It was an unusually sunny February day. I entered the building. It was weird. It was one big empty room with blue and white tiled floors, and dull yellow walls. It smelt like a hospital – clinical. There were people in lab coats wandering around with clipboards and medical equipment. It made sense but it felt like something from a sci-fi movie. I was here to participate in a paid research study.
I found a clinical trial company online months ago. I almost forgot I signed up until they called me and told me they were doing a study on a new medication for ragweed allergies. Luckily (or unluckily) for me, I was allergic to ragweed and could participate.
I went to the front desk and told them I was here for the first visit. I filled out a few pages of paperwork, they gave me a wrist band with my initials and a number on it, and I sat down and waited. A few minutes later a tall Middle Eastern man called my initials. I followed him through the big room, and we went into a cubicle in the corner. He explained how the study works.
It would consist of four visits. Today was the first. They were checking my vitals and making sure I was healthy enough for the study.
“Do you understand and want to continue?” he said.
Of course I answered yes.
He also explained how the payment works. If I am healthy enough, I get $100 today. If I continue the study, I get more money for each part of the study I complete, up to $2000. That was why I was there.
I believe in supporting medical advancements, but that wasn’t my reason at all for participating in this study. As a college student going into an unpaid internship soon, I need that money.
I signed more paperwork. Then it was back to the waiting area.
A few minutes later, an Indian woman in a lab coat walk over.
“R.C?” she said
I followed her to a desk in another section of the room. She checked my blood pressure, breathing rate and my body temperature.
Then it was back to the waiting area.
A few minutes later an Eastern European woman called my initials. I followed her to another desk in the very back of the room. They were going to do a prick test to make sure I was allergic to ragweed. But it wasn’t just ragweed. She had to check 17 different allergens. She drew letters and arrows up and down my arms. Then pulled each drop from a kit and poked the corresponding area. We waited. The ragweed area turned red, then white and got itchy.
“You aren’t allowed to scratch for thirty minutes,” she said.
So I waited.
Then it was back to the waiting area, again.
A few minutes later the same Eastern European woman called me to draw blood.
For one last time, it was back to the waiting area.
The next man who called my initials wasn’t dressed like everyone else. He didn’t have a lab coat and looked casual. He was the optometrist. He checked my eyes and performed a number of eye tests. Then he put drops in my eyes. It stung like hell. He told me my pupils would dilate. They did. He checked them again and then I was on my way. I had to wear sunglasses the rest of the day and bright lights hurt my eyes, but it was worth it. Because as I was signing out, I was given a cheque for $100.
A few days later they called again. I scheduled another date and was excited to get more money.
It was a grey, rainy afternoon this time. I walked into the familiar building. And although I had been here before, it still caught me by surprise. It had an odd, outdated feel to it. I walked to the front desk and went through the familiar process of signing paperwork and sitting down.
Like my first visit, I was only referred to by my initials. A young Chinese man called me and walked me to the back of the room. I sat down in front of a TV and watched an outdated video on what was about to happen. I was about to enter the environmental exposure chamber.
It sounds scarier than it was. But it was weirder than I expected. I had to put on a white jumpsuit over my clothing, a hairnet and shoe covers. Although I was a “lab rat” all along, it felt real now.
I walked down a hallway in the back of the building and entered one door. I was given eye drops and then entered another door. I was now in the chamber. It was a big round room filled with seats like a classroom. It felt like something from either the past or a dystopian future. Everything was muted colours and I was alone in this room. There were four giant fans whirring away at the front of the room. Throughout the room there were boxes on stands that were pumping out ragweed pollen. I had a seat and was given a tablet that I had to use to record my symptoms every ten minutes. I spent 90 minutes in the chamber.
Every twenty minutes or so a man would come in and check my eyes. All I could think about was the torture scene from “A Clockwork Orange.” My eyes watered and itched, my nose ran, and my throat was scratchy.
When it finally ended, I left the room and had to wait in the waiting area. I was called to the front desk and told that I was not going to continue the study because I didn’t react strongly enough to the ragweed.
Part of me was upset I wouldn’t get the $2000 but another part of me was glad I didn’t have to put myself through that again.
I’m waiting for my $555 cheque in the mail now. I can at least say I tried something that most people haven’t. I’m still deciding whether it was worth it.