If we were having coffee, I’d mention my recent flashback. You see my wife has been a bit under the weather of late and I was just picking up a prescription for her. Oh, thanks for asking, I think she’ll be okay, but I glanced at the prescription on the way to the car and saw what she was prescribed and I was transported back in time.
You see, it was 29 years ago that I participated in a drug study for that very drug. Yes, I was a paid guinea pig. I was living in Austin at the time, working a the University of Texas, and had long noted the regular advertisements in the student newspaper about drug testing opportunities. Christmas was coming and money was a little tight and the prospects of an easy $1200 seemed like a good idea. Easy. Yeah, right.
You had to be clean, drug-wise. There was no problem with that. Ah, but you also had to be CLEAN, drug-wise, during the entire study. This was a little more intense. That meant, of course, no alcohol, but it also meant, well, no anything else. I mean caffeine, aspirin, cold remedies … nothing prescribed nor over-the-counter. No caffeine included no chocolate too because it indeed has caffeine.
I passed the initial screening and passed the interview and so I had to begin decaffeinating myself. The protocol was to go into their facility on a Saturday night to enforce a 12 hour fast prior to dosing. It wasn’t like a blind test or anything, the drug was essentially already approved, this was what they called an absorption study. They’d monitor our blood for traces of the drug before, during, and after the dosing. It meant they needed a lot of blood draws. Apparently not as many as some because we didn’t qualify for a vascular catheter where they would stick us once and grab a vial whenever they needed No, we were stuck each and every time. Once before the dose, then hourly for four hours, then every two hours for a few draws, then the interval increased. Then, after 24 hours (and our 24-hour draw) we were released and had to return every day for the next six days for another 24-hour draw. Then a week off. This was repeated four times. You had to complete the entire series of tests to get the entire payout … half of it was a completion bonus so if you dropped out it wasn’t quite worth it.
I have to admit that it was both interesting and grueling at the same time. It was Autumn and we basically stayed in a big dorm and watched football all day. They fed us okay. We had to keep track of our trusty clipboards. You got to know the guys who were ahead of you in line … it helped to notice that they were going to their next scheduled blood draw so you’d know you were up soon. They did not like you to mess up their schedule and they’d hunt you down.
You became a bit of a connoisseur of phlebotomists. Some were awesome. Some, not so much, and you’d already be wincing inside when you turned down the hall and saw they were working. The hourly draws were the worse … God forbid you got bruised on both arms. We’d all try to alternate but if you got bruised on, say, your right arm, you might feel the need to double-up on the left the next two draws. One phlebotomist told me it wasn’t so much the person as you might just get a needle with a tiny defect. I didn’t believe him 100%. One woman bruised me every time. We developed all sorts of theories and techniques for avoiding injury, like slinking down in the chair to straighten out the arm and veins. They would laugh and say that didn’t matter but I swear it seemed to work for me.
By the time we got to the every other hour intervals it seemed like a huge relief, and when it switched to every four hours, it was like heaven. There was one at 18-hours when most of us would be asleep in our assigned bunks and they’d come wake us. Seriously, the worst was the the six daily 24-hour draws because the facility was far across town from where I lived so I had to get up extra early (my scheduled time was 6:52AM) and drive all the way there for one stick, then go back home.
After Saturday morning we’d have a week off. There was still no caffeine or any kind of medication allowed during the off week between testing weekends. Some people got sick and had to go on antibiotics … OUT. Some just couldn’t take it any more … OUT. There were pro-rated payments for participation but like I said, HALF of the amount was a completion bonus.
There were also other tests going on, but we were pretty lucky because for three of our weekends the place was pretty empty. That fourth weekend, though, the facility was packed. And there were issues with thefts that weekend too. It obviously wasn’t our group … we had a camaraderie, but there was friction with the new groups, and with the thefts there was a lot of paranoia. With the tension, people were upset a lot of the time and we were all searched prior to leaving that weekend too. My sunglasses were taken which was stupid of somebody because they were prescription. I eventually found them in one of the dorms … I guess they weren’t interested when they found out they couldn’t see through them.
The very last Saturday, when we got our checks after our last blood draw, they also had pots of coffee, bottles of coke, and chocolate cake & brownies waiting for us. It was an ordeal, to be sure, but like I said, it was interesting.
This was for THAT drug. Huh. Hope it helps her.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. Information on his novel, The Fever, is available at http://www.thefensk.com
His next novel, A Curse That Bites Deep, is due out next month!