Thanks for the MRIs; Confessions of a Guinea Pig

This afternoon I turned the tables on the medical profession and Ohio State University Medical Center.  I went in and spent an hour with my head in the MRI machine, and they paid me.  I didn’t have to produce my insurance card, didn’t have a medical bracelet to staple to a page in my diary.  Instead, after I filled out the paperwork, the technician handed me a $20 bill.

Awhile back, I added my name to an email alert list for people willing to be test subjects for medical and drug studies, as long as I was paid for the time and effort.  Last week, I received an email from the OSU Medical Center, asking if I’d be willing to participate in a study of noninvasive MRI cardiac imaging.  I emailed back and told her I was.  I told her I’d had MRI studies before.  (My psychiatrist had ordered one in 2000, checking to see if I had Parkinson’s.  I didn’t–my guess is he was noticing some odd Asperger’s mannerisms I wasn’t even aware I did.)

So I reported to the Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza on Kenny Rd. at 4 this afternoon, filled out the paperwork, and eventually found myself lying on the moving table in my shorts and shirt, with suction-cup leads on my chest and a camera-electromagnet across my chest, sliding head first into the white-lined MRI.  (The only way to describe it is that it feels like they’re sticking your head in a dryer.)

Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza

The hardest part was lying still, especially when my nose began to itch.  The machine is quite loud when they’re actually taking the images.  It feels like someone is banging on the sides of the machine with a hammer or a closed fist.  The technician gave me headphones, and when I wasn’t listening to the director telling me what to expect and asking me questions, I listened to WOSU-FM.  (There was a microphone inside the MRI, so I could communicate with the operator.)  Fortunately, I am not claustrophobic, because OSU only has closed MRIs.  (The only open MRI facility I’ve seen in Columbus is at the Broad Street Imaging Center in Olde Towne East.) 
One of the future studies will involve being injected with a dye, and I’ll get $40, instead of $20.  That should be in about three weeks.
I first served as a “guinea pig” in Boston in the summer of 1983.  With The Crimson only publishing twice weekly, and work on The Confidential Guide to Courses at Harvard-Radcliffe pouring in erratically, I needed some extra folding money.  I signed up for a study (Friday afternoon to early Saturday evening) for three consecutive weekends testing Propranalol, a hypertension drug that was then newly on the market.  I reported to a house in Jamaica Plain where I was with about 30 other men, staying in a dorm-type setup (four to a room, bunk beds), and awakened every few hours for blood draws, blood pressure, etc.  And of course, even for that short a period of time shut in together, everyone gets on one another’s nerves.  I often retreated to the laundry room to read, write in my journal, etc.  They paid small increments at the end of the first two studies–after your last blood draw, they’d hand you a check on the way out.  The third check was the big one, and they ended up paying us $200 more than the ad in The Boston Globe quoted!
The oddest study I ever did was in the summer of 1987.  I was on summer break from Ohio University, and working a summer job as a typesetter for Homefinder magazine, which meant I spent two or three days typing away at the Feicke Printing Company’s ugly old building on Iowa Ave. in Cincinnati, and the rest of the time fretting about how the meager paycheck would last.  Christ Hospital advertised they needed test animals participants for a study of the Coxsackie A virus, a strain that could cause mouth blisters, pinkeye, rashes, and upper respiratory infections.  I passed the initial screening, and spent a week shut in the basement floor of the nurses’ dorm at Christ Hospital with other men, most of them unemployed or homeless.  (Fortunately, the study was on a week when I didn’t have to work.)  I read, watched lots of movies–the nurse running the study, who vacillated between Nurse Ratched and loving den mother, had to impose a rule that we could only watch porn movies at night, since nurses were in and out of our section during the day.  (One guy had brought his impressive collection of Swedish Erotica tapes.)
The odd thing about this study was that we had to save our Kleenex.  For this purpose, we had to carry pillowcase-sized Ziploc bags at all times, and eventually we would turn these in so the nurses and technicians could weigh them to see just how runny our noses were.  I lucked out; I learned later I had been given a placebo (they gave us the virus by nose drops).  Other guys were using so much Kleenex they were using their tissue bags as throw pillows and bolsters.
Later that summer, I was part of a Rhiniovirus study.  I caught enough colds for free in my lifetime that I jumped at the chance to get paid for it.  This time, I did develop the sniffles and a low-grade fever, but not as badly as some guys did.  The pay for this was enough to be spending money (includes books and new glasses) at O.U. for most of fall quarter.
Christ Hospital reran the study later after realizing they needed to separate their subjects better.  It turned out that the results were fatally flawed because when everyone was shut in together in such close quarters, we were all cross-infecting one another.  When they did the study again, they took an entire wing of a hotel and put everyone in solitary confinement (which, truthfully, I would have preferred.)  The only time they interacted was during meals, when everyone would sit in the doorways of their rooms.  That must be what being a sequestered juror is like.
I need to send this blog entry out into the world.  Tomorrow’s moving day, and I have to close up my office and get it ready.  I’m meeting the landlord at 4 p.m. for the key to our new quarters near Weinland Park.
The next entry I post will be after the move is completed and I’ve managed to sleep afterwards!
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