In 2017, Dr. Michael Young developed a product to clot patients' blood during kidney stone procedures, in the hopes of reducing complications.
Then he found out someone had already patented the material. So he did the next best thing.
He killed people with it.
Not in the literal sense — in the literary one.
The evildoers in Young's latest novel, "Consequence of Murder," use the material as their homicide-agent of choice. The substance is lethal — and untraceable.
"It's not that I intended to kill somebody. I was playing with it one day and realized, 'What if?" said Young, 60, a Munster native who graduated from Munster High School. His late father was an opthalmologist in the town, as his brother is now. His 97-year-old mother still lives there.
The first book by Young, who oversees urology innovation at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lives in the city, was a work of nonfiction in which the former urologist details how he feels the business side of medicine is reducing the quality of care.
His new novel centers around another hot topic in the medical community — the opioid epidemic — and the lengths a pharmaceutical company might go to to stop a whistleblower from sharing nefarious secrets.
"It's about corporate greed, human greed — human nature applied to a medical environment," he said.
Young got the idea for his blood-clotting product during a kidney stone procedure a few years ago. He compared the laser light used to remove kidney stones to pool sticks and the stones themselves to cue balls. The light doesn't always hit them head on, and, if it doesn't, it can bounce into the side of the organ.
That's what happened during that procedure, causing a large vein to get nicked and blood to start pouring out. "All I could see was red," Young recalled. Suddenly, however, the bleeding stopped, because a clot had formed. What, Young thought, if you could make those artificially?
He decided to go with a hydrogel, a material used in everything from diapers to glue to wound coverings, that could be squirted into the kidney after a laceration.
But a lawyer told Young someone had already patented such a hydrogel, so he wouldn't be able to commercialize it.
"What can I do with this stuff?" Young remembers thinking. "Let's kill somebody with it."
If the material can clot blood in the kidney, it can do the same in a person's veins, Young reasoned. "The body cools, and it liquefies and you can't find it," he noted. "It becomes an untraceable form of murder."
The book's subtitle, "Algor Mortis," refers to the second-phase of death, in which the temperature of the corpse chills.
"Consequence of Murder" isn't directly about the opioid crisis. But Young has the painkiller companies be the medical stand-in for corporate greed. And he doesn't see his plot as that farfetched.
"You've got 70,000 people dying a year from opioid abuse? Are they going to give a s--- about one more person? Probably not would be my guess," he said.
"I wouldn't put it past executives in a company that you're looking at billions of dollars of income, or millions for themselves, to say, 'Let's get rid of this gnat.'"
"There's other victims too. They've got to test it first, of course," he added, giving a devious smile.
Young was inspired in part by the novel-turned-movie "Coma," where, instead of oxygen, patients at a Boston hospital are given carbon monoxide so their organs can be harvested. The book version was written by Robin Cook, while the movie was directed by Michael Crichton. Both were physicians who became best-selling novelists, a transition Young hopes to make as well (his publicist has also sent his novel to film producers).
"As an M.D., you approach the world through a different lens," he said. "You see people in their vulnerable condition. You see people usually at their worst, when they're the most frightened, when they're most manipulatable.
"People are desperate, they're in pain, or they're sad. They have a condition where they need help. I think the key word there is you have a lack of control.
"When you're in hospital environment, you're getting woken up when they want to wake you up, you're getting stuck because they need something, you're going to have a procedure done because you've been told you need it.
"And you don't speak the language. You need a translator. You need your physician, who you trust, to be honest and forthright.
"The book is about taking advantage of patients' vulnerability in that environment."