was something else I could have done,” she cried. But Gemma knew that there was nothing else to be done. It was an accident of birth and there was no-one to be blamed. The McDaniels certainly didn’t blame her. They thanked her for trying to save Caroline and for the healthy little Megan. They would have the bittersweet experience of taking home half a set of twins, but they were grateful they didn’t lose them both. That night, Emile comforted his wife, knowing that soon, he would have a gift for her. A very special gift that would fill the empty place in her heart she covered up, so expertly. She didn’t know that he could hear her sobbing softly in her pillow, night after night, when they finally gave up trying to conceive. He had sworn that he would find a way and now, he had.
As soon as Gemma fell asleep, Emile slipped out of the house. If she were to wake, she would assume he had received an emergency page to return to the hospital. As he ran his ID card through the parking garage slot, he realized how easy it was, if you knew what you were doing. And he knew what he was doing. There was very little activity in the hospital after 11 at night. The night shift was only a skeleton crew compared to the day shift. He let himself into his special lab and turned his attention to the baby in the incubator. Her chest continued to rise and fall to the rhythm of the respirator. The heartbeat on the monitor was strong and steady. Too bad she was dead. Emile knew that through the technology he developed, he had brought her back to technical life, but for all intents and purposes, she was really dead. Her heart was beating, her lungs were being oxygenated, but her brain was gone. It had been deprived of enough oxygen at birth to kill the brain cells that could keep the body alive. But he had harnessed the power to bring the vital organs to life for a very special purpose. She was going to be the host for his baby; his and Gemma’s. Time to get to work. First, he went to the special freezer and removed the precious cylinder. The frosty mist hissed and rose, as he carefully lifted out the vial and laid it next to the sterile instruments. Next, Emile scrubbed in at the sink and then, donned the sterile gown and gloves. It was a procedure he dreamt about month after month, year after year. The idea had come to him after their third failed attempt at in vitro fertilization.
One night, Emile awoke in a cold sweat with an idea; a crazy, insane, miraculous idea. He hadn’t been raised by a research scientist, for nothing, he thought. As he fed equation after equation into the computer, working and reworking the numbers and figures, until it finally all clicked and the formula was born. If his father had still been alive, he would have been very proud of his son’s persistence and genius. At first, he tested it on the lab rats. Right from the beginning, it worked miraculously and he knew that it was an inspired gift that he was given; specifically for his wife. How could he possibly turn the opportunity down? Perhaps, it was a little illegal. Perhaps, it was a little unethical. But perhaps, it would work and he would have created a new life from a dead one and it would be his own child. His and Gemma’s.
Emile moved with razor sharp precision to implant the embryonic cells into the artificial sac he had attached to Caroline’s umbilical cord. Ever so carefully, he injected the HGH-527 into the circulating IV fluid. The mutated form of human growth hormone he created pulsed through the dead baby and into the microscopic cells that had been joined and frozen to implant into Gemma, should she ever decide to try in vitro again. “Perfect,” he said, quietly, as he removed the surgical mask and gown. After pulling off his gloves and throwing them in the trash, he sat down at the desk to record the procedure. 2:16 a.m. - HR - 136 BP - 86/52 O2 sat - 100% IV - lactated ringers @ 12cc’s/hr 2:19 a.m. - embryonic cells implanted HR - 132 BP - 82/50 O2 sat - 100%
2:23 a.m. - 5cc’s HGH-527 given IV over 5 min. 2:28 a.m. - HR - 134 BP - 83/ 52 O2 sat - 100% 2:45 a.m. VSS procedure complete He closed his eyes, as well as the journal. Emile could feel the tightness in his neck muscles. It had been a very long day and more than a little out of the ordinary. Through the wonders of science and his own genius, he created life from death; a modern day Frankenstein. The only difference was that this was his baby and it was going to grow and live as a normal child. He would make sure of it. This would be no monster.
Every morning, before rounds, Dr. Emile Raskin would check in on his baby; for that was what is was now. With daily injections of the HGH-527, he was growing at more than triple the normal speed. At this rate, his son would reach the full gestational age of 40 weeks in less than three months; that would put his birth date somewhere around the beginning of August. Day by day, his fetus grew more and more active in the sac that was attached to his host, Caroline. As she lay there, pasty and lifeless except for the machine breaths, Emile’s son was coming to life. Before Emile’s amazed eyes, his fetus sucked his thumb, stretched his arms and legs, until he grew so large that there was no room in the sac for him to move. It was almost time. He had been planning this moment for a long time and now that it was here, Emile found himself anxious and nervous. What was Gemma’s reaction going to be? He knew that initially, she might be shocked…even angry that he did this without
including her in the process. But Emile knew that the minute he placed her own son in her arms, she would forgive any faux pas on his part. After all, he had done this all for her.
Unbeknownst to Gemma, Emile had pre-planned their vacations so they would have two weeks together to make the adjustments as new parents. All Gemma knew, was that Emile had a surprise for her and she had never seen him so excited. Normally, he was cool, calm and collected, but the week prior to their vacation, he was a different man. “Can’t you even give me a hint?” she would ask. He would just smile and shake his head. “You’ll find out soon enough,” he would tease. “You know I hate surprises,” she responded, but Emile wasn’t going to budge. Whatever it was, he was going to torture her, until the day they left. She suspected it was a cruise to Alaska. It was her dream trip, but they never seemed to have the time to go. That’s it…Alaska, she thought to herself.
The bedside clock read 1:15a.m.,when Emile gently roused his wife. “Wha..what’s the matter?” she asked, sleepily. “Time to go,” he said, as he kissed her forehead. “Go? Now??” she asked, as her eyes snapped open. “Good God, Emile, it’s one in the morning!” He laughed, as he pulled the covers back. Gemma groaned. It was bad enough to have to get up in the middle of the night for a delivery when she was on call, but on vacation?
…really! Well, Alaska better be would be worth it. After a quick, cold shower, she was ready. Good thing because Emile was practically dragging her to the car. “We have to make a quick stop at the hospital, first,” he told her. Figures, she thought. We’ll probably get stuck with some emergency and there goes the trip. It had happened before and she knew it would happen again. When you were a doctor (or 2, in their case), it just went with the territory. Gemma followed her husband through the bowels of the hospital to old, secluded lab. What on earth does he need, down here? she thought. Before unlocking the door, he turned to face her. Even in the dim, hallway light, she could see the strange look on his face. “What’s wrong?” she asked, instinctively. “Gemma…Gemma, I love you. I have been working very hard for this…for you…for us,” he said, as he took her in his arms. “Emile, what is it? You’re scaring me!” “No, no, darling. It’s wonderful. I promise you. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world,” he said, bursting with pride and love. “Close your eyes,” he told her and she obeyed. As he opened the door and ushered her in, she could hear the familiar sounds of a respirator. “What?” she started to ask. “Hush, darling,” he said. “Listen to me. Keep your eyes closed and listen to me. I know that you have been denied the most important thing to you. I have agonized over
our inability to have a child. So, I have found a way, Gemma…to give you your child,” he confessed. With that, Gemma’s eyes popped open in alarm. What on earth was he talking about? Has he gone mad?? When her eyes refocused from the bright light, she saw that he had, indeed gone mad. She felt her knees buckle and Emile eased her to a chair near the incubator that housed the disturbing sight. In shock, Gemma was unable to speak. She just stared at the vision and realized that she was dreaming. That was it, she was having a nightmare and she tried to wake herself up. “Gemma, Gemma, it’s alright. I promise,” Emile said, as he took her by the hand and led her closer to the incubator. She stared at the bizarre sight with revulsion and couldn’t wait to wake up. She could hear Emile’s voice speaking to her from a distance. Then, it got closer and closer and she could hear every word, very clearly. “Gemma, I did this for you. For us! This is our son,” he said, tenderly, as he lightly touched the sac. Gemma could see the fat, baby bathed in amniotic fluid squeezed into the see-through membrane. She could see him sucking his thumb. Then, she looked at the waxen baby attached to the respirator. It was obviously being kept alive on life-support and she felt sickened. “Wake up, Gemma…wake up!!” she said out loud. The nausea rose in her throat and she couldn’t catch her breath. Wake up!!” she screamed. “Gemma, this isn’t a dream. Look at me,” Emile said, as he took her face in his hands.
“And it’s time to deliver our son.” Emile went to the scrub sink and handed her a sterile scrub brush. In a daze, knowing that she had to wake up soon, she unwrapped the brush and joined him at the sink. When they had finished scrubbing in, he handed her a gown and gloves and led her to the incubator. Expertly, he had things set up to disconnect his baby from the host he had provided only months before. Gemma stood at his side, going through the motions just as if it were a real delivery. First they punctured the sac and watched it deflate, as the fluid drained into the sterile towels. Then, Emile clamped the cord that attached baby to host. Proudly, he cut the cord and dried his son in warmed towels. As he stimulated the baby, Gemma heard the wail and her eyes filled with tears. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” she said, even though she knew that her dream state could be broken at any moment. Still, while it lasted, she was drinking in the feelings of giving birth to her own son. Emile placed the baby into her arms and watched the love pour from her. He knew he had been right in doing this. He knew that the Panda Project was worth the risk. He could see it in Gemma’s face. As Gemma cradled her tiny son in her arms, she gazed down at his face. His precious, sweetness surrounded her heart and filled it with a joy she had never known. Suddenly, she didn’t want to wake up. She wanted this moment to go on, forever. All of a sudden, the heart rate monitor began to alarm. Gemma looked up and saw her husband turn to the baby in the incubator. The heart rhythm on the monitor indicated a fatal arrhythmia. With the disconnection of the sac, the host baby was going into shock. Emile turned to the respirator and shut it off. The rhythmic cycling ceased and the baby’s
chest movement came to a halt. Gemma watched, as the heart rate spaced out and then became a flat line. The dead baby died again. How sad, she thought and then looked back at her son. How beautiful. She turned and smiled at Emile, as he covered the other baby with a sheet. “It must be time,” she said. “Time for what, sweetheart?” “For this to be over. To wake up. Thank you, Emile…for all of this,” she said. She really thinks this is a dream, he thought. She’s in shock. He bent down next to her and took the baby from her. He placed his son in the open crib he had waiting in the corner. Then, he turned back to his wife and shook her, hard. “Emile! Stop!” she said, but the shaking did the trick. When he stopped, she looked deep into his eyes and she realized with horror that this was no dream…it was a living nightmare! “Emile, my God! What have you done??” Gemma screamed. “I’ve given you a baby,” he said, calmly. Gemma looked first at the crib with her baby and then, at the incubator. She felt the cold icy fingers grip her insides and twist into convulsed terror. She walked to the incubator, reached in and pulled back the sheet. “Who…who?” was all she could say. Emile put his arm around her shoulder and led her away from the image of the dead baby. Then, he told her the story…the whole story from start to finish. As he watched her face turn from fear to amazement to horror to disgust, he knew he was losing her. Panic seized him. Not now! He had gone through too much. They had a son now and it was
what they had hoped and prayed for all those years. Emile was not about to give up now! Sadness filled his heart, as he reached into his jacket pocket. He hesitated for only a split second; then with swift precision, he injected his wife with the syringe. He watched her eyes widen with fear and then, with understanding. She didn’t know what it was, but as she slipped into unconsciousness, she knew it was the only thing he could do.
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