Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A Sucker for Science

On Fridays at 9:00 am, Dave* would take my blood pressure, hand me a breathalyzer and make me pee in a cup. If I wasn't drunk or knocked up (which, luckily, is typically the case on Friday mornings) he would hand me the pill bottle. One by one, I'd swallow the blue capsules, chasing them with Five Alive.

And then, I would wait. It would be nearly three hours before the medication kicked in.

The windowless waiting room was like the land before time. Once I was done catching up on all the celebrity gossip from 2004 (don't worry guys--Jen and Brad aren't going to break up!), I'd read the Toronto Star's speculations about the mayoral race. Feeling sleepy and bored, I'd peruse the VHS collection (Mickey Blue Eyes and a copy of Jumanji taped off TV) before giving in and watching the Price is Right. (Unfortunately, it was the only thing of this decade--Drew Carey instead of Bob Barker.)

Two hours and 45 minutes later, Dave would return and the testing would begin.


Only months before, Jay had been livid when he found out that I had called a pharmaceutical agency. In exchange for the right to give me mystery injections, they offered $10,000. To me, it seemed like a small price to pay. But to Jay, it was the worst idea ever.

I barely take ibuprofen, he reminded me. Why did I want to risk my health, just for quick cash? I tried to reason with him. "But I could be part of the test group," I argued. "Maybe for $10,000 they would just give me a placebo!" He wasn't having any of it. So I promised him that I wouldn't turn my body into a wasteland for yet-to-be-approved drugs from Big Pharma.

And yet that didn't stop me from occasionally replying to ads on craigslist. (I don't know if it was the boredom or the poverty that made me do it. Unemployment makes you do strange things.) Selling my eggs was off the table, because I don't even know if I want my own babies, so I don't know why anyone else would want them. I tried to sign up for a brain imaging study at the U of T, but they never called me. And as it turns out, all the postings for market research groups are a scam.

So when I saw the posting for the gambling study, I felt like I'd hit the jackpot. It wasn't testing for side effects of medications--instead, it was looking at the pharma-neurological effects of different Health Canada approved drugs. Most of these drugs have been in existence for years and are readily available. And I'm 100% healthy. What could possibly go wrong?

One telephone interview, in-person consultation and doctor's appointment later, I was declared eligible for the study. (All I had to do was sign a contract, give five vials of blood and two urine samples, get hooked up to an EKG and undergo a hour-long psychological exam in which I had to discuss everything from Kenny's suicide to my fear of heights. It was easy, really.)

It seemed too good to be true."I'm a lab rat," I happily told anyone who would listen. I was getting paid to gamble. It was going to be awesome.


After what seemed like hours, Dave came in to collect me from the waiting room.

First, we'd go into a room decorated to look like a pub, complete with '70s vinyl walls and bottles of liquor-coloured liquid behind the bar. Two slot machines sat in the corner and for 15 minutes, I'd sit alone and hit the button to spin the wheels. Then it was time to do some rapid reading tests on computers that ran on MS-DOS. By 2:00 pm, after sufficiently burning my retinas on the 486 computer screens, I had earned my $200 for the day. I was discharged by the nurse and sent home in a cab.

It was easy money and most of all, it was interesting. During my first year at the U of A, I participated in uncompensated studies just for fun. What can I say? I'm a sucker for science. 

But two weeks ago, after my second test session, I was so exhausted that I nearly fell asleep in the cab home. "It's just the medication," I reminded myself, "I'll go home and sleep it off and be a good as new by 5:00 pm." 

Brock whined at me as I stumbled in the door. I ignored him and went straight to bed. I tried to wake up at 5:30. And again at 6:30. And again at 7:00. Jay came home and I tried to come downstairs. But my vision was blurry, my depth perception was off, I couldn't stop pacing and I was exhausted. It burned behind my eyes and nothing seemed real. I went back upstairs to bed.

And I slept. 

When I finally did wake up nearly 24 hours later, I didn't feel any better. I bit the bullet and cancelled my own birthday party before going back to bed.

As I lay in there, barely lucid, Jay read aloud the Wikipedia entry for haloperidol, the drug I had been prescribed. "They used it in the Soviet Union to punish prisoners and to 'break their will,'" Jay told me angrily. "No wonder you feel like this--you've been given an antipsychotic." 

I didn't recover until I woke up on Sunday morning. My first order of business was to send Dave an email, letting him know that I would be dropping out of the study. Jay was right--no amount of money was worth sacrificing my health for.

The moral of the story is this: Sometimes, when someone says, "I told you so," it's not enough to simply say, "You're right." Sometimes, you have to write an entire blog post about your own stupidity and lack of foresight in order to really admit your faults.

I was very wrong. And Jay told me so.

*Name has been changed.


  1. I was sincerely hoping you were making this up, but the story is just-so-damned-good (good as in, wow that really happened?) that it couldn't be made up.

    Taking any drugs you don't need to (even vitamins) severely impacts your body. I'm glad you dropped out. Remember when I first started having panic attacks? I think, technically you were still a teenager, and I wasn't legal to vote yet in the united states. I know it was a long time ago. I finally got off all medications just a few months ago. I'm still having withdrawal symptoms. It is simply insanity. Back at that time, I just wanted to live my life without having any symptoms interfere. It was the wrong choice. Now I realize that the symptoms will go away if I work through them. That's a cure more than a treatment. I can't tell you for how many years how horrible those pills made me felt. I didn't get $10,000 from anyone. In fact, all things considered, my perscriptions probably cost about $8064 in total over the time I was using SSRI's and sedatives. For $8064 I could pay off either my entire amount of my student loans, or my entire amount of outstanding other debt, my car nonwithstanding. Ultimately, I think I was just uncomfortable on the medication as I was off of it. I know that's a lot of rant, but...wow. Sorry, I just really can't digest the gravity of that entire situation. It's not a judgement one way or another...it's just...wow.

  2. Anonymous6:30 PM

    Given your biological genetic history, you should never take anything without thorough investigation. Glad Jay has some smarts. And he doesn't work in advertising for nothing.

  3. Rev_Shabbazz9:56 PM

    Wait -- you're typically knocked up on Friday mornings?!? Does that phrase mean something drastically different in Canada?!

  4. Rev_shabbazz9:58 PM

    Nevermind -- just reread and understood your meaning. User error :)

    Also, drugs are bad, mmmmkay?

  5. That's 'vials' of blood, not viles

    Your friendly neighbourhood spelling tyrant at work...

  6. Ah, I knew something seemed funny about that sentence! Thank you.