1999 I was a starving university student. Well, not really starving, but when I
had more than one dead president in my wallet at a time I considered it a good
day…regardless of which former head of state was on the paper. At the time I
was taking pre-med courses, but I really didn’t have a solid direction. Money,
of course, was very tight, and I frequently found myself taking notes for other
students were too lazy, prideful, smart, hung over, or stupid to go to class.
eventually ended with one of them using my notes, verbatim, on an exam and
landing us both in solid trouble. Thankfully, this was one of the stupid
students, who’d been caught cheating before. As it was merely my notes, and not
my actual exam I was allowed to slide with a warning and academic probation. It
also helped that I had a perfect record and a near perfect GPA to that point.
Paying for notes, however, was now out of the question as the university
changed its policy that already frowned upon such an act to completely forbid
the practice. While I did work part time at a hardware store, I relied on my
note-taking business to help ensure that I would be able to afford the
hamburger to go with my helper.
saw an advertisement on the wall of my anatomy class that was claiming to offer
paid benefits for medical test subjects. Dubiously, I inquired via phone as to
what kind of “testing” they’d be performing, and what sort of “benefits” the
subjects would be rewarded with upon completion of the test. I was informed
that they’d be testing such items as acne medicine, allergy shots, foot cream,
and products of a fairly benign nature. I would be paid two hundred dollars for
participating in a two week study that required a total of eight hours of my
time. I nearly leapt through the phone to sign up.
first test was a hair product that was designed to treat lice. This,
unfortunately, required that I get lice. Not a particularly fun weekend. The
treatment, however, was quite effective and had the lice gone within a day. My
hair did turn an odd shade of puke-green for a few weeks, but it grew out. Once
I returned for a follow-up and was declared clean I was awarded my two hundred
dollars and informed that another trial would begin the following week for a
different product and that, as a returning subject, I would be granted entry
before those that hadn’t participated before. The pay and trial period was the
same, so I eagerly jotted my name down and left. The money might not seem like
much now, but coupled with my part-time work at the hardware store I’d now be
able to afford such things as rent and gas to go along with my textbooks and
signed up pretty much every two weeks for a few months straight, testing such
products as hair remover, over the counter painkillers, reading glasses,
hairspray, wart remover, and diet pills. Each time I was paid for my work in
cash and asked to sign up for the following test. I only missed one two week
period as I was horribly sick from an unrelated illness; the stomach flu had
been running rampant through the university and I had managed to find it.
following weekend I was feeling better and ready to sign up for more as I was a
little strapped for cash due to the “lost wages.” This time, however, when I
arrived at the facility to sign up the usual attendant who would sign us in was
not there. Instead a tall woman with jet black hair stood behind the counter
and handed me a form that made me somewhat uncomfortable. It was a fairly
all-encompassing waiver that basically said that the company would not be
liable for any sort of injury or illness sustained for the duration of this
test. Don’t get me wrong; I had to sign a waiver to start the testing in the first
place…but this one seemed much more serious. Things like depression, mental
illness, hallucinations, and self-inflicted bodily harm tend to worry me.
almost didn’t sign it. Much like the time when I almost didn’t participate due
to the fact that I knew the “diet pills” were basically code for “laxative that
makes you crap everything out before your body absorbs the calories from food,”
I nearly backed out. The dark haired lady finally slid a pay slip towards me
showing the pay rate. I initially didn’t give it a second thought until I
realized that an additional zero had been added. Two THOUSAND dollars was at
stake for this test. In addition it would only be a one day test, although it
would require twelve full hours. The product was a very powerful anti-depressant.
Just take one pill, stay and be observed for the day, watch a few movies, and
eat the free food provided. I could handle that.
signed my name and as soon as my pen left the paper another unfamiliar face
opened the door to take me back. I followed and entered the usual room where I
was normally informed of the exact nature of the testing. This time I was met
by a doctor who looked to be in his late 50’s with a pair of glasses that were
so thick they looked comical. He was incredibly nice; he explained to me the
exact nature and goal of the drug I’d be testing, broke down each of the
ingredients and chemicals and described what they would (or should) do to me.
He also went on to offer me one last chance to back out of the experiment as he
knew there would likely be some serious hallucinations; the drug was still very
experimental, but held enough potential that the FDA was willing to allow
testing in a controlled environment.