It’s the morning and I’m sitting in the medical reception, filling in the paperwork for my potential drug trial/rehab/writing retreat.
There are three youngish women waiting, fidgeting on their phones. After a little while one leaves, saying she can’t wait any longer because she has another appointment. Truth or jangled nerves? I’ll never know.
The receptionist has told me it will be a one to two-hour wait for an in-person screening with a doctor before I can give my final consent. I figure it’s a test to see if you can sit still for hours on end without frazzling out.
As I’m filling out the form I realize it’s the exact same questions I was asked on the earlier screening phone call. Ridiculous medical bureaucracy or rigorous double testing to ensure accuracy? Because I’m in a good mood (and might be about to sign my life away) I go with the later. I want to put my faith in the medical establishment.
I hand the completed form to the receptionist and step back to my chair. I flip through a few news sites, trying to avoid any stories on medical disasters or pandemics. I never realized how much modern news is tied to health or lack thereof.
Maybe I should I meditate? Excellent in theory and always doomed in reality. My thoughts fumble and tumble to the drug trial. It’s a study on an anti-Alzheimer’s drug to improve focus and attention.
Two 9-day stints where nutritionally balanced meals, hospital grade accommodation and boundless wifi are provided free while trialing a drug to make me mentally sharper.
I’ll have nothing to do but work on a Bill Hicks screenplay I’ve been trying to write for years. No distractions. No projects. No worries.
I mentioned the $13,000 stipend, right? It’s a paid rehab and writing retreat. With 24/7 medical care. Lots of medical care. All I have to do is hand over my body and right to sue if anything goes amiss.
As I look through the glass door to the corridor and wards, I see bustling medical staff, doctors and consultants zipping left and right. More than a few are balancing trays of test tubes loaded with blood. Vampire heaven.
Another would-be participant steps into reception, a youngish man who gives his name to the receptionist and is given paperwork to fill out. After a few minutes, he asks the receptionist about the warning in bold capital letters that states MAY CAUSE DEATH.
‘We have to put that in,’ says the receptionist.
I take out my phone and start writing this piece in an app. I’ve never done that before. It feels like I’m playing a game. Course-correcting as I go along. Maybe that’s the pleasure of writing. Correcting mistakes.
When my name is called the first time I don’t even hear it. By the third time I look up to see two doctors in white lab coats, smiling and asking me to follow them.
Down the corridor we go to a minuscule side room and sit down, huddled together. The first doctor is a woman, well-practised and professional. She’s done this before. The second doctor is a man, training to be the first doctor. This is his first in-person screening session.
‘Do I mind if he participates?’ asks the first doctor.
‘Not at all,’ I say. But think why is he looking so nervous?
Maybe he knows something I don’t? The first doctor explains the drug (donepezil) and how it works (inhibits an enzyme in the brain responsible for the destruction of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine) and what they’re trialing (administering through transdermal skin patch rather than oral tablet).
I start to feel all righteous about advancing medical science and helping people suffering from Alzheimer’s until the doctor specifies exactly what they’re testing. Towards the end of the production run of the patches, the drug crystallizes on the surface. What they’re testing is whether the crystallized drug is just as effective as the non-crystallized drug.
Just to be clear. What they’re testing on humans is whether a shortcoming in the production process has a deleterious effect on their profits. Whether capitalism can get away with an inferior product without having to retool the production line.
I thank the doctor for the clarification. She then runs through all the same questions again across multiple forms. I answer them all truthfully again, including the fact I suffer from migraines.
‘Do you take any medication?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ I answer. ‘Imigran. I wrote in on the form and mentioned it on the phone call.’
The two doctors confer, foreheads frown, dosages are murmured and I’m politely thanked for my time.
‘I’m afraid you’re excluded from this study,’ the first doctor says as she stands. The second doctor scrambles to his feet and opens the door. As we walk down the corridor towards the glass door I ask if I’ve done anything wrong.
‘Oh no,’ says the first doctor. ‘You’ve done everything right.’