"I was a human lab rat."

People will do dumb shit for money. I should know, I’m one of them.

When I was a uni student, I acted as a medical guinea pig in a clinical trial testing a new method of delivering a post-surgery pain-relief drug.

Turns out, it wasn’t as fun as I’d expected.

Because this is how I felt for most of it.

First, a disclaimer: I have to admit my intentions were not purely focused on the advancement of medical science. I was totally sucked in by the lure of cash.

A uni friend who had done clinical trials before was always banging on about how it was such easy money. So, young and desperately saving for a European summer adventure, I agreed to join my friend on a particularly well-paid trial, the concept of ‘danger money’ not even entering my distracted little mind.

As I worked through the mounds of paperwork, making my mark on disclaimer after disclaimer, I quickly lost interest in the particulars and began skipping over pertinent details – like the fact I would be required to give 44 blood samples during my two three-day stays at the clinic.

Drinking steins and eating pretzels bigger than my head at Oktoberfest made it all worth it.

The new delivery method being trialled involved low intensity electrical currents moving the drug through the skin into the bloodstream from a device attached to the upper arm. (Looking at this description now, I possibly also skipped over the whole electrical current thing.)

Side effects not all known, but may include discoloured skin at the site the currents enter. Wonderful.

So we geared up to get our guinea pig on and underwent a barrage of screening tests to make sure we weren’t pregnant (they probably didn’t want to be responsible for a nine-limbed child) or on drugs. Unfortunately, my friend was excluded from the trial after testing positive for opiates due to an ill-timed poppy seed roll (an implausible-sounding claim she maintains until this day).


Despite my comrade being culled, I decided to go it alone, my eyes firmly set on the bag of cash at the end of the ordeal. My longing to sun myself while sailing the Croatian seas and eat authentic gyros on the Greek Islands was apparently clouding my better judgement.

And eating pizza slices bigger than my head in Italy…

I was also warned that a small percentage of people had bad reactions to the blocker drug we would receive to counteract the effect of the pain meds. (Apparently allowing subjects to spend six days off their heads was unethical.) The odds are against me then, I reassured myself.

That thinking is how I came to spend three days lying nauseous in a hospital bed, interrupted only by short dashes to the nearest rubbish bin to throw up. A tube tapped into a vein in my arm to deliver my torturers regular blood samples remained there for days on end, moved only to another spot when it became too clogged.

Possibly delirious from the blood loss, I began to think the whole trial was a ruse set up by the blood bank or a particularly thirsty vampire. All the DVDs and uni work I’d bought along to occupy myself with remained untouched in my bag as I lay there contemplating how I got to this point in life, a human pincushion.

And doing this at a skeleton-themed bar in Slovenia.

After surviving the first three days, I had to return and do three more a few weeks later to get paid. To get through the next round, I just closed my eyes and thought of England – literally.

When it was all over, I collected my cheque and treated myself to a one-way ticket to Europe.

By the time I returned home from my four-month sojourn, my tanned skin almost hid the brown patches of skin burnt into my arm from the device.


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