In the name of safety, all pharmaceutical drugs released onto the market, need first to be tested on humans. This may seem extravagantly unattractive to the normal person, but any backpacker worth his salts will tell you that for the right price, health can be put on hold.
So, in the name of science (and nine hundred pound, tax free!), I decided to become a human guinea pig for nine days.
The drug to be tested was some kind of Tuberculosis Anti-biotic. I didn’t even know what Tuberculosis was in all honesty, but if there was a way that I could aid in finding a cure to a problem I didn’t know about, I’d do it!
I had passed all the preliminary health checks earlier that week and had been accepted a test patient for this exploratory test.
The ground rules were explained on a piece of paper that was presented on our hospital beds as we arrived. I was in a ten-man ward, and sure enough, ten beds lined three side of this very bland square room. Next to each bed stood a medical drip and next to that sat a small steel table. An assortment of medica devices including cannulas, syringes, and electrodes sat neatly on top.
The rules as were as follows:
- Patients are not to consume alcohol or any recreational drug 9 days prior to testing period
- Once underway, patients are not allowed to exercise for the duration of the testing period.
- Patients are not allowed to exit the room unless under strict supervision
- Patients must be escorted to bathrooms at all times
- Patients must urinate in provided 1-litre beaker
- Patients must only eat food provided (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner)
- Patients must not leave their bed unless asked to.
If I ever needed an excuse to be lazy, this was it!
After reading the rules, a Mexican back packer whose name I forget, swore loudly in Spanish, and started to re-pack his bag, which he had only just finished unpacking.
“Good luck guys!” he commented as he left through the door.
There were no prizes for guessing which rule he had already broken. The subtle smell of whiskey that followed him out the door gave this away.
Three portly nurses soon introduced them selves, and again reinforced the rules. We were on a very short leash. I looked around the room for any Nazi paraphernalia, but found none.
The routine for the next nine days was mechanical. We would have blood taken from our right arm every six hours (even throughout the night) and twice a day we would have our heart rhythm monitored. Blood pressure testing was also a daily occurrence.
Due to the repetitive nature of the testing, we were to have cannulas inserted into our right arm on Day 1, and removed on Day 9. Similarly, we were to have nine adhesive electrodes attached on our chests.
I was waiting for instructions on how to put a bolt through my neck as well, but this never happened.
By seven o’clock that morning we had introduced ourselves to the ward, and by seven-thirty we were in underwear.
Eight o’clock heralded the insertion of cannulas and electrodes onto our bodies, and by nine o’clock we had given our first blood donations.
By ten o’clock, we were all bored.
I was in bed number 9. To my left was bed number 10, Mexican-less of course, and to my right was bed number 8, in which laid Rory, a friendly young Scotsman. Rory and I soon found that we shared a passion of rugby, and very quickly we felt comfortable enough to denounce each other’s national team. Being Scottish, Rory soon ran out of rugby accolades, but with a thick accent, I hardly understood him anyway.
As we continued chatting, the three nurses again entered the room. It was time for us to take the infamous white pill.
“We will now come round to each of your beds, and give you your pill. This pill is the tuberculosis antibiotic that you would have read up on.”
Needless to say, I hadn’t.
The danger of the unknown suddenly slapped me in the face. I was about to take a pill that no-one had ever taken before, the result of doing so, being entirely unknown.
I had heard mythical stories of previous patients reacting adversely to similar tests. One such man experienced a horrible swelling of the head, whilst another experienced major skin irritations. I even met one guy who had completed a two-week test involving a pill designed to control cholesterol increase. Eating five mandatory high-fat content meals a day, he left with over one thousand pounds in his pocket and an extra ten kilos in his arse! The pill was later found to be ineffective in weight control.
As the nurses started to prep the guy in bed number 1, I could only hope that my side effect, if any, would include an elongation of the penis or perhaps a loss of all back hair. I was an optimist!
Eventually the nurses made it to my bed.
“How are you feeling Sebastian?” asked the eldest nurse. I nodded unconvincingly. I was shitting myself.
She must have been about sixty-five years old, and had a warm motherly tone to her voice. A few whiskers sprouted rebelliously from a large mole that joined her left nostril to her top lip and her wrinkled hands told the story of long and hard past. Unfortunately, she was the better looking of the three nurses. So nurturing was her presence, I half expected her to offer me a glass of milk and a cookie. She never did. Instead, she reached out, and presented to me a small white pill.
“Open wide now Sebastian”
This was it. I was about swallow a white pill that may very well change my life. The three nurses peered at me as the pill was placed on my tongue. The second nurse then handed me a glass of water to help wash it down.
I was scared, and I could feel my heart racing. Even though I had passed the health check earlier the week, I did have one small concern. I had actually lied when asked if I had asthma. As a baby and up into m early teens, I had bouts of asthma, but when questioned prior to this trial, I denied ever having it. This lie now bounced around my head like a pinball. What if they find out I’m lying? What if this pill somehow reacts badly with asthmatics? What if I stop breathing?