Monday, 15 August 2011
Trial by Medicine
It was an inauspicious start to the week.
In order to prove my identity I needed something with a photograph on it. As an avowed non-driver, the only thing which would pass muster was my passport. Which I didn’t have.
I wasn’t at home and had only an hour until my screening appointment, so having made some explanatory phone calls I jumped on a pair of buses and went home to retrieve it. Except it wasn’t there.
I always keep my passport in the same place. Why had I made an exception this time? Starting to panic I pulled boxes from shelves, went through the pockets of my jackets and jeans, my man-bags. It simply wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
I called them back, explaining that I couldn’t find my passport anywhere. A voice from the landing piped up authoritatively, “You won’t find it”. Of course I wouldn’t – I’d posted it to my previous employers as proof of identity for a claim on an old pension I used to pay into. Dammit.
I made my fourth phone call of the day (already a record for me) to explain that my passport was elsewhere and there was nothing I could do about it. I had been foiled. There was nothing anyone could do to verify that I was, indeed, John Robert Ward Jr – despite the fact that I had attended a screening appointment just two weeks previously during which they’d photocopied the all-important document. I had a photocopy of my own. I had other forms of photo ID. But they were not enough.
I was furious. I’d previously failed a screening due to my blood being too sugary (or some such triviality) and had been due to take part in a trial which had been cancelled at the last moment. My efforts at donating my body to science were being thwarted at every turn.
Except just when I was about to explode in an apoplectic rage, the phone rang and a calming Geordie accent explained that they would make an exception on the basis of my previous efforts to help and the last-minute circumstances under which I’d volunteered. Hurrah.
Of course, my determination to participate in a clinical trial had absolutely nothing to do with altruism and everything to do with the fact that I would be paid £800 (tax free) for sitting in bed reading books and taking pills. In my badly paid profession, this kind of renumeration would enable to finish my summer-holidays in style.
Like Neo from The Matrix i was plugged in to an ECG machine, had vials of blood and urine forcibly extracted, my groin prodded by a doctor and numerous questions asked of my medical history and recreational activities. And then I was in.
Unfortunately I had two hours to fill in until the other candidates arrived. It wasn’t worth going home and coming back, so I was deposited in a comfortable television room with a glass of water. And there I remained. By this point my stomach was beginning to devour itself – I’d been fasting since the previous evening. And as anyone who’s spent time with me when I’m hungry can attest, this is not a state I like to be in.
Thankfully it eventually ticked around to 1pm and I was taken upstairs for a briefing, another barrage of questions and – hopefully – some food. A delightfully matronly nurse asked me some questions which were remarkably similar to those I’d been asked earlier and I told her that:
Yes, I’d had a small glass of wine over the weekend.
No, I hadn’t consumed any grapefruit juice or Seville oranges.
Yes, I’d had some ibuprofen on Thursday to cure a headache.
No, I haven’t donated any blood in the last three months.
I then went and deposited yet more urine in a plastic bottle and waited for the doctor running the trial to come and ask me exactly the same questions again. In the meantime, a lovely young man explained the procedure: we’d be on a strict timetable of when we could eat; we must eat everything we were given; we must keep every drop of our piss; we must not refrigerate said piss; we could be fined for misbehaviour; we might not get on the trial.
Hang on. What was that? We might not get on the trial? The five volunteers in the room looked bemusedly at one another. It transpired that they only needed three volunteers at this stage and that two of us were just back up. This was news to everyone. The pill was sweetened only slightly by the news that the two not selected would stay in the unit for just two nights and would receive £200 for their trouble. Not ideal, but better than a sweet FA. But my disgruntlement was growing.
Feeling like I’d not been told the whole truth, my mood was quite surly when the doctor arrived to interrogate me for the third time that day. He asked me exactly the same questions I’d been asked twice before, only this time his reaction was different. He was perturbed by my having taken ibuprofen. He was a bit snappy with me. I was monosyllabic in response. He left the room. Rejection felt inevitable.
I was gearing myself up to leave. Upon his return he explained that I was not allowed to take any form of medication in the two weeks up to the trial. His tone was accusatory – like I’d been wasting his time. Au contraire, mon frère. I was the one having my fucking time wasted.
I’d taken the painkillers on Thursday. I’d then received a call the next day asking me to participate at short notice in the trial. I was asked to come in for a screening immediately after the weekend. I acquiesced and followed all their instructions. At no point did anyone ask me if I’d partaken of any pills, potions, lotions or otherwise. I’d have told them if I had.
So through no fault of my own I’d been sat inside a soulless hospital for over five hours. I’d had my genitals felt by a man, blood sucked from my arm, piss piped from my penis and question after question asked of me. I’d made seven or eight phone calls, caught buses from one side of the city to the other. I’d had my bags searched and my underwear rummaged around in. I’d fasted for fuck all. I’d not made any plans for the week (a full week of my summer holiday). Mentally, I’d spent the money. And now I was being told that because a couple of people had made oversights in asking about or reporting my use of contraband ibuprofen I had never been eligible to take part at all.
I was not happy. I made my feelings clear, explaining my position firmly and calmly – but ensuring there was enough of a ‘don’t fuck with me’ edge to voice for them not to attempt to mollify me. I demanded that the company remove all records of me from their files, remove me from all mailing or contact lists. I managed not to swear, although I did refer to the company as ‘a joke’ in full view of plenty of people. I’d packed by bag and was leaving before the doctor had chance to respond.
A very polite member of staff accompanied me out of the building apologizing all the way. I felt sorry for him having been put in such a position. But then he rubbed me up entirely the wrong way: he told me at least I’d get a £15 for attending the screening. You can imagine what solace I took from that.
Sadly, I’m not allowed to reveal the name of the company in question. I signed confidentiality agreements, you see. But I can say this: it’s a large, famous company which conducts clinical trials in Leeds. Perhaps you’ll be better at putting the evidence together than they are.