~ Medical Trial Madness ~ (taken from my upcoming book ‘Alien Nation: The Notes of an Existential Millennial)
~ Medical Trial Madness ~
“The first time I heard about it was while travelling around Australia. I had just been working a overnight job in Adelaide where me and my friend had spent a few hours pulling down some plastic sheets that had covered the clothing racks of a department store during a smoke test. Following this highly-skilled work, we were sat in a McDonald’s joint at dawn watching the streets begin to stir with life over a morning coffee and breakfast bagel. As we discussed the different ways to make money while backpacking in Australia, a fellow worker on the table beside us interrupted with some friendly advice.
“Why don’t you guys do one of those human guinea-pig things?” he said, chomping away on a sausage and egg mcmuffin.
“One of those human guinea-pig things?” asked my friend.
“Yeah, you know, one of those medical trial experiments? You just go into a clinic, they give you a new medicine to take and then you stay in the clinic for a while while you have your health monitored and then you come out with a few thousand dollars in the bank. Easy as bro.”
Immediately we both stopped eating and turned to face him like he was some sort of holy prophet. The sound of ‘a few thousand dollars’ to broke backpackers was like the sound of heroin to a smack addict. Being the desperate gremlins we were, we naturally disregarded anything to do with the safety of testing unknown drugs.
“And how do you sign up for one?” I asked, salivating at the prospect.
“Just go onto their website bro – their clinic is in town. I’ve got a surfer friend whose been doing them for years now. He just knocks out like three or four trials then goes and surfs and gets drunk in Bali for six months or something. Pretty cruisy ey?”
“Unreal” said my friend. “And anyone can do it?”
“Pretty much bro, as long as you can pass a drug test and don’t mind getting stabbed with a needle a few times a day while they take your blood.”
Me and my friend both looked at each other. After a few seconds of contemplation it was decided at first light of dawn in that McDonald’s joint that a glorious new career beckoned upon the horizon of my future. So far in Australia I had been a factory operative, a party-hire event worker, a fruit picker and a bartender – but now I was to venture into the pharmaceutical industry where I would nobly donate my body and time in the pursuit of trying to rid the world of the many illnesses that plagued humanity. Oh, and also to afford another month or so of bumming around Australia while getting drunk on cheap wine. Naturally.
It was just a couple of weeks later when I walked triumphantly out of my first medical trial. I had just tested some new medicine to treat Asthma while staying in the clinic for five nights. I walked back out onto the sidewalks of society, joyfully breathing in the fresh summer air, skipping down the street, feeling the sun’s rays dancing away upon my skin. I was like a man in possession of a great secret; I had just spent the best part of a week lying around, being cared for, being fed, playing ping pong and pool while getting paid over a thousand dollars for all of it. Instead of forking out on pricey hostels, I had found a way to get all inclusive free accommodation plus a large tax-fee sum of money. I stood there on that sidewalk and looked up into skies above knowing that I had found my true calling at last. Some were born to be doctors, some teachers, others presidents. Me? I was born to be a human guinea-pig. It was a great day and to celebrate my new profession, I went online and booked a trip to go cage dive with some great white sharks with the money I had just made in the clinic.
Over the next few years I continued venturing in and out of the human guinea-pig industry. Returning home to the U.K, I found I could only take part in a drug trial every three months, so I had to be calculative about when and which assignment I wanted to take part in. I was still travelling on and off somewhere out in the world, so all the trials acted as a convenient way to top up the bank account in between adventures.
Due to the entropy of the universe that caused everything to decay and die, there was always a wealth of work to be had. My many assignments in the guinea-pig industry included testing drugs to treat diseases and illnesses such as pulmonary arterial hypertension, neutropenia, cystic fibrosis and that old notorious bad guy: cancer. Each one varied from three to eighteen days in clinic, and helped to whatever adventure I was planning next.
As the needles pierced my skin and the blood was drained from my body, my bank account increased with travel tokens. I made money to go hike to mount Everest base camp; I made money to go party in Central America; I made money to go walk across Spain while drinking red wine every day of the summer. It was a simple transaction and, truthfully, the whole damn thing seemed too good to be true. The money was great and even the trials themselves were a pleasant experience. Inside those clinics I found fellow aliens like myself wandering out on the fringes of society; inside those clinics I found a way I could sit around playing on an Xbox all day while not feeling guilty about wasting the day away. For once in my life everything fit neatly into place. Personally I was happy with the situation, but naturally such an unconventional line of work brought about the naysayers.
“You don’t know what they are giving you”; “you’re only thinking about the money”; “don’t you care about health?”; “sort your life out and get a proper job you hobo”…
Maybe they were right, but I couldn’t help but abandon myself to the profession anyway. No doubt I was blinded by the money, but it seemed that being a human guinea-pig was my true calling. I had tried and failed hopelessly at almost every other profession the human species had offered to me. I had no common sense or dexterity to do any of the trades, I was too open and honest to deal with the bullshit of the corporate business world, and I had even failed at my my degree profession of journalism. It seemed that nothing in this society suited me except lying in a bed and being fed some drugs while having my blood sucked dry by a pharmaceutical company that saw me as a mere subject number in a scientific study. It was a funny situation I guess. My friends all had job titles that included: ‘marketing manager’, ‘graphic designer’, ‘business consultant’, and ‘systems engineer’. I suppose ‘human guinea pig’ didn’t seem to fit in quite as well with those on the surface of things, but the more I took part in those drug trials, the more I realised that such a line of work drew many parallels with those other professions.
I remember lying in bed on one of the studies and getting speaking to a middle-aged man on the bed next to mine. We both began speaking about our lives and why we were doing the trial, and how many we had done, and what we were planning to do after the trial. Naturally with him being a middle aged human who had successfully bred, I presumed he was a civilised, functioning member of society with a career and confident knowledge of what he was actually doing in life. However after talking for ten minutes, it turned out that miraculously I somehow had a better grip on life than he did. He was spontaneously doing the two-week medical trial after just quitting his job as a store manager for IKEA. He explained to me how the long hours and time away from home had gradually ruined his marriage and social life and left him empty on the inside. He went on to say how he finally decided to quit after his friend had killed himself while also working as a boss for IKEA for twenty years. It turned out he was doing the trial to give himself some time alone in the clinic to think about his next move in the absurd game of life.
Right there and then I realised that the job of a human guinea-pig was no different than a lot of professions out there. In the process of trying to obtain money, I went and stayed in a set place for a certain amount of time where I gradually had my blood sucked dry and life drained away by some company that saw me as nothing but a number on a screen. Maybe it was a bit more nonchalant and ‘to-the-point’, but damn – it didn’t seem to be so different from that IKEA job that man had told me about. At least with medical trials it was a lot clearer how it worked: “Look you need money, and we need your body, so come in and sacrifice your freedom and health for a set period of time and we will reimburse you with a financial payment into your bank account”.
If anything I had to applaud them for their honesty. Many faceless, corporate companies out there tried to confuse you with sneaky slogans like ‘career progression’, ‘success’ and ‘bettering yourself’. Many companies out there tried to make you feel good while really you were just spending the best years of your life confined in some small space doing some menial task while making some uncaring bosses rich as your health was damaged by the stress and the inevitable lack of exercise that came with being too tired to exercise after work. Maybe medical trials were no different in regards to how they used you, but I respected the fact that everything was at least a lot more transparent.
As I carried on my career in the guinea-pig industry, I realised that the IKEA guy wasn’t a one-off. Often I came across people who had dropped out of the rat race and started doing trials in an attempt to afford extra time off during the year, or a way to supplement an adventurous lifestyle like the one I was attempting to live. Mostly they were on the other side of forty. I figured that this was because it was usually at that age when the individual finally awoke to the fact that they had wasted away their youth working at a job they had no interest in for a company that had no interest in them. Finally realising this unfortunate set of circumstances, they set about simplifying their life and finding a way to afford to actually spend time doing what they cared about – whether that was travel, art, video games or even gardening. It was a interesting side step to say the least, but mostly it was a good score: the trials themselves were a nice retreat from society and allowed a person to sit inside all day and maybe learn a new language or, in my case, work on some existential writings they had been wanting to jot down for a while. Of course there were the obvious possibility that something could go wrong and you could get elephantiasis or something, but overall it was a risk I was happy taking.
If I wasn’t doing this then I would be suffering away in some job that would drive me to alcoholism, comfort eating, marriage or whatever other form of self-abuse a person did to alleviate the physical and spiritual pain of working five days a week in a menial job. From my short amount of time spent in the working world I had learned that the act of trying to transfer some numerical digits in your bank account often drove a man or woman to great harm, or even suicide it seemed in the case of that man’s friend. But like every other human out there trying to survive and do the best they could as they chased down those digits, I guess I was ready to sacrifice a little bit of myself to afford to actually enjoy life in some way. All in all though, I was happy with the line of work I had chosen for the time being. Maybe it would cause me health problems in the future, and even knock a few years off my life, but I was content with the fact that it at least it afforded me months of freedom where I could fly far away and venture out into foreign fields and mountains where I felt the winds of life and freedom kiss my face. We were all slowly decaying away and dying anyway, so why not do something that at least allows you to have fun in the small time we had available here? Why not just keep things a little more simple? As a great philosopher once told me: “better to have a short life full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”
Well, here’s to you Alan Watts – writing this while temporarily caged in a medical trial clinic so I can get some money to go out hiking in the mountains again. Here’s to a glittering career of testing new medicines and blowing the cash on hedonistic adventure. Here’s to helping cure humanity’s ills while sitting around playing Call of Duty on an xBox. Now, if only I can get rid of these purple spots on my skin…