I Sell My Body To Drug Companies
Opening and closing my fist repeatedly, I try in vain to get my blood pumping. My veins are but a shred of their former self. Puncture wounds start resembling constellations on my arms. The nurse untangles the tourniquet and tries again in the crook of my other elbow. It too has seen better days. If we both squint, we can see the fine blue line that protrudes from my mottled skin – a combination of bruising and hospital-grade sterilisers.
As the needle pierces the skin, I feel my vein recoil in self-defence.
The needle misses its target. The nurse wiggles the sharp tip underneath my skin in an attempt to relocate the vein and save me the ordeal of having to be re-punctured. This is definitely worse. It makes sense though, that if we’re selling our bodies to the advancement of medical science, we would also be aiding the advancement of budding medical professionals.
I am a literal pin cushion to these second-year med students.
Over the period of four weeks, I will visit the hospital over 20 times. Of those 20 visits, I will either be injected with drugs or have my blood taken.
It’s important that my blood results are monitored regularly, as I have been inoculated with Malaria. That is to say, I have willingly agreed to be injected with the Malaria parasite. If my Malaria count reaches above a certain level, I will be admitted to hospital for immediate treatment. The only way this won’t happen is if the trial drug works. (Plot spoiler—it doesn’t.)
In the meantime, I will continue to fraternise with my social group, frequent my place of employment and participate in daily society as per usual – everyone none-the-wiser to the disease present in their midst.
Besides being vaccinated for the possible treatment of Malaria, Parkinson’s, the Hendra virus, Hep B and Tuberculosis, I also get regular, free-of-charge health check-ups.
I can safely inform you that I have below average cholesterol levels, no heart conditions, I am not pregnant and I fall right in the middle of the BMI chart; and each visit, the delightful nurses, of whom I am on a first name basis with, make sure I leave with a handful of poppers and muffins. No private health care provider can say they offer these kinds of services free of charge.
Along with muffins, I also get paid a large sum of money. For the last three trials I have participated in, I have made close to $9000AUD.
But then there’s the stigma that comes with willingly injecting my body with unknown substances. I reassure the sceptics that these medical testings come with the approval of the government and round-the-clock medical supervision. I argue that I am aiding in the advancement of medical science. Of course, that’s a lie. I, without question, do it for the money. But deep down, I hope something good comes from my contribution and open-mindedness to the effects of unknown drugs to my body.
Whilst on an extended stay in the hospital, stories trickle through the ward from some of the other study participants of medical trials that have gone wrong. There are accounts of trials where participants have had their heads explode, like the 2006 UK study testing a drug hoping to treat rheumatoid arthritis and leukaemia. Within hours of the study commencing, participants reported feeling like their brains were on fire and that their eyeballs were about to pop out of their heads. Participants were left with swollen heads, giving it the nickname The Elephant Man Drug Trial.
I remain steadfastly ignorant and instead enjoy the luxuries that come into my life because of these significant cash advances—holidays in Mexico, spontaneous trips to India and snowboarding in Japan.
On the rare occasion that my newfound wealth fails to mask the niggling moral issues that arise, there is the reassurance that somewhere out there, I am bringing a cure closer to those who are in dire need of it. And somewhere out there happens to be a lot closer to home sometimes. My very own life-giving mother now has a prescription for the first drug that was tested in my body.
At last the needle hits its mark and the nurse empties the syringe of its not-yet-legal contents.
I sigh, and sit for a moment in reflection. These studies may somewhat hinder my health and potential child-bearing ability, but I rejoice in the knowledge that what I gain is exponentially greater than all the hospital visits, injections and temporary feelings of ill health combined.
Alternatively, I could just get a real job.
Cover by Takuya