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My Experience with Research Studies

Side Hustles with a Twist

It started out innocent enough.

The ad asked for paid volunteers to experiment with a form of birth control known as the “O Ring” now on the market. They didn’t tell me that it was easier to put in than to take out, something I found out wiggling around on the cold bathroom floor later. It was one of many research studies I’ve been involved in since 1992 to earn extra money.

Each study has their own criteria, rules, limits, risks, data, and pay. With my asthma, I found out I was either too chronic or not enough sometimes, a frustrating discovery. One asthma study required me to keep blowing into a machine to make computer balloons on the monitor “pop.” This determined whether or not I would qualify for the program. After much pain from blowing, I did not qualify and was sent on my way.

An allergy study I was in required me to stop any antihistamines weeks before participating, something I, who suffer from severe allergies, could not do.

The one I get the laughs from other people on the most though is one I’ve been involved in since 2001. It’s a Well Woman (gyn) simulated patient program and involves allowing numerous med students to examine you by performing a pelvic and breast exam for a few hours. The pay is good and more than once this money has enabled me to visit my sister in Florida and pay off some debts. The first time I volunteered for the study I felt a bit like a call girl but now I tell my friends who are hard up for cash and the ones who’s signed up are grateful later. I’ve met some interesting people through this particular study. One former female volunteer, trying too hard to control the procedure and thinking she was helping the shaky student, lifted her body up to avoid being pinched by the speculum as he was bringing it out of her. The instrument went flying across the room and hit the wall, much to the student’s horror.

One student I had was pouring sweat and he was only on the sexual history question and answer period, having not even started the exam. I heard one of the doctors tell someone in the hall that the student got sick earlier and the physician didn’t think he was going to make it in med school. Another student could not say the word “sex” to save his life, which hindered him greatly in the verbal sexual history questionnaire.

I also participated in some focus groups for extra income, which also pays well. Once I drove to Dallas to take part in a mock jury group where they fed us lunch and paid us nicely for four hours.

In 2004 I tried to take part in a stomach study but found out I’d already tried the medication they were researching, which disqualified me.

The first time I got to see the inside of my gallbladder via a medical camera was when I was a paid volunteer in a gastrointestinal study several years ago. The camera viewing only lasted a minute but it was a very long one! I was required to log my symptoms daily on a Palm Pilot then download the record into the phone which emailed it to the research study supervisor. At first I was intimidated by the Palm Pilot having never used one but I got used to it in no time. One good thing that came out of the study, which I was later disqualified from due to being too chronic, was the research assistant gave me some paid editing work to do for her son who was an aspiring science fiction writer.

I called one time on a pain study but wasn’t in enough discomfort, according to the criteria. A depression one I called on rejected me in the pre-screening process, something that should have depressed me, don’t you think?

Once I answered a bunch of intimate questions over the phone to determine if I could take part in a lingerie study but after being embarrassed through all my answers I was told I didn’t qualify for whatever reason. Seems like they should have offered me a condolence gift for being “violated,” you know? Maybe a nice teddy or something.

Having gone through placing my birth daughter for adoption in 2000 I was qualified to take part in a study in Dallas in the spring of 2003 for birth moms. They paid handsomely for an hour and a half of questions involving a blind fold, visualization, and somewhat rude questions by the interviewer. As I glanced at the sign-in sheet I recognized three names who I knew since an ad regarding the study was posted in the local paper the week before. The money helped me pay some immediate bills.

I was later called by a group in Illinois who offered to pay me $75 to participate in a skin survey via mail. I filled out a questionnaire over a ten-day period, drew pictures, made intricate collages for various questions, and painstakingly reflected in writing daily about my skin including what my fantasy skin would look and feel like, how I felt about my body, and what kind of products I wish were on the market. I had no idea it would be so hard but who really gives skin this much thought? When I was done I felt like a scientist. A very strange mad scientist.

I called a study once that wanted to interview pet owners but I didn’t qualify for that one. When I called on an insomnia study the interviewer who pre-screened me didn’t like that I took naps and told me they couldn’t use me. I wasn’t willing to give up my daily nap. I hesitantly called on a study about weight after that. After a few series of questions I was told I didn’t qualify.

I also participate in some studies in which I read off a script and pretend to have a certain condition. Then the med students try to guess what’s wrong with me.

More often than not, I don’t qualify for some other studies but I keep giving it a shot until I strike gold.

Besides I know that every year I will get called back to make that extra money at the amusement of those med students, affording me to pay some bills, which is well worth the invasion of my precious reproductive system.

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