Friday, June 1, 2007

I'll Do Some Stupid Things for Money. The Question Is, How Much?

I've been doing these drug trials to pay the bills since last fall. It seems like I've done dozens of them, but it's really only two. I've gone through various levels of the screening process for several that I didn't end up going through with. My penicillin allergy excluded me from a couple of them, and once it was an arcane heart rhythm thing. Once I bowed out because the drug was an anti-depressant with psychosis being one of the possible adverse effects, and I figured I'm already fucked up enough to risk that.

I was all set to do one from June 5 through 15, which was really stretching my cash reserve beyond the breaking point. I had passed the first series of screening tests, and I had an appointment for the final screening physical this morning, but they called yesterday and told me I had been excluded. I had already decided that if I couldn't do that one, I would screen for an $8,500 study that runs from June 19 through July 31. Six weeks.

I'll admit, it seemed daunting. I would be locked up in a cold, sterile clinic for a month and a half, with no sunlight or exercise. I would miss the best part of the summer harvest in the garden. My life would be completely disrupted. I would miss my planned trips to Nashville and Indiana in June.

But, for six weeks I would have hours and hours, days on end of time for writing, reading, thinking, and re-writing. I would be in an air-conditioned complex for six weeks in the middle of summer in Texas. And, I would get a check for $8,500. That much money would make a big difference in my life. I could get new glasses, get my teeth fixed, and pay off about half of my debt, which would make my monthly expenses thereafter much lower.

The first screening visit was this morning at 8 a.m. I had to get up at 5:30 to catch a 6:45 bus. The buses here are clean and reliable, but it takes forever to get anywhere because they run so infrequently. J is out of town, or I would have asked to borrow his truck, in which case I could have left the house at 7:30.

I was up till almost 2 last night. I haven't been sleeping well lately. I took a nap yesterday afternoon, and last night I had coffee at about 9 with our friend S from Nashville. I don't what I was thinking ordering a large iced coffee at that hour. I guess I just wasn't thinking.

At the first screening visit for these things, they walk you through a pile of paperwork, and they read word-for-word a consent form which explains the study in detail. This is where you find out exactly what will be expected of you. I like the ones -- like the second study I did -- where you just take the drug and then they take blood samples and monitor vital signs periodically.

But some studies, like the first one I did, are designed to measure the drug's effect on heart activity, so you have to wear a portable heart monitor for hours on end, sometimes sleeping with it on, and most of the day you're lying down while they hook wires onto adhesive pads on your torso and connect you to a computer. It was exhausting, left little time for anything else, and at the end of the study my hips and back ached from lying on the ECG table and the pads left itchy, red spots on my flesh that lingered for weeks afterwards.

The study today looked fairly easy. Mostly dosing and checking blood levels. But then he got to the side effects. Usually the list includes headache, nausea, sleeplessness, stuff like that. Sometimes there are nastier things like diarrhea, vomiting, bloody stool. Icky, but, I don't know, I figure I can deal with diarrhea for a few days if it comes down to it.

But in one of the previous studies of this drug, a certain number of study subjects had heart attacks and strokes, and some of them died. Hm. I asked if they could give us a percentage. I was wondering about the odds. I mean, even Tylenol has pretty scary possible side effects, but statistically speaking your chances are pretty good that it's just going to get rid of your headache. But heart attack? Stroke? Suddenly it all seemed very vivid.

I actually sat there for a few minutes and pondered the question. New glasses, getting out of debt, peace of mind for a couple months of my life. What kind of risk will I take for that? A heart attack? Is it worth it?

But I got up and left. One other guy left too. There were a few scared faces in that room. Some people who do these studies do them because they want to buy a new car, or couch, or pay off a credit card, do some Christmas shopping. Some people, like me, do them because whatever it is they have chosen to do, feel called to do, doesn't compensate them with money for their time and effort. Some people do them because they have no other way to support themselves or their families.

How poor am I? I am almost poor enough to risk a heart attack for $8,500. Very close.


extrastorchy said...

Mmmm...I think you made a wise decision.

extrastorchy said...

BTW, would you mind forwarding your and J.'s email addies to I'd be much obliged.

Anonymous said...

wise decision indeed.

A/C, time to read, money vs. possible heart attack. Hmmmm.

Why don't you try lumping trucks over at the depots. Pays about $100 bucks a truck and doesn't take very long.

I can't pay your rent, but will definately take you out to eat.