Human Guinea Pig by Ken Warble

Medical research. I bet if you think of those two words together you think of those “botched” trials from a few years ago when that blokes head swelled to the size of a beach ball. And then his hands fell off, in true Garth Marenghi fashion.

Well, as I write this I’m currently in a unit in the salubrious district of Moss Side, central Manchester. I’m being paid £1621 to test the name of a drug I can’t pronounce (it begins with an “r”) and thus far, I still have both my hands attached to my arms and my head can still fit through a door. Then again, I haven’t actually had my first dose yet so there would be something wrong with if any of the above had happened.

I arrived here at 10am, Sunday 14th September. Preparations weren’t ideal prior to me arriving at the unit; I was advised to have at least 9 hours sleep the night before I was admitted. This was hammered in excruciatingly patronising fashion, much the way people tell their dogs to “sittttttttt”.

But the night before I was admitted I was in London, and didn’t leave until 5am on the Sunday. By 7am I was circling Coventry’s ring road in a desperate hunt for petrol due to Corley services on the M6 being closed and my fuel warning light flashing at me since the “Welcome to Northamptonshire” sign back on the M1. Arriving back in Manchester, I wasn’t nervous or excited, just hungry. However one of the restrictions of the study was that you had to fast 12 hours before admittance.

I was the first person to arrive to the building so I naturally did that thing where you panic and wonder if you’ve got the date / time / location wrong, I then considered leaving because nobody else had turned up. As I sat on a slightly damp wall with my phone out, (“you’re never alone with a phone”, Corrigan, Mark; Peep Show 2008) a couple more “volunteers” rounded the corner. One was a quiet type, early 30’s, softly spoken but a limp, damp handshake. The other had Hawaiian shorts and a late 90’s Oldham Athletic away shirt on. He wasn’t quiet. Further interrogation revealed this chap doesn’t have a job, “I just do these”, followed by a guffaw.

A very Northern lady called Tracey ushered us in and showed us to our ward. I’m not going to describe Tracey, but however you imagine a stereotypical Northern girl called Tracey to be, you are right. The ward is much the same as any other hospital ward, eight beds separated by those shit, floral curtains and the bed sheets are more paper than fabric. The next batch of inmates arrived and the usual banalities went on for about half an hour. Although, as I write this, I still don’t know all their names – one is called Wayne; one has a slightly enlarged forearm. As we unpacked our stuff (the study lasts a total of two weeks; one week in the unit followed by daily check ups in the subsequent week) the nurses rummage through your bag searching for “contraband”. And yes, they actually did use that word. Apparently the worse crime you can commit is to have a camera phone so they swapped my shiny, new Samsung with internet and a fresh batch of mp3s for a Nokia 5110. Although it did does have Snake on it, which is a welcome reminder of being 15.

The first vaguely medical procedure we went through was to have our blood taken, which you would think can’t really go wrong. So I “popped up onto the bed” and rolled my sleeve up. On went the tourniquet and I thought how shit it must be to have this as a habit. The moron of a doctor then jabbed me with a needle and looked a bit puzzled as I tried not to wail out in pain. Everybody else looked so serene and almost if they were enjoying it, my thumb had gone numb and I had some confused chimp literally sucking the life out of me. Apparently, he’d missed my vein. “Sorry, I missed your vein” he said, just in case you weren’t paying attention. “Can we try your other arm?” I’d rather he didn’t but this time, to my relief, he managed to actually find the vein and toddle off with his blood to do whatever it is they do with your blood.

Next up, Tracey came bounding back in the room.

“Hey up cheeky”.


“Mind if we ask you a few questions, love?”

If you must.

First up was, “Have you had any caffeine in the past 24 hours?”

I remember thinking does two points of coke in the pub last night count?

“No, none at all”.

Then we had, “Have you had any pork or smoked fish in the past three days?”

Apart from a pepperoni pizza at two this morning? “Nah, not eaten all day”, which was half true.

“Ta, darling”.

After the third degree from Tracey I went for a bit of a mooch around the unit and see what entertainment was on offer for the week. As I did this though, I noticed a bit of blood on my bed where the pillock from earlier had stabbed in a crude attempt at taking my blood. I then noticed that the blood wasn’t just on the bed, the dick had managed to drop some on my Kopenhagens by the side of the bed. I made a pathetic, disgruntled noise, got dead angry then thought I better not complain because they might poison me or something. So I kept trying to rub it off on the back of my jeans as I walked to the communal area bit. It didn’t work though, it’s still there.

The day passed fairly quickly and without event, mainly due to me sleeping for nearly six hours because of being up all night. Dinner was served about sevenish and to be fair, was a bit of a treat. We had a full roast chicken dinner which was only marred by having to be washed down with some thick, sickly blackcurrant cordial. Not an awful lot else to report from day one really.

Monday 15th was the first day of dosing and we were woken up around 7am by some chap who looked suspiciously like Stephen Merchant, if he was homeless. We had slightly heated bread masquerading as toast and as many corn flakes as you can handle. After the slap up feast it was time for the pills. In the bumpf they gave us when we signed up for the study the range of side effects ranged from light headedness and nausea (common side effects), to trouble sleeping (rare side effect) to erm, liver failure and sudden death syndrome (very rare side effects). When I say ‘very rare’, they define that as 1 in every 100,000 which isn’t really that rare to me. So I swallowed three little white capsules and hoped for the best.

Five minutes in, nothing. Ten minutes, nothing. Fifteen minutes, still nothing. I got cocky then, I thought I’d read a book… That’s just the thing to cure some paranoia. Or It would be if it wasn’t about Auschwitz. And then, it came. You know when you look at those eye trickery puzzles and there is that one with the black squares on a white background and you have to try and count the white dots? Well, the page went like that. Nothing a good lie down won’t sort out. It got worse, it was light headedness but I’d never known anything like it. Personally, I’m not a drug taker. Never have done and never will. The closest I’ve got is a bottle of poppers when I was at school and the only thing I can describe it as is like sniffing poppers but times it by a million, after drinking ten pints of Stella. I was lying on the bed thinking I was going to fall off at any moment, it felt as if the bed was being tilted and I was going to be thrown down a massive precipice. I wasn’t of course, but it definitely felt like that. My head was throbbing and I was genuinely a bit scared. What if I was the 1 in 100,000? I might actually be dead here.

This sensation lasted about 20 minutes or so and then it went as quickly as it came. I looked round and most of the others were lying quietly on their beds. I wondered if they had felt the same thing?

Because I had arrived here first the day before, I got to be first in line for everything. For dosing, blood pressure, dinner and so because of this I was alone in the common room when the next volunteer had finished. He said he hadn’t felt a thing after taking the pills. This was the chap who resembled the bastard offspring of Timmy Mallett and Michaela Strachan in her early 90’s guise, although he had swapped his Oldham shirt for a fetching yellow vest with ‘Surf Dude’ written on it, seriously. Eventually the rest came and sat down, and two more said they hadn’t felt anything whilst the other four had. It then dawned us that the ones who hadn’t felt anything must be on the placebo pills which they throw in just to make the doctors work for their money. A placebo hey? They really have got it easy. I know I’m only taking three pills a day and hallucinating for half an hour for £1600, but they’re actually not suffering one iota. They may as well be on holiday, although it’d be a pretty shit holiday considering we are in the area of Manchester which spawned the cringe worthy tag Gunchester in the tabloids.

By Monday evening I hadn’t really integrated with the rest of the ‘team’ as we kept being referred to by the nurse who was seemingly doing her best David Brent impression. I thought about it, but then looked at a few of them sat on the sofas watching Wayne’s World and it seemed like there was no worse time for me to go and strike a conversation. If someone came and interrupted me in the middle of a film I was clearly enjoying I’d either ignore them outright or give one word answers so they’d bugger off. I didn’t particularly want to talk to them either so I was quite grateful they were so easily amused by early 90s teen fodder.

In the early hours of the Tuesday I woke up about 3am for a “toilet trip” and as I got out of bed I thought I’d wet myself. I had to peel myself off the paper sheets and I was dripping wet with sweat; another seemingly common side effect of the drug. On my way back from le WC I bumped into one of the blokes who was also on the same study as me. Bearing in mind, we were sleeping barely 5 feet apart in the same ward, we then proceeded to stand there, in our boxers, in a freezing corridor at 3am talking about how the study was going. If it was 5am on an Ibizian hill watching the sunset and we had a San Miguel each then fair enough. But it wasn’t. It was dark, cold and we were in inner city Manchester. It’s now 6pm the following afternoon and I haven’t spoken to him since. Why do people do things like that? Why not walk back to the ward and be polite to each other on the way or even better wait until morning to be boring to each other?

Tuesday afternoon began in much the same fashion; get woken up by a 300 watt bulb, hear Tracey screech something Northern half a mile away and throw three pills down my neck. The light headedness wasn’t as intense as the first morning, or maybe it was but I was just prepared for it. Anyway, that passed and after another slap up breakfast of corn flakes and erm, milk, it was off to waste another day with the other “inmates”.
I should mention at this point that whilst I haven’t (yet) suffered liver failure or sudden death syndrome, there are another couple of side effects I have noticed. Firstly, and how can I put this, your “stools” turn into a shadow of their former selves. Where as the average dump was once comparable to a chicken madras, they are now comparable to the inside of a minced beef and onion pie. I won’t dwell on this. The second is hot flushes; not a massive inconvenience admittedly but it does give you a bit of an indication what your mum went through about ten years ago, without the insanity / delusion.

Anyway, Wednesday. Very similar to Tuesday in so much as we pottered around the unit except we were allowed out into the yard for 20 minutes in the afternoon. The nurse in charge was almost treating it as if we had earned the right to some fresh air. The predictable “chain gang” jokes were cracked (by wankers) and it was all very civilized, even if we were more or less in the refuse area of a medical research unit in Moss Side. Brap, Brap indeed. Whilst I’m having a moan, anybody who has ever lived in shared accommodation (be it University halls or erm… something else) will no doubt have had a tedious, completely unoriginal cretin amongst their number who still thinks its funny to put on a Geordie accent and impersonate that bloke who does Big Brother. “DAAAAAYYYYYYY WUN IN THE EYE-KN YOONIT…” (the company we are testing for is called Icon, you see). Shut up and die you twat.

In the evening I half read the paper, half watched Man United limp to a draw at home in the champions League and half tried chatting up a girl I fancy on Facebook. But obviously not in all equal measures, because that would up to more than a whole one. You know what I mean though.

Thursday morning was the day I hadn’t been looking forward to. Thursday morning was the day they inserted a romantic piece of equipment called a cannula into us. It’s basically a needle with a little… erm… thing on the end that sits happily on your arm all day. Or should I say in your arm all day? There is a fine little tube bit that is constantly in your vein whilst that is attached to a test-tube like bit which is taped to your arm. The idea of it is that it is easier to take your blood, which would be happening every two hours today. Anyway, it aches to buggery and if I wasn’t such a girl I’d rip it out, go home and stop degrading myself by even taking part in a medical research. But I’m not, so I’ll sit here quietly and give my arm dirty looks.
We were woken at the usual time but this time we weren’t greeted with breakfast, we were greeted with a nurse who wasn’t Tracey. She was demanding we lie down for the next ten minutes (which we were anyway, considering we were asleep) before she could insert these little bastards into our arms.

The taking of the pills continued as usual but just as we were all beginning to hallucinate, the cannulas were bought into view for the first time. They’re quite innocuous looking things, and to be honest, they don’t hurt as such, they’re just sodding inconvenient. You can’t really bend your arm properly because you’ve got this tube thing in the way. Even as I write this now I’m sat about four feet away from the computer with my arms dead straight. The advantage, well, point of cannulas is that it’s almost like a little tap wired up to your vein so instead of them drilling your vein every two hours with a needle, they can just turn the tap on and blood comes gushing out. Well, dribbles out.

I won’t drone on about Thursday because other than the cannulas being fitted, there really isn’t anything to report. I turned down the opportunity to go for a wander in the refuse area, that’s about it.
Friday was the day I’d been dreading. Today we were given an extra pill to see how it reacts with the drug that was currently in our system. When I outlined exactly what this study was for at the start of this I may have been a bit vague. There is currently a drug on the market called ariprazole. This is a prescribed drug that doctors give to mentals to “improve their cognitive function”. This will hopefully stop them going round knifing people or covering their bedrooms in tin foil, like Joe Wicks did in Eastenders ages ago.

What we have been taking is a new compound which will be going into this drug to see how it reacts with your body, and it is this new compound which has been giving us the horrors every morning.

But this isn’t enough for the doctors in charge apparently, they want to see what happens when they really start interfering with us. So they gave us a dose of the ariprazole, as well as the thing we have been taking all week. They gave us this fun sounding cocktail at 8am on Friday morning. It is now 4:46pm on Friday afternoon and I have been out of bed for as long as it has taken me to write this paragraph. My legs gave way twice when I got up, I’ve been sick twice and the remainder of my time has been spent half expecting an elephant man in a green boiler suit to come in and ‘end it all for me now’.

For those that didn’t get that, I felt like I was in the drug scene in Dead Man’s Shoes; the bit with the Laurent Garnier tune. If you haven’t seen it, it doesn’t matter.

By Friday evening the dizziness and wanting to be sick everywhere had subsided and I was now just having to contend with hot flushes. We did have a very nice tea though; homemade burgers and this spicy potato wedges which were ace. I nearly asked the bloke how he made them but I thought I’d look a bit gay and I’d never make them myself anyway.

Friday was an early night due to the exhaustion of wanting to die all afternoon, and I had probably my best nights sleep since I’ve been here. Plus I also had a text off that girl I had been badly chatting up on Facebook the other night, which was nice.
It’s now Saturday morning and I’ve finally had that cannula thing removed from my arm, all the effects of yesterday have subsided and the only slight discomfort I’ve got is from a load of flip flop-wearing, Soccer AM watching funboys behind me. So I’m going to sit here and watch The Sopranos on youtube until the County game kicks off in a few hours. Then I’ll sit here some more and listen to the game with my ear 2 inches away from the monitor again because the only headphones I’ve got are from my mobile and they have a pathetically short lead. The other blokes on this study have said they would all go through it again, and to be honest, for £1621 it isn’t that much discomfort. Admittedly, yesterday was grim but how often do you tell yourself you’re never drinking again when you’ve got a massive hangover? And you don’t get paid for having a hangover, you pay for the privilege.

Apparently there is a study coming up in a few months where you get paid £5000 for less than week. The only drawback is they stick a tube up your arse and one down your throat. I’m not sure if it is at the same time and the doctors record it and put in on, but I don’t think I fancy that at all. Not even for £5000.

As I write this final chapter, it is Saturday evening and another day of my life has passed me be in this prison-like research unit. I’ve not had any fresh air since Tuesday and I’m beginning to feel a bit like those Fritzl kids in Austria, but without the rape. We’re being discharged at 10 in the morning so time for my final thoughts on the last week. Firstly, was it worth it? Well, if no more side effects develop and everything stays as it is then this will be the easiest sixteen hundred quid I will ever earn, unless I win the lottery. The only discomfort I’ve had is from that moron on the first day who jabbed a nerve instead of a vein, and a as result I’ve had pins needles more or less all week. Friday was comparable with hell but only lasted eight hours or so. The rest of the experience has been more of an inconvenience than a pain.

I’m sure doing something like this does have its risks and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody with absolute certainty but I’d certainly get people to look into it and do a bit of research if they are interested. On the testimonials bit on the company website, its comments from supposed past volunteers (who are definitely not actors by the way) who come up with rubbish like “I made friends for life” and “My family are proud because I helped develop the medicine of the future”) which to me are utter bollocks. Why would you want to be friends with a human guinea pig? I’ve done one of these studies but I’m not a guinea pig, I’m a… I’m not sure. But I’m definitely not a guinea pig.

The bottom line is everybody does these tests for the money, unless they really are mental, and if you are after a weeks holiday, of sorts, and fancy earning the best part of £2000 then you really can’t go wrong. Unless you die.

The Aftermath

Following my discharge (oo-er) from the unit on Sunday morning, I was relieved to be out. Fresh air was a novelty, but the sun was annoyingly bright. I wandered down Lloyd Street South with my documents shielding my eyes from said sun and I must have resembled a horrible new student to the city. Which is something I fear being likened to. Even if I am, technically. Anyway…

The first few days passed without me noticing any new side effects, which was a relief, bt by Tuesday I realised I hadn’t gone for a “number two”, or a dump if you will. When the time came, the “mince beef” pie texture from last week had passed and the “motion” now resembled an explosion in a brown paint factory. The force and quantity was frightening. Quite satisfying though.

During this week I have still been taking the pills every morning which gave me the light headedness and I also have to report back to the unit every other morning so they can poke around with my piss and blood samples, the weirdos. I still find it slightly disconcerting having to urinate into a bottle and I still can’t manage to aim it in completely without getting some on my hand. Still, a bit of piss never hurt anybody, especially when you’re getting paid for it.

The next side effect i’m going to mention is a tad personal and/or embarrassing. Should I mention it? Probably not. But I will, because I’ve got this far and I’ve got nothing else to do today other than write this up. So here we go…

Being stuck in a hospital ward for a week getting pumped full of shitty drugs isn’t much fun. You can’t go anywhere on your own and there is very little attractive female company. Other than the lovely Sarah who was the on-site consultant. So certain, erm… frustrations arise. Except you’re constantly monitored so you can’t do anything about them. I did contemplate doing a “Miggs” in Silence of the Lambs to Sarah but decided against it. When I got home on the Sunday afternoon, I went to check my emails, read the casualco messageboard and went on youporn, naturally. I’m trying to word this sensibly. Basically, there wasn’t a weeks worth of frustration. There was barely an hours worth. Subsequent attempts, including those with the aid of a lady, have revealed similar results. I want to tell the doctor incase my balls are going to shrivel up and fall off but I’m too embarrassed. I could dwell on this point, but I doubt you’d want me to.

So thats it really. I’m not dead, I dont have two heads or two arseholes as my not particularly funny Dad keeps saying. I just have gimpy ejaculation and loads of faeces. A small price to pay for £1621, possibly.

Ken Warble

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