Apparently clinical research trials require arctic refrigeration in case Frosty the Snowman decides to arm wrestle the placebo effect. This was my first visit as a potential clinical research subject for a phase two double blind study of a potential pharmaceutical treatment for celiac disease. I’m shivering, which could be a combination of excitement—if this treatment works, it’ll be a game changer for millions of people like me—and anxiety—no guarantee I’ll be selected to participate after the screening because I might be too sick…or not sick enough. Then again, I’m probably shivering because I just saw a polar bear saunter by. This place is freezing.
After one hour of answering more than a hundred questions about every part of my anatomy, some standard but some a bit embarrassing, my toes felt rooted on an ice floe. Nevertheless, I cheerfully rolled up the sleeves of my sweater to present my veins for inspection and selection. The technician and I both peered at the inside of my elbow: lovely and pale without a trace of blood bearing duct work.
The tech said, “Oh, no! Where are your veins?”
I wanted to say, “They flew to Barbados to defrost. I’ll let you know when they return. In the meantime, let’s go skating!” Instead, I briskly rubbed my arms to try to coax just one vein out of hiding. It worked. A little blue vein shyly appeared.
It took three stabs at success. Three stabs, three butterfly needles, six alcohol wipes, four pairs of gloves, seven gauze pads, a yard of tape, and two technicians to collect enough blood to fill three small vials.
And then my fingers turned blue. Literally turned blue, thanks to the extra tight elastic tourniquet left on my upper arm while they tried to suck the blood out of my veins. This was a startling shade of blue with red undertones, rather patriotic extending from the dirty cream flatland of my palm. I calmly alerted the technician to the Technicolor state of my appendages, who didn’t take me seriously until I bent my arm to try to show her.
She immediately yanked the elastic tourniquet off my arm and said, “Don’t bend your arm. It interrupts the blood flow.”
I laughed out loud. I had to because the blood began to squirt into the test tube as soon as the tourniquet slithered to the table. It took everything I had not to say, “Oh look! The blood flows again like thawed snow down a starved mountain in March. We’re saved!”
With three vials filled, they removed the needle and slapped a bandage over the gauze square on my arm. I began shaking that arm to restore normal circulation while the techs finished labeling the vials and cleaning up the small mountain of used medical supplies. The techs then apologized for brutalizing me as they backed out the door and said the doctor would be in shortly to perform a physical exam.
I retreated to the chair in the corner of the room, out of the vortex of polar air whooshing from the air duct in the ceiling. I rubbed my arms to warm myself and to push the blood back into my fingers.
The doctor must have been observing from a secret peephole because she didn’t come in to perform the “physical exam” until my fingers looked less like blueberry parfaits and more like slivers of shortbread cookies. The “physical” lasted five minutes and consisted of me being felt up with my clothes on. Apparently no organs were atrophying or ballooning in my abdomen and my arms and legs bent at the proper angles.
I wanted to ask how my intestines sounded through the stethoscope (I’ve already heard the air whoosh in and out of my lungs) but I didn’t think that would fall under the part of the fifteen page “Informed Consent,” well, form, that said lab, endoscopic and other test results would be shared with me. Too bad, it could have been fun listening to gastric juices sluicing through yards of gastric piping.
Ninety minutes later the doctor asked if I had any questions and if I thought I would be able to comply with the demands of the clinical trial: up to 26 weeks, multiple blood draws, two endoscopic exams with sedation, daily recording and reporting of all foods I consume, taking the study medication three times a day without fail, skeins of reporting yarns, and braving the Perimeter Mall area traffic to get to and from the test office. I solemnly swore I could and would.
And then she said casually, “Oh, and you have to take birth control. We can’t have any risk of pregnancy, though you’re probably too old for that anyway.”
“Well, not actually too old..ha ha…that change hasn’t happened…but (cough) yes, too old for any sane person to attempt that medical miracle,” I smiled weakly.
Ah, clinical directness sans any semblance of manners. Yep. Now I feel like a real research subject. Looking forward to the second visit!