Wednesday 13th July 2011

by Megan Beth Koester

“This study is designed to assess the effect of immune system changes on neural responses to specific tasks to better understand the complex relationships between brain, mind, and body. During the course of the study, you will be exposed to either a placebo or to endotoxin, a bacterial toxin that can initiate chemical reactions that are similar to those seen in individuals with mild sickness symptoms, such as a slight increase in body temperature, muscle aches, or tiredness. It is a safe way of investigating the body’s response to infection and how these changes may alter cognitive, emotional, or neural function. It has been given thousands of times to normal volunteers without any serious side effects.”

It is six o’clock in the morning and, in spite of it all, I am awake. To call me hungover would be a misnomer; I am, in fact, still drunk from the night before. Mere inebriation, however, cannot derail this train. The only thing stronger than my bad decision making skills is my will to make that paper.

It’s seven o’clock in the morning and I’m idling on the I-10. Consciousness drifts in and out of my sphere like a spiteful ex-boyfriend. I’m surrounded by people, hundreds of people, who are currently occupying the same hell as I. I’ve been told that what I am about to put myself through may make me a bit ill; this information, however, is superfluous. The fact that I am awake at this hour has already sickened me to no end. I power through the pain and reach my destination.

A statuesque Eastern European woman greets me in front of the hospital. Our entire encounter feels illicit, like a drug deal. In a way I suppose it is. I’m lead into the hospital’s Clinical Treatment Center, a place I (shamefully) have encyclopedic knowledge of. I have visited the center twice this week. The head nurse looks derisively at me as I walk in. “Looks like we’ve got a frequent flyer,” she mumbles.

I’m laying in a hospital bed, metaphorically shitting my pants. What if the head nurse exposes me for the fraud I am? Being labeled as a “frequent flyer” cannot be positive. Am I about to be fucked out of $200? Am I about to be escorted out and told never to come back? What if I can’t do this any more? Will I have to get a — choke — job? A real job? Jesus Christ, AM I GOING TO HAVE TO GET A JOB? My thought process is overwhelming; it’s surely increasing my blood pressure. The nurse is about to take my blood pressure. Dear God, what if my blood pressure’s too high? The nurse slips a cuff around my arm and gesticulates toward the Eastern European in the hall. “Does she know about the other studies you’ve done?” she asks quietly. I shake my head. “Good,” she replies. “She doesn’t need to know.” My thought process shuts off. I sigh. I am now overwhelmed by the desire to send this woman a fruit basket.

A needle’s put into my vein, a bacterial toxin is put into the needle, and (what I assume will be) the hardest part of my day is over. It’s eight o’clock in the morning and the Eastern European is insisting on ordering me breakfast. As I am rarely, if ever, awake to consume breakfast, this will be yet another treat – a way, if you will, to celebrate my win with the head nurse. My meal, an egregious amount of food un-artfully arranged on a tray, is brought to my bed. It is a carbon copy of the “balanced breakfast” I admired in television commercials as a child. I ravenously eat it all. And then I throw up. And I don’t stop throwing up. I feel more than a bit ill.

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