Eight years after leaving the USA I left Thailand in May of 2008. My internet business had been wiped out by the shrinking dollar. Being broke in New York was not fun and at the month’s end I bussed up to Boston to celebrate my birthday.
That night my brother-in-law, she, and I ate homemade pizza and drank wine. After bidding the two good-night, I laid on the guestroom bed, tossing and turning in fits. I had four children north of Bangkok. The cost of living was less than in the USA, but nothing was free in Ban Nok.
“You sleep okay?” my sister asked the next morning in their kitchen.
I told Gina about my situation. My brother-in-law was expecting to be hit up for a loan. His wife sighed with sympathy and went online.
“I’ll find you something.”
“A job?” I hadn’t worked in Boston since way back in the last century.
“No, a medical experiment. Dave did three of them for toothpaste.” Gina typed out words in the Google search engine.
“$100 for each and all I had to do was test their product.” Her husband smiled with bright white teeth. He had retired from his executive position two years ago. “And it didn’t take long either.”
“I like the sound of that.” $100 wasn’t going to solve my money problems. I had four young children back in Thailand.
“This looks interesting.” My sister took off her glasses and squinted at the screen. “Beth Israel Hospital is conducting a sleep deprivation experiment. They will pay $1500 for a 6-day session culminating with a 60-hour session of staying awake. They have a trial starting next week.”
“Are drugs involved?” I exchanged a glance with my brother-in-law. We were brought up in the 60s.
“No drugs.” My sister burst our bubble.
“I stopped drugs year ago.” Ja-bah and Ice were the only intoxicants available in Thailand and I wasn’t into crystal meth. “But if I eat garlic I can’t sleep.”
“Really.” Gina like my dearly departed mother loved garlic. “I eat it and I sleep like a baby.”
“Different vibes for different people.” If I was accepted to the experiment, then I would have a pocket filled with garlic to help me through the end stretch.
“Call them now.” My sister handed me a number.
“Yes, boss lady.” I went downstairs and called the Sleep Deprivation Unit or SDU. An operator answered my call and scheduled an interview for that afternoon. Gina was heading into Boston to teach at her university.
“I’ll drop you at the hospital.”
“You wanna join me?” I asked her husband in their day room.
“Last thing I need is to be deprived of sleep.” Dave was lying on the couch and lifted a thumb. The 59 year-old retiree was destined for a mid morning nap. “But you have my blessing.”
“No sleep for six days.” It sounded like a CIA rendition test.
“But $1500 at the finish line. Keep your eyes on the prize.” Dave was already on the nod.
My sister and I discussed our children on the way to work. Her daughter was living up in Maine and her son was working in Washington. Mine were on the other side of the world.
“I wish they were closer.” I actually wished that I had never come back to the States, but there was little work for farangs in Thailand other than running go-go bars or teaching English in up-country schools. The worst rather than better I was stuck in the USA.
My sister dropped me at Beth Israel.
I walked into the reception area and the woman at the desk gave me a special pass for the 7th floor.
“The research labs are closed to the public.”
The magnetic strip on the pass allowed access to that floor. An armed guard stood at the glass doors. He examined my ID and escorted me to a small office with a view of Fenway Park. He pointed to the forms on the desk.
“Fill out those and a doctor will be right with you.”
The door shut and I filled out my age, DOB, weight, medical history, and checked that I had no allergies.
“An attractive female doctor entered the office. She shook my hand and read my application.
“Everything looks fine.” She held up a syringe. “You mind if we take a blood sample?”
“Not at all.” I rolled up my sleeve and allowed her to draw blood from a vein. She buzzed in the guard, who took the syringe to another part of the lab.
“The tests begin on May 30th.”
“That’s the day after my birthday.” I planned on drinking more wine that evening.
“Congratulations.” She picked up a form and read out the schedule for the test. “The first two days are for observation and cleaning out your body. You’ll be fed and can do most anything you want, except drink or smoke.”
“That’s fine. Can I bring books?” I was reading Peter Hopkirk’s THE GREAT GAME and ON THE ROAD was next on my list.
“Yes, but once the experiment begins, you’ll be put in a room without any stimulation. No books, no TV, no music.”
“Alone.” Solitary confinement was a punishment for rebellious prisoners.
“No, there will be a nurse with you and the room were be monitored along with your vital signs. That stage will last sixty hours. Still interested?”
“Yes.” I was in this for the money and reckoned that I could stay up two and a half days without any artificial stimulation. “And do I get paid at the end of the test?”
“$1500 upon completion. Less for a shorter period.”
“Your blood work should be ready later this afternoon. Call us around 4.”
“What are these tests for anyway?”
“To test the endurance of a body and mind under stress,” the young doctor said with the politeness of a camp commander at Dachau. “Is that a problem?
“No.” I exited from the office and then the hospital steeled for the task ahead.
I rode the trolley back to my sister’s house in Boston’s western suburbs. Dave was making bread. I phoned the hospital at 4. I was accepted as a guinea pig and we drank a glass of wine on his porch.
“Easy money.” We toasted my windfall.
A half-hour later my youngest sister turned up on her way back from work. The defense lawyer had a bottle of wine in her hand. Dave and I were in no condition to refuse her generosity and after a raised glass to wonders of modern medicine, Pam asked, “What’s that about?”
I explained about the upcoming test. The sun was lowering into the trees across the street.
“You’re joking, aren’t you?” She put down her glass.
“No.” I planned on sleeping twelve hours a day or more until May 30.
“”You have to be crazy.”
“Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights.” As an atheist I hated quoting the Bible, especially since I felt like I was mixing up the fast in the Wilderness with Noah’s Flood.
” A friend of mine did something like that for Harvard and she’s still not right.” Pam punched up the devastating effects of the experiments on Dave’s computer. She was good with research as every defense lawyer should be for their clients. “Some student from california stayed awake without any drugs for 264 hours. The doctors claimed that it didn’t bother him.”
“So I’m good to go.”
“No,” she shook her head reading further from the 1964 report. “The monitor said the subject suffered from moodiness, problems with concentration and short term memory, paranoia, and hallucinations.”
“I can deal with that.”
“At one point thought he was the winning quarterback in the Rose Bowl game.”
“That’s better than being the loser.”
“No, but it says here even moderate sleep deprivation can result in psychosis.”
“You don’t want a broke head.” Dave was also kibboshing the idea.
“I need the money.” I had less than $20 in my pocket. The Fung Wah bus to New York was $15. No one hitchhiked on the highways anymore.
“Not that bad.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Cancel it.” She held up my phone and I obeyed her command.
“Here’s a check for $300.” My sister wrote it out without hesitation.
“And I’m driving you to the bus station tomorrow.” Pam wasn’t risking my doing the test anyway.
“Ha.” Dave knew my ways too.
“I’m not going.”
“Yes, you are.” My youngest sister was adamant.
“Not before my birthday.”
“He’s got you there.” Dave opened her bottle of wine. It was a nice Pinot Grigio.
“And I have to stay for your birthday.” It was June 1. “We’ll drive down to Hull and have lobsters on Nantasket Beach.”
“You’re on.” Pam handed the bottle to Dave.
“That’s what great about family. They know you better than you know yourself.” Our host raised his glass and we clinked to his toast, as I pocketed her check.
$300 wasn’t $1500, but it was better than losing my mind.
That I could do on my own for free and that night I slept the sleep of the dead.
It was almost better than life itself.
At least until I woke the next morning with the smell of bacon wafting up from the kitchen.
My brother-in-law was cooking breakfast.
Oh, what a lucky man I was.