When a researcher at a medical study called me up to ask if I’d volunteer to be a paid guinea pig, one of the first questions they asked me was whether or not I happen to be claustrophobic. I answered, “Haha, of course not. How could I live in this city and not be able to handle tiny, cramped, dark, terrifying spaces?!!”
The experiment would involve me having a two-hour MRI scan while solving puzzles. Depending on my puzzle-solving abilities, I could make up to $125 for about two hours of work. I figured there were worse ways to spend an afternoon.
Upon arriving at the center, I was handed a tiny cup, and asked to provide a urine sample, which a research assistant then used to perform a pregnancy test. He informed me that I was not with child. This was no surprise to me, but he said, “You never know.”
I mused that it would be horrible to find out that you were pregnant while you were in the process of pimping out your body for science—if you were relying on medical studies for cash, you probably weren’t in a good position to be providing for a child. The 22-year-old research assistant walked ahead of me in what appeared to be $500 shoes and said, “Oh, I don’t think most people do medical tests for the money!”
I was then asked if I had metal inside of my body or any tattoos. Apparently, certain kinds of metal (which are found in the ink of older tattoos) can become extremely hot inside the MRI machine (which is essentially a giant magnet), to the point of bursting into flames. I was starting to get nervous about the test.
After answering a million more questions, I was brought to the freezing cold testing room. My legs were swaddled in blankets, as they were outside of the machine —“You see! It’s not like a coffin! Your legs don’t go inside!” My head was strapped into a strange Darth Vader-like helmet, and as I was slowly backed into the machine, I was asked to try not to move for the next two hours.
For the first half hour, I was told to keep my eyes shut while the machine made all of the noises found in this clip of Tom Cruise’s 2005 version of War of the Worlds. Once that stage ended, a voice came in over the intercom inquiring whether or not I had fallen asleep. I had not.
The next phase of the study involved me staring at a blank screen for a half hour. Though the first chunk of time in the machine, eyes closed, was unpleasant, at least I wasn’t focused on the (lack) of space surrounding me. As I frantically looked around the inside of my futuristic space encasing, trying not to hyperventilate, I began to realize that maybe I was a little claustrophobic after all. More terrifying sounds washed around me as I attempted to think of puppies while wondering if the researchers would be able to hear me if I started to scream.
Finally, they were satisfied with the preliminary images of my brain, and it was time for me to solve puzzles. The study offered a baseline pay of $75, and depending on how many puzzles you solved, you could receive up to $125. Despite wondering if I was dying/spending the final half hour crying from fear, I was pleased to discover that I had done well enough to earn $123.75, and in completing this test, was qualified to take another one worth $1000.
Would I try to make a living off of medical studies? Hell no. I recently rejected a study which offered me a month’s rent to test out a new strain of antibiotics (a side effect which included death). But then again, there was another time when I rejected a full-time position as an office assistant at a law firm that specialized in defending people who collected child pornography. Until I can find a steadier gig, I’d rather hustle like a street (or in my case, lab) rat than be an actual rat. As long as there’s a roof over my head and I can make my art, life is alright.