February 24, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

By Aaron Khemchandani,
Posted March 2022

This story was written for the MSc Science Communication course at Imperial College London, for assessment as part of the Narrative module



“We need Dr. Cheung in here, STAT.”

Eddie heard a nurse call his name from down the hall. As ever, he was ready. 

He quickly fitted on his rubber gloves and was ready to begin. Another day, another surgery. He was the head surgeon at London’s upmarket Hammersmith Hospital and had the utmost passion for his job. That said, every surgery still made him incredibly nervous. Who wouldn’t get the jitters doing what he did? Lives were literally on the line every day, and they were placed in his calloused hands. He took a deep breath to steady himself, inhaling the metallic, bloody stench that usually clouded surgery rooms. 

“Kidney failure, this one. Second time”, said the nurse. Of course, Eddie already knew this – he had to learn anything and everything about a patient’s medical history and current state before undertaking any sort of surgery. His assistants stood around the table, where the unconscious body he was about to operate on lay. He looked each of them in the eye, nodded, and without missing a beat, got to work. 

A few days later, to Eddie’s utmost relief, the patient was in stable condition. Better yet, his paycheck was set to arrive today, and boy did he need it. Working a highly skilled job didn’t always mean you made lots of money, as was the case with him. In fact, the patients he treated daily were probably far better off than he was. He’d come from a humble background, and his mother had sacrificed most of her life savings to send him to a prestigious medical school. Although Eddie was seen as frugal by his classmates, they didn’t seem to understand the possibility of a lifestyle that didn’t involve opulent dinners and weekly yacht parties. He dreamed of one day making enough money to buy a large house for his mother, who had been a widow for most of Eddie’s life but still managed to raise him as best she could and never once did she complain. He had to make it up to her someday. 

Eddie’s next surgery would be in four days. It was a ten-year-old girl who desperately needed a replacement kidney. She’d been on the waiting list for a year, and the hospital had at last found a donor that matched her rare B-positive blood type. Just as he was about to go through her medical record, his phone buzzed. Alarmed, because all his friends knew he was working and never texted him during work hours unless it was urgent, he checked the message. 

Hello, Dr. Cheung.
I have some business I’d like to discuss with you. It is extremely important and time sensitive.
Sincerely,
Thomas Yeung 

*** 

“Wait – I’m in first class. Take me to first class.” 

As the son of China’s fifth-wealthiest oil baron, Thomas Yeung was not used to such inconveniences. Having been interrupted at a business lunch with three of Asia’s biggest cable executives and hustled aboard a flight to London, he was not in the best of moods. After all, he was only flying there because it was where his grandmother resided, and he’d received news of her recent diagnosis: severe kidney failure that even dialysis couldn’t save. Upon hearing this, he’d been distraught. She couldn’t die now – it was far too soon. He hadn’t spent enough time with her; how was he to be sure he’d secure the majority of her multimillion-dollar inheritance if he hadn’t actively dedicated time to buttering her up? 

Almost fifteen hours later, Thomas had finally reached the hospital where his grandmother was staying. Bloody west London traffic. He was shown to his grandmother’s private suite, where she was reclining on the bed watching The Great Gatsby on the 42-inch plasma flatscreen TV that adorned the eggshell-painted wall. Why she had insisted on getting treated here of all places, he did not quite understand. There were countless other hospitals available, all more luxurious and dignifying than this run-down estate. Hopefully none of his friends caught wind of him being here – he’d never hear the end of it. He could already imagine the Tatler headlines: “Thomas Yeung Pictured at ELEVENTH Most Expensive London Hospital: His Tragic Fall From Grace”. 

Thomas’ grandmother rolled her eyes and sat up when she saw him. 

“You’re late”, she grunted. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago.” 

Normally, he would’ve ignored her, but he recognised the need to be in her good books. 

“I’m so sorry, Nainai. The plane was late, and I had to get these for you.” Wearing his best faux guilty face, he pulled out a bunch of tulips from his bag. “Only the best for you, Nainai. Hopefully these make the room smell nicer.” 

In truth, he’d bought them because they were slightly wilted and as a result were sold at a 30% discount. Expecting a smile, Thomas was taken aback when his grandmother’s nostrils flared. “Are you saying I smell, you dolt?” Thomas started to apologise profusely, but his grandmother waved her hand dismissively. 

“No matter”, she said. “Tommy, I may not last long. I’m getting worse. I feel weaker by the day, and the doctors keep saying I’ll be fine, but I’ve been alive eighty-six years. I know my body. Any day could be my last.” Shit.

 “So…how long before they can get you a transplant?”, Thomas ventured. 

“The doctors say they don’t know. It’s very hard to find a kidney donor with my blood type at the moment”, she sighed. It was as Thomas had feared. His grandmother’s uncommon B-positive blood type was incredibly hard to cater for. 

“Nainai, we can find another hosp-”

“No”, his grandmother interjected. “I’ve been treated here all my life. If they can’t save me, then no one can. I’d rather die than go anywhere else.” Bloody hell, she’s stubborn. “I was born here, and I will stay here”, she continued. “I have always been connected to this place. I can feel it”. Thomas sighed, then excused himself to use the restroom. Moving was clearly out of the question, so he figured the next best thing to do would be to contact the surgeon in charge of organ transplants. Maybe strings could be pulled. After all, Thomas had money -and money allows you to do anything. He quickly pulled out his phone and trawled through the hospital’s website, found the details of a Dr. Cheung, and decided to send him a message. 

*** 

Before he received that text, Eddie had no idea who Thomas Yeung was. After discovering of his wealthy status and high-level importance in the oil world, Eddie started to panic. When he found out that Yeung’s father owned the company that sponsored an entire wing of this hospital, he started to panic. Soon after, he realised that Yeung’s grandmother was one of the patients at his hospital, but because the two had different surnames, he hadn’t clocked their relation. He hurriedly accepted the invitation, and the next morning, Mr. Yeung was on his way. They’d agreed to meet in his office, and Eddie did his best to try and make it look somewhat presentable. Less than twenty minutes later, they were sitting on plush red chairs inside his workspace. 

*** 

Thomas was starting to get annoyed. This upstart doctor really doesn’t know who he’s talking toDoes he know who my father is? For the past twenty minutes, he’d been trying to convince the doctor to operate on his grandmother, but so far, to no avail. 

“There’s really nothing you can do?” He asked, paraphrasing the same question for the umpteenth time, but Dr. Cheung just shook his head. 

“I’m sorry, sir, but even if we could move your grandmother up the list which, again, we can’t, we don’t have a suitable kidney donor available. May I suggest she visit one of our partner clinics? I’ll grab a list from the reception. Be right back.” 

As the doctor strode out of the room, Thomas spotted a file out of the corner of his eye. Sitting atop the doctor’s desk was a document that read: 

Upon seeing this, Thomas realised that there was a donor available after all; the kidney was just going to another patient – and the surgery was in two days! He cursed under his breath. What was he going to do? When donors were already so hard to come by, he had to somehow divert this kidney to his grandmother. There had to be something he could change. He frantically started to open drawers and cupboards, desperate to find anything that could help his cause. He was aware that Dr. Cheung would be back any second, but he didn’t care. He had to do this. He had to fi- Hallelujah. Hidden at the back of the bottom drawer, Thomas had finally unearthed something he could work with. He knew exactly what to do. 

*** 

Eddie came back into his office holding a leaflet. “Ah, here you go, Mr. Yeung – a list of our partner hospitals. Sorry about the wait, I had to speak to one of my patients.” 

Mr. Yeung smiled but waved his hand dismissively. “No need, doctor. I won’t be moving my grandmother anywhere.” Eddie raised his eyebrow, and Mr. Yeung continued. “Why don’t we…make a deal?” Although he knew it was a bad idea to entertain Mr. Yeung’s offer, whatever it was, Eddie’s curiosity was piqued. “What sort of deal?” he asked, and Mr. Yeung’s next words would shock Eddie to his core. 

“I’ll offer you money. A lot of it. In exchange, you alter some details on my grandmother’s organ transplant referral. Change her condition. Make her the priority. Her life is worth more than Cassie Blake’s ever will be.” Dammit. How the hell did he know about my next transplant? Eddie became defensive, furious almost. 

“I don’t want your money, sir.” He growled, biting back a curse. Still, Mr. Yeung didn’t seem intimidated. “No? I can give you enough for your mother to pay off her debt. I wouldn’t keep those people waiting if I were you. Loan sharks are a tricky business.” Eddie was dumbfounded. No one knew about that loan. No one but him and his mother. Almost a decade ago, Eddie’s mother had been laid off at work and, out of desperation, she’d borrowed money when no bank would lend it to her to pay for his final year at medical school. But how does this guy know? 

“Doctor, you’d be surprised how many contacts I have in that sector. You’d be surprised at what I can get them to do. To your mother…and to you.” He leaned forward, hands clasped on his lap and an almost evil smugness in his eyes, seemingly waiting for Eddie to make a move. 

After a long, painful silence, Eddie relented. “How much?” 

*** 

The rest of the week was a blur for Thomas. Through a complicated scheme involving three South American countries and countless middlemen, he anonymously transferred Dr. Cheung £1,500,000. It had to be anonymous, of course. Couldn’t have the press finding out he’d paid a doctor to essentially relocate a kidney from a little girl to his dying grandmother, not that he felt guilty about it. “Business is business” his father had always told him. He sat in the waiting room while the operation commenced, and several hours later, was greeted by a nurse. The transplant was a success, he was told. Phew. Now he could focus on getting his hands on that lady’s money. 

*** 

A week had passed since the operation, and Eddie still didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t believe the recent events that had taken place; what he’d done. What right had he to decide who lived and who died? No…he was coerced into it, he told himself. He was threatened. Plus, his mother didn’t deserve to live with a target on her back. By doing this, he was saving her. Who knows? The hospital could find another donor. This was the right thing to do. But was it? That girl was supposed to be operated on today. It should’ve been her in there. He couldn’t bear to contact her family, to face any repercussions of his actions. What would happen to her? 

Later that evening, as Eddie trudged down the street looking solemnly down at the jagged, uneven pavement, he noticed a poster taped to a traffic pole that read: 

Even though he’d been threatened, even though he’d been unfairly blackmailed, deep down he knew that everybody always had a choice. And right then, in that moment, as a tear slid down his cheek, he knew he’d made the wrong one. 


Aaron Khemchandani is a contributing writer for I, Science, and is currently a student on the Science Communication Masters here at Imperial College London. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science from the University of Warwick, he developed a passion for writing and communicating science through various forms of media. He hopes to continue exploring and communicating this passion to a wide range of audiences in the future.