Theme : Of Ricochets And Recoils
The world is in perpetual anticipation of the next new thing that’ll arrive and elevate it to a higher level of existence. That word above is a testament of our hunger to ideate, invent and/or innovate; a rooster call of humanity to the universe signifying its awakening to a new age of understanding about the universe and its ways. The person(s) responsible for such an outcome become(s) the eye of the apple of the world, reaping praises and prizes alike, etched in the pages of history as an exemplary member of the species. The media has open arms for just such a story; venture capitalists have open wallets for these game-changers, and society tends to have both. Such is the power of the hunger that we have designed our civilizational systems around its satiation.
Every once in a while though, there comes along an idea that changes things for the better, but only at first. The side-effects are either neglected or considered too minimal to be significant, until it isn’t. It is when the hunger driving the revolutionary and evolutionary transformations consumes us from the inside, and does so insidiously. It is when the celebrated heroes of humanity, ideas and at times, the people behind them, are viewed through filters of sanity that the true picture emerges, sharpening out the blur that appeared to be its/their natural state. This realization sets into motion a chain of events which turn out to be the true outcome of that idea; a myriad of reactions exposing the depths of both the producer(s) and consumer(s) of ideas alike, continuing to reshape reality for, quite possibly, eternity.
This story is an attempt to capture the above scenario in a short story based on the pharmaceutical industry.
‘They died, Reema’. Suresh’s voice was devoid of feeling. She barely recognized the flat tone that spoke the three words. They sounded like a sledgehammer smashing against her gut.
She hung up the phone and sunk down on the couch. The moonless night gaped at her through the tinted glass of her window.
It had all gone wrong. The shit had hit the fan. How had it come to this?
There was nothing more she could do now. There was no going back now. It had all been for nothing. All those tedious years of being cooped up in her lab, all those sleepless nights of hunching over her apparatus, all those trials and errors…all of it had gone down the drain.
The pride she had felt when the bright green capsules were first unveiled to the shareholders, the applause she had received when they had unanimously voted her as the sole recipient of the Best scientist of the year award…the memory of that surreal evening brought an ironic smile on her face.
Three people. Three people had died because of her. She was no longer a scientist who invented miracles for the betterment of the world. She was a…killer. A murderer. The very word had an ominous, sinister ring to it, more sinister than the effects that her medicine caused in the patients.
Why, why had she not trusted her initial instincts and allowed the animal testing to be carried on for another year?
And now, there was no way the company was going to retrieve the samples from the market, before it was too late for more patients.
Memora. What a nice name it was. What an apt name. Invented by her, Dr. Reema Biswas, Ph.d in Pharmacology. The white rats that they had tried it on at first, had shown almost 70% more propensity to remember both random and specific stuff they’d been tested with. Even the lab assistants had been amazed. The second level of testing had gone well too. The guinea pigs had even remembered which lab assistant had served them more food, and that the bright-colored bowls always had more food in them.
The phone began to buzz. Reema continued to stare listlessly at the tentacle like shadows cast by the swaying trees outside her window.
The final level of lab testing had brought in accolades from the Chairman himself. The monkeys that were administered the drug she had invented, showed almost superhuman cognitive skills for primates in their scope of evolution. Why, one primate even remembered the numerical combination that unlocked the phones of three of the lab assistants, before proceeding to smile into the camera phones for selfies!
It was after the said videos had gone viral around the top brass of the company’s confidential servers, that they had hastened to patent the combination of compounds she had used to bring about the miracle drug. After all, Arena Pharmaceuticals wasn’t known as the fourth top drug provider of brain related ailments for nothing.
It was three months after the patent was secured, that Reema had become aware of the first repercussions of the drug manifest itself. She noticed that three of the guinea pigs had begun to behave in what was normally termed as ‘funny’. And then the rats had begun to act weird during the night, showing unusual proclivity to violence. One rodent gnawed through his cage so much, that he was found dead early one morning with his jaws covered in blood. And yet, when she voiced her suspicions to her senior, Dr. Suresh Baliga, he had suggested that she needed to take a break from work, albeit kindly.
It was when one of the monkeys had died suddenly, of no apparent cause that Reema began to suspect that something was truly amiss. But the company had already announced the release of Memora, the new wonder drug for Amnesia, especially Anterograde amnesia, where patients were unable to transfer the short term memory store into long term store in their brains. Memora was touted as the next big miracle to cure all the disorders related to storage, retention and recollection of memories, in not only amnesic patients but also those suffering from Dementia.
It was a mere four months after the drug was released, that the first repercussions of the medicine made themselves apparent. And Reema knew that although no one had made the connection to Memora as yet, it wouldn’t be too long before the physicians realized that the apparent violence and subsequent death of patients, were only happening with those administered with Memora .
If only she had insisted that the tests be conducted for more time! The company, bogged down by terrible losses and ruthless competition, had refused to wait until the final test results could be tabulated with the complete ramifications of the side effects, before releasing the drug into the market.
Last week, the CDSCO had issued a circular to Arena Pharmaceuticals to withdraw Memora from the market, for an unspecified amount of time. Reema knew that the same people who had applauded her invention, would now make her the sole scapegoat in the whole affair.
But what bothered Reema more than the prospect of unemployment, or a lifetime in jail, was something more crucial, eating into her very soul.
Reema stood up from the couch and walked slowly to her bedroom. She opened the drawer and pulled out the stash of strychnine that she had closeted away a month ago. She'd known that this day would come, though she had not anticipated it to arrive so soon.
She knew that the alkaloid would cause her body to get paralyzed for a few hours, and progress to respiratory failure, before dawn.
Could she live with the blood of innocent patients on her hands for the rest of her life? Could she live in the fear of anticipation of more people succumbing to the monstrosity she had created?
The persistent call of the doorbell rang in her ears, as she unscrewed the cork of the tiny bottle and emptied the contents into her mouth.
‘Reema, it wasn’t Memora…open the door Reema! It wasn’t your medicine that caused the deaths…the test results have come in...Reema damn you, open the door…!’ Dr. Suresh Baliga’s voice continued to echo off the empty corridor outside the door.
Images : Google