Never say never. I vowed I would never join a clinical trial of
an experimental drug "just for the money," but last month I
collected $590 to participate in a Phase I drug study. Though I
tried to convince myself that I was providing important information
to science for the betterment of mankind, philanthropy ends for me
well before the point of turning myself into a guinea pig for "the
collective good." No, this was about cash: My lover, Jonathan, had
been laid off, his unemployment checks trickling to an end as we
struggled to pay the rent.
I rationalized that there weren't really many risks, though I
admit that I felt a final nagging doubt when it came to signing the
consent form in which I alleviated the doctors of any responsibility
in the event I suffered side effects -- such as death. Just a
necessary formality, I told myself. Nobody ever dies in these things
... do they?
It began with an all-day affair; I was stuck at the clinic with a
tube in my arm for frequent blood draws. They had a membership at
the video store next door, and though a friend had suggested that
vampire movies would be appropriate, I opted for Fierce Creatures
with Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese and Kevin Kline. The VCR
headphones weren't working, so everyone in the room was subjected to
this mildly annoying comedy about a corporate takeover of a public
zoo, including a man in the chair next to mine who was trying to
read a fantasy novel. I'm sure Fierce Creatures distracted him from
his book, but I decided that since I was there all day and hadn't
had my coffee yet -- I had to fast until four hours after my first
dose -- I deserved whatever lame pleasure I could find.
I broke the fast with sushi from a nearby restaurant after
perusing the armful of menus provided by a staff member. The feast
didn't stop there: They gave me more money to eat with in the
afternoon, allowing me to walk the streets between blood draws, my
little tube taped to my arm. I played it healthy -- salmon salad and
wheatgrass juice -- trying to strengthen my system to handle
whatever chemical was being tested on me.
For the next two weeks, I had to go in every morning to take my
meds in full view of a staff member; this was not the most trusting
study. At first, the pills gave me gas. By the end of the study, the
gas had gone away, and the staff seemed like old friends -- doctors
and nurses alike. I was afraid I'd suffer separation anxiety and
start hanging around the clinic for no reason after the study. I
wondered if they were plagued by lonely ex-research subjects
addicted to the free meals and constant scrutiny of their bodily
According to my study doctor, I have a future in clinical trials.
"You're somewhat of a hot commodity in this town," she said.
"Protease inhibitor naïve, not on any meds, T-cells in that
much-coveted 100 to 500 range." She seemed to be implying that I
could quit my job working with special-ed kids and sell my wares on
the experimental-meds marketplace to the highest bidder. I see
myself crouching in darkly lit hospital corridors, coming on to
doctors and nurse practitioners ... "Hey, big boy, looking for a
date? I give great stats. Check out these juicy veins."
Just kidding -- sort of. I've been contacting other studies and
setting up screenings, though I wonder if the staff will be so
friendly, the drugs so benign, the food so good. Ah, well, they say
the first time is always special. The study I'm currently
considering involves four weeks on the meds and one overnight stay,
but only $500. Jonathan has a job now, so "just for the money" isn't
as compelling, although with the rent taken care of I'm free to
imagine more interesting uses for the money.
I still worry that being a whore for science might do some
permanent damage. And what if they have no lunch budget or, worse,
give me hospital food? Maybe I should negotiate more perks. I know
how to tease and flirt; I know how to wheedle and withhold love.
Because when it comes down to signing that little piece of paper
saying you can't sue their ass, even if you die, you begin to
realize that $500 is practically nothing.