Shock the Monkey

I don’t like doing it. But course packets are expensive these
days. I tried getting money the old-fashioned way, but a part-time
job on top of everything else? Who needs the extra stress and
who really has the time? No, I may not like it, but it’s good,
fast, honest money. My friends think I’m crazy and a little
sick. I can’t even tell my parents. But it doesn’t matter what
they all think anyway-it’s my body, and I’ll do with it as I
please. So I just lie back, close my eyes, try to relax, and
hope it doesn’t hurt too much. When those twenty-dollar bills
get flipped into my hand, it all seems worthwhile.
Everybody wants it, everybody needs it, but how far would you
go for an easy buck? What services would you be willing to provide?
And are you an 18-28-year-old non-smoker available for a 45-minute
perception test in exchange for eight dollars? I am, and I’ll
gladly do more than that. You can make a career out of being
a science whore if you play your cards right.
Sure, lots of people dabble in the small stuff: the periodic
psych freebie, the five-dollar survey, maybe a ten-dollar dexterity
test. You run into the occasional mri that pays a cool $50, but
most people keep it simple. There are, however, a few of us out
there-the estrogen-injecting, electrically-shocked, drug-testing,
egg-donating few-who are willing to risk permanent bodily harm
in exchange for some hard cash. The more dangerous, the more
scarring, the better the pay.
It took 20 minutes to get there by bus. All the best gigs are
usually some distance from campus. They like to call you in
twice, the first time to size you up, test you, see if you are
what they’re looking for. You get $30 just for that. Then you
come back a week later for the actual experiment.
On my return visit, I was nervous, still fairly new to the business.
I walked into the office, my palms sweating, smiling nervously.
The man sitting inside seemed nice enough. I was lucky; you can
run into some pretty creepy people at these things, but this
one was even kind of cute. I settled down to read the contract.
I was there to test the "effects of mGluR2 Agonist (ly354740)
vs. Placebo in the Fear Potentiated Startle Paradigm."
I would be testing an anti-anxiety drug to see how it affected
my reflexes and emotions.
The experiment began with two large white pills, then two more
an hour later. I was left in a cubicle to allow the drug to
sink in. In the cubicle next to me a man was testing what I
understood to be a controlled form of an otherwise-illicit substance.
I spent the next two hours doing homework and listening to him
mumble to himself. A doctor came in every half-hour to ask how
he felt and if he heard the voices of God or the Devil. By the
time I left, no divine beings had spoken to him, but he had apparently
held a moving conversation with his left foot.
Even after the drugs in my system had made me a bit dizzy and
I had been assaulted by a nurse thirsty for eight tubes of blood,
I remained fairly confident about the experiment . . . until
the administrator started taping wires to my face and wrist.
She stuck two detectors just below my left eye to record my
reflex response to electric shocks administered to the inside
of my left wrist by two wires. I was guaranteed at least one
and up to three shocks described by past subjects as "very
unpleasant." The administrator assured me that it wouldn’t
be any worse than a shock from an electrical outlet. If this
was meant to calm me, it didn’t. All I could think about was
the last time I was shocked by an electrical outlet-my arm tingled
for two hours and it took another two to get the hair on my arms
to lie flat again.
Selling your body to science can be a scary business. You don’t
always know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, and you
can unwittingly get sucked into some pretty serious stuff. You
draw the line-"That’s as far as I’ll go"-then you slowly
cross it and redraw it over and over again. Before you know it,
you’re bald, numb, or going through temporary menopause at age
21. For ly354740 they subjected me to pregnancy tests for three
months; it had been deemed a safe enough drug for me, but whether
it could give gills to my unborn children is yet to be determined.
You can’t let things like that bother you too much, though.
You survive on gut instinct. If a situation seems dangerous,
you stay away from it. It’s when you let them push you around
that you can get into trouble. But if you don’t mind short bouts
of discomfort and nausea, pee into this cup and initial pages
3-7. You’ll be compensated upon completion of the experiment.

 

Tatiana Jitkoff, a sophomore in
Calhoun College, is designer of
TNJ

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