FAT PROSE

Your friendly local Gonzo journalist, answering the questions no-one’s asking

Clean bill of health

“What is the going rate to buy a person’s health these days?”

A while ago I was informed by my friend Will of the existence of Flu Camp, a London-based clinical trial where one can be infected with the cold or flu virus, quarantined for 2 weeks as the disease soaks in and various treatments tested, then released with a huge compensation of £3,750.

Whilst I’d been aware of medical trials before I never knew they could be so lucrative, particularly for a procedure as harmless and temporary as being given a cold which is a commonplace factor of most of our winters anyway. And while the excessive sum of money offered may trigger suspicions that the vaccine tested is likely to cause spectacular organ failure or huge, uncontrollable head swelling the likes of which led to the aptly titled Elephant Man trials of 2006, I was told apparently it’s feasible because the cure is so effective it’s due to make a fortune when released onto pharmaceutical shelves.

Not only that, but being ‘quarantined’ in their research facility doesn’t equate to being suspended amorphously in a big tube of liquid but instead staying in your own rather comfortable room with free meals, a TV, PS3 and Wi-Fi. It’s essentially like staying in a nice hotel, except for the odd masked medical professional sporadically bursting in unannounced to drip a saline solution up your nose and ask comprehensively about the frequency and density of your stools. Cripplingly and eternally short of money, I instantly registered and waited to hear back.

Documented clinical trials have existed since around 1750, when scurvy was cured by administering citrus fruits upon willing test subjects, and the popularity of paid medical experiments has escalated ever since to become fairly prevalent today. Though as I suspected, and as was confirmed when I told people of my potential as a Flu Camper, the public is pretty divided on this issue.

Some, they who treasure their health and possess smoothie makers and Wii Fits and other such propaganda, regard medical trials with a confused fear – cash incentive aside, why would they undergo a treatment which deliberately infects them? These tend to be the sort with obsessively spotless houses, a fear of pathogens drummed into them rarely from scientific knowledge but more adverts for the likes of Dettol and Flash which anthropomorphically represent kitchen and bathroom germs as these malicious, quadrupedal monsters with gnashing teeth and sneering, seedy male voices.

Domestos’ depiction of the average microbe. Bacteria doesn’t even have a nucleus, let alone a brain. This one.. has a Kindle.

In contrast, some have an idealized view of modern healthcare that means whatever happens you can always have a fresh hand or lung or face transplanted, so why not make a bit of money from something that’s always going to be treatable? I’m sure being fairly blithe about your health helps too, much as I am, and hence I was pleased to be phoned just a few days after registering by a Flu Camp representative.

I was asked a rigorous questionnaire pertaining to medical issues and background, by a chap whose credentials I couldn’t help but doubt from his diagnoses of everything as “cool”, “sound”, “wicked” and “safe”. Overall I answered honestly, having to lie occasionally about whether I suffered from hayfever for instance, as if I admitted that every summer mucus gushes out of my head leaving a path behind me such as a snail might leave I assumed the odds of being eligible for a trial where they tested for such things would be bleak. I probably did lie in excess as the guy at one stage called me “the healthiest person he’s ever interviewed doing this job!” which I chuckled at as I tried to silently wipe my snivelling nose whilst leaning back on the balls of my feet to take the pressure off my hideously infected big toe.

Unsurprisingly with my apparent supernaturally good health I was told I could progress to having a blood test at their base, Queen Mary, University of London, which I attended a fortnight later. In a room with three other applicants a nurse named Lavender debriefed us, speaking of diluted cold and flu pathogens with the same grave-faced sincerity you’d speak of a leprosy pandemic or robot uprising.

It was immediately evident none of the other three volunteers were here to broaden the field of medical knowledge, or indeed for any reason other than money, presumably to be spent on more tattoos or maintaining questionable hipster haircuts. I’d assumed it would be solely the student demographic who applied and I seemed to be correct, though when I asked Lavender later she told me a vast range of people – respectable business workers, the elderly, mothers – have all been to Flu Camp to get infected for cash. I couldn’t deduce whether she was telling the truth or trying to convince me and/or herself that she was working for a company more ethical than one that gave students and the unemployed money in exchange for their health to then be spent on cider and cigarettes and other unhealthy things, all in the supposed quest to make people healthier. Whatever the case, when I tried to ask more she simply urged me to get back to filling out my incredibly invasive sexual health form.

A vial of my blood was taken and the upshot is that a month later I was disappointed to receive an e-mail stating my antibodies were either too low, or too high (they didn’t specify), to be considered as a Flu Camp specimen. So having missed out on the opportunity to sell my health at £12/h to a faceless medical corporation, I was now left with the hollow fascination of how positively eager and enthused I was at the prospect of getting ill for money. I could not believe my dismay at not getting the flu.

There must have been many who felt a similar let-down when told they were not suitable, and many others gleeful at the congratulatory e-mail that told them they were about to be brought into a laboratory and contaminated. Since when did so many people view their health as a commodity to be pawned off to research facilities? How many people need money so badly they’re willing to be poked and prodded and poisoned by billion-pound pharmaceutical industries for a crumb of data? To find out I decided to scatter some adverts for fake clinical trials around the Internet under the guise of fictional healthcare facility ‘CTULondon’, to see who replied, how far they were willing to go, and whether we should be worried yet.

I left adverts on the London-specific areas of Gumtree and Craigslist which read:

Hello, we need healthy volunteers aged 18 and up to take part in paid clinical studies carried out at our healthcare facility based in London. We conduct clinical trials ranging between 1-21 days; if you are eligible and decide to take part you can expect to be compensated between £500 and £4000.

By taking part in medical trials you are helping to find a cure for medical conditions that can affect millions, directly improving the standard of living. To apply please reply to this ad stating your name and age.

accompanied by a generic photo I found other clinical trials using, featuring a quote I later discovered was courtesy of automobile developer and proud anti-Semitist Henry Ford:

Gumtree, as seems to be the way with anything vaguely suspect or offbeat and hence anything I ever add on there, almost instantly took the advert down declaiming a breach of site regulations. Thankfully Craigslist is a lot happier having strange and usually very perverse content and so I think my advert’s probably still there now. It attracted quite a number of potential subjects, each of whom I replied to probing their willingness to be involved in a different form of trial. I stuck with the same template each time, changing the illness, procedure and respective compensation as I went – the whole template can be seen in the first conversation but after that I’ll just skip to the meat of the mail each time.

So, just what exactly is the average person prepared to do to be accepted into a clinical trial these days?

Kristie

(I have deliberately excluded all surnames, contact information, and in one instance a facial photo, to ensure anonymity and stop me getting sued)

My name is Kristie and I’m 22. What are you studying, exactly?

Dear Kristie,

Thanks for responding to our advertisement for paid volunteers for clinical trials! We are currently studying acute neurological disorders, specifically headaches and migraines, with the aim of introducing a cure to the market by early 2014.

We are looking for volunteers to induce painless migraines upon so our vaccines can be administered and tested. They have already undergone thorough human testing but require mass studies before than can be introduced to the pharmaceutical market – that’s where you come in! At our healthcare centre in Hyde Park, London, we would cool your brain to around 27 degrees Celsius (only 10 less than body temperature), and measure the drug’s effects. It is quick, simple and painless, infact past trial members have likened the procedure to having a massage or an alcoholic drink after a long stressful day! We would need you for between 2-3 hours and can compensate you £1000 plus travel expenses (please bring proof of travel and bank details).

If you do come along please ensure you bring a current passport or provisional/driving licence (must be in-date), and a National Insurance Card or proof of NI number (e.g payslip, tax refund, P45) if a UK resident. Please reply to this email if this study sounds of interest.

Looking forward to seeing you
Regards
CTU

NB. This would not feel like a massage or swift tipple, this would put you in a state of clinical death. Kristie only had two objections though.

Will it be an issue if I’m not a UK resident? Further, would it be a problem if I requested cash?

I said that was fine and she was happy to go ahead.

Gina

Gina aged 41

We are currently studying perceptual adaptation of the brain, and looking for volunteers to wear a special pair of glasses for 3 days which will invert everything you see making them look upside-down. After less than 24 hours of wearing the glasses your brain should adapt allowing your normal vision to return. There will be no lingering side effects once you remove the glasses at the end of the 3 days. Are you are a glasses wearer currently? How would you rate your eyesight?

The inversion glasses will be given to you at our healthcare centre in Hyde Park, London. You would be compensated £1000, plus travel expenses (please bring proof of travel and bank details).

This is actually a real experiment carried out by a psychologist called Stratton in the 1890s, however I go on to make the test I describe a bit nastier than the symptomless experience Stratton reported.

Hello! Yes I would like to do this trial & I am a local lady so have all the documents that you mentioned, I have been prescribed glasses for reading but theres not a hugh diffrence in wearing them whilst reading for a short time so hardly ever wear them.

I have no fear of seeing upside down for a spell, I have always had a great eyesight seeing writing far away that others can’t but must admit of late it is not as it was, but Im not overly concerned, perhaps they are just a little tierd.

Have been totaly honest about my eyesight hope I still fit the criteria you are looking for ?

My real name is Lorraine sorry for the cloak n dagger but some adds on craigslist are not genuine & there are a few crazys out there, so I have learnt not to give my real name until I know it is real company.

Dear Lorraine / “Gina”,

Yes we are pleased to inform you your eyesight does fit the criteria we are looking for, but we ask you not to wear your prescribed reading glasses for at least a week preceding the study as it may skew the results. We will be in touch in the very near future with a list of potential dates for you to attend our healthcare centre.

We should inform you for the first 24 hours of wearing the inversion specs it is normal to feel motion sickness, nausea, and slight panic. A very small percentile of previous volunteers have also been involved in road accidents due to the disorientation of the new upside-down perspective, and there have also been minor cases of suicidal ideation and divorce associated with this study. It is our obligation to inform you of this and we hope you are still interested in taking part?

Her sarcy response:

Hello I did respond this morning saying I would like to do the trial ?

Even at the risk of suffering an upside-down suicide Gina’s keen to be involved and continues to e-mail asking for details.

Bal

Instead of sending his name and age this subject opened discourse with a completely blank mail, I only knew his name was Bal from his e-mail address.

We are currently studying epilepsy, with the intention of releasing a more effective remedy for this disease to the market by early-mid 2014.

Currently we are looking for healthy volunteers to attend a study at our healthcare centre in Hyde Park, London. Once there you would be bombarded with strobe lights at differing frequencies and lowered into a medically-controlled epileptic seizure. Once under, our cure can be tested and you will gently be revived. The whole procedure is painless and takes less than 30 minutes. For this we can compensate you up from £1100, plus travel expenses (please bring proof of travel and bank details).

We can I come to the clinic?
How much will you pay me ?

Our studies are running throughout July, and we can offer compensation of £1100. Some volunteers have suffered hallucinations after the procedure – nebulous phantoms floating through walls, emaciated faces of deceased loved ones hurtling through their field of vision, etc. Assuming you are OK with this, shall we book you for a study in the next week or two?

Im very interested

Imogen

Morning,

Im Imogen, 18 and interested in being a part of your trials.

Thanks

We are currently studying global cognitive abilities in the brain, with the hope of finding a cure for dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently we are looking for healthy volunteers with no history of mental illness to attend several studies at our healthcare centre in Hyde Park, London. Our studies would involve administering a simple injection into your arm which would temporarily slow your neurotransmitters, after which we ask you to take part in a series of memory tests. There are 4 individual studies, each 1 hour long and each involving a progressively stronger strain of the bacterium, so whilst in the first study you may not be able to remember obscure facts, in the fourth you may struggle to recall your own name. This can be disorientating but is always temporary with no side effects, and hundreds of volunteers have taken part and been happy with their involvement. For this we can compensate you up from £3500, plus travel expenses (please bring proof of travel and bank details).

Afternoon,
Lovely to hear from you,very interested in taking part in your study. Though I am not a UK resident(rather Australian) so I hope I can still be of help. No history of mental illness so that’s alright.
Hope to hear from you soon,
Imogen

Yes you can still volunteer as an Australian citizen so long as you have an in-date passport. We are looking to be running trials throughout July, are there any specific dates you cannot do? Until then, we advise you jot down any salient details about yourself (home address, contact number of friends, allergies) to bring along to your appointments and act as a reminder should the memory loss pathogen extend past the hour long test. It is advisable to alert any close family and friends that you are having this procedure, at the risk of leaving one of the 4 trials still temporarily amnesic and not being able to recognize them.

Hello,
I’ll be avaliable any date after the 13th.Are the 4 hours on the same day or spread over a few? Passport is still in date so all is well. Will do,thanks.
Imogen.

Imogen coolly offers to sacrifice her memory for payment, rather naively assuming she won’t forget about the £3,500 once the trial ends. Again, this one still e-mails badgering for specific dates she’s allowed to come in and get brain damage.

Dale

I would like to express my interest in the opportunity to volunteer for paid clinical trails as advertised on the Craigslist (London) website.

My name is Dale and I am male aged 37.

Yours sincerely
Dale

We are currently studying the potential effects of drugs on erectile dysfunction, with the intention of releasing an over-the-counter pharmaceutical by early 2014.

We are looking for healthy male volunteers to take part in a study at our healthcare centre in Hyde Park, London. The study would involve getting and maintaining an erection for a 10-15 minute period whilst the drug is tested; it is painless and has no side effects. We would ask you to repeat the study a further 2 times over the following 2 weeks – each time it would last no longer than half an hour. For this we can compensate you up from £1000, plus travel expenses (please bring proof of travel and bank details).

Hello,

Thank you for getting back to me so quickly.

This study is of interest to me. I have never owned a passport or driving licence, is there any alternative proof of identity that I can bring with me (i.e. birth certificate)?

Many thanks

Pleased to hear the study is of interest to you. We would need two alternative proofs of identity, a birth certificate can certainly be one, and we accept most forms of picture I.D.

We are obligated to inform you some male volunteers struggle to perform during these studies. You will be expected to maintain an erection whilst male doctors pace around you scribbling down notes and fitting you with electrodes, which can be off-putting for some volunteers. Just a warning that if you cannot keep your erection for the full time during all 3 studies you will not be eligible for compensation. Hopefully this study still remains of interest to you?

Hello again,

I am free throughout the whole of July and will be able to provide two alternative proofs of identity, one including a picture ID.

As I am sure you will understand I am concerned that I will be able maintain an erection for all 3 studies in the situation you have described. I hesitate to ask whereabouts the electrodes are fitted!

Many thanks

I told him they’d be fitted onto his head.

Paul

Paul is certainly my favourite of those who applied, and furthermore was by the far keenest, still sending unrelenting mails asking, imploring, for this trial to go ahead.

I would like to take part in your clinical trials.

I am male, 63 years old, 6′ 2” tall and slim. Very fit with no health problems.

I look forward to hearing from you with more details.
regards,
Paul

Thanks for responding to our advertisement for paid volunteers for clinical trials! We are currently studying the potential beneficial medical effects of Oestrogen on men, with the intention of utilizing this hormone in future remedies for coronary artery disease.

We are looking for male volunteers to take part in a study at our healthcare centre in Hyde Park, London. The study would involve you coming in once a week for 4 weeks to be administered low dosages of the female hormone Oestrogen. This can create a slight change in voice, body hair loss, fatigue, and tenderness of the breasts, however all these effects are temporary and will cease when the month’s trial is completed. For this we can compensate you up from £3000, plus travel expenses (please bring proof of travel and bank details).

Paul’s reply was very eager, even including, apropos of nothing, a photo of his chest.

Hello,

Thank you  for your reply. I am into health issues so I am very interested to take part but would like you to answer the following questions.

What sort of change in voice would I experience ? would it be more female sounding ?

What level of fatigue would I experience ?

I have attached a photo showing my chest which as you will see if flat. Would I just experience tenderness of the nipples and around the nipples or would the breast area start to become more developed during the test ?

Would I experience any change to the penis / testicles ?

Would you do tests on me with regard to coronary artery disease ?

You mention compensation up from 3000 pounds so might it be higher.

I spend much time in Spain and I am not a UK resident. I am British.

Do y have any time plan as to when you want to do the test.

regards

Thank you for your reply and the attached photo of your torso. We will answer your questions as best possible.

Your voice may change in pitch slightly, however this is not always the case. You may also find yourself saying or wanting to say certain things that you would consider out of character. The fatigue can vary from mild to chronic, and you may also see some loss of muscle mass. It is possible that your breasts would become more developed, however if so this would be temporary and quickly disappear once the study had been conducted. Your penis and testicles would almost certainly grow smaller, as would your Adam’s apple, however again this is temporary. More would be said concerning genitalia at the healthcare centre, and we have some pamphlets and other literature on that.

The only test we would need to perform with regard to coronary artery disease is a simple blood pressure test.

Hello,

Thank you for your reply and the information. As long as it all goes back to normal after the study has been conducted I would be willing to take part. I assume that you want to observe how different males react to the study and if it is helpful I could attend the centre as often as needed over the 4 weeks.

Can you give me a contact number land line preferred so I can call you to discuss and arrange. Also the address of the centre.

You mentioned loss of body hair. I do have more body hair than in the photo I sent but like many males I prefer to remove it. I could let it grow for the study if you wanted to observe how much hair I loose. The hair would be on my chest between and around my nipples and a total mass covering most of my belly. At present the hair is from my navel to the pubis.

regards

I think Paul’s my favourite largely because I was simply incredulous when he replied willing and seemingly enthused. I would have doubted there could be any financial figure you could set on convincing a male 6’2” senior citizen to start a course of genital-shrinking, nipple-puckering female hormones, and certainly not a figure less than the £3,750 he could receive if he just agreed to getting a cold instead!

In slightly over a week I received 21 applications, of which I replied to the first 13. As you can see around half were willing to go along with whatever brutal symptoms I threw at them, the remainder didn’t reply to the inaugural mail. The only subject I really scared off was Krystal.

Krystal

Krystal
18
Sent From My iPhone

We are currently studying the affects of diet on the circulatory system, with the intention of releasing a cure for mainstream heart disorder by early 2014.

Currently we are looking for volunteers, preferably non-smokers and non/light-drinkers, to test a drug that reduces high blood pressure and potential heart risk. We would painlessly administer you with this vaccine at our healthcare centre in Hyde Park, London, and measure your blood pressure. Then for the following 2 weeks we actively encourage you to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, eat foods high in fatty acids, place yourself in stressful situations, and other such situations which are known to raise blood pressure (a full list will be provided at your meeting with our healthcare assistant). After 2 weeks we ask you return to our healthcare centre where another blood pressure test will be taken. For this we can compensate you up from £1500, plus travel expenses (please bring proof of travel and bank details).

I’m very interested.
What day would I need to be at your clinic?
Sent From My iPhone

We are pleased that this study meets with your interest. Currently we are looking to be running trials from early July onwards. During the 2 week period of keeping your blood pressure elevated, would you be willing to engage in recreational drug use if our healthcare centre provided you with them? This would mean the addition of a simple 10-panel urine screen drug test on your return after 2 weeks.

Drugs such as?
Sent From My iPhone

We would provide a small quantity of a steroid or alkaloid substance should you agree to including drugs in your 2 week period. Most likely it would be a small amount of legal benzoylmethylecgonine (cocaine). Does this sound like something that would be of interest?

No, sorry.
Sent From My iPhone

I compiled all the applicant data my coke-pushing, erection-monitoring highly unorthodox healthcare unit received in its week of existence and the results were actually surprising. Of the 21 applications only three were from males aged 18-24, the market I thought clinical trials would be most popular with. There were four applications from males aged 24 and above, and seven from each of the 18-24 and 24+ female categories.

So with more overall potential subjects aged 24 and above, my theory that clinical trials are purely for impoverished students who want drinking money has neatly been thrashed. This makes the trial trend even more worrying than I thought – if it was just students clamouring to sell their eyes and pulses to make ends meet, at least they will eventually buck their loan, get a job and become financially stable. What does it say about society’s chances if even the middle- and old-aged are compliant with debasing themselves so?

Even though you never asked, you can now never escape the knowledge that some adult men who should be at home carving the chicken for their loving wife and 2.5 children are instead working out the best way to traverse London to get to a cold, sterile laboratory and have electrodes suckered onto their erect member, for money. And for that, I almost apologize.

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