I’ve signed so many waivers in my life that I don’t even think about them anymore.
Yes, there is a chance I can get injured during this activity. Yes, I understand that I will not hold anyone else liable. Yes, I realize that I am taking a risk.
That’s the thing about risks: You never think it will happen to you … until it does.
When I signed up to be a guinea pig in a medical study run by a department laboratory here at the University of Massachusetts, I had no idea that it would indeed be a costly decision. I read about the procedure and knew it would be uncomfortable for my legs, but I figured I could suck up the pain for the $450 the study promised.
I planned on spending the money to cover the cost of a trip to Florida I was going to take with my girlfriend over spring break. Instead, I spent the week on my living room couch.
The muscle procedure I took part in caused a complication in my left leg – a hematoma in my thigh. Basically, the muscle started bleeding, which caused swelling and pressure in my leg, which led to pain. I was taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton the Monday before spring break, and remained there until Thursday.
It could have been worse. The bleeding in my leg could have been so extreme that the blood could have gotten into the area around the muscles, causing compartment syndrome. Had this occurred, I would need surgery to relieve the pressure. The procedure would have been to essentially save my leg.
Luckily, it did not get to that point. There was no permanent damage to my kidneys, as they also feared. The pain has now subsided, but I can’t bend my leg for too long without it starting to irritate me. I have been ordered to use crutches for a few weeks to keep weight off of my leg.
My leg will heal, and within a few months, life will return to normal. But that doesn’t stop me from saying to myself: What the heck was I thinking? Even more concerning is reflecting on my time at Cooley Dickinson Hospital: a 60-hour stay hooked up to an IV and confined to a bed the whole time. Was all of this really worth $450? To quote Saturday Night Live: “Really, Chris? Really?”
The coordinators of the study felt terrible and made hospital visits and regular telephone calls to make sure I was alright. Seeing as every other subject in the study was completely fine, I’m more likely to believe that it was just my dumb luck that caused this than a mistake on their part. The surgeon in the study said the likelihood of what happened to me was less than one percent.
My intention here is not to discourage participation in these studies. Without medical research like the projects this lab does, science wouldn’t progress. The reason scientists have made the advancements they have is due in part to experiments and test subjects.
But would I personally do one of these again? No. I think my girlfriend, my friends and my family would kill me.
It’s discouraging to be confined to a bed for most of the day and to not have full use of my leg. It’s frustrating to have difficulty doing simple tasks, such as walking around campus or getting food at the dining hall.
But the hardest part for me is the knowledge that this may change how I go about living my life. Going into this study, I had no fear of the risks involved. I ignored my friends’ and family’s words of caution against it, naively believing that nothing could happen to me.
Before this happened, if someone offered me a free ticket to go skydiving, I probably would have taken it. Rock climbing on a mountain cliff? Sure, why not?
Now, I’m not so confident that I’d run to do these things. I certainly don’t want to live my life in a bubble and never do anything challenging or exciting, but if my body reacted in the rarest and most unlikely way to this study, what are the chances my parachute will fail or my harness will break?
The chances of that happening are probably unlikely, but so is being struck by lightning twice, and that happens to people.
In the end, it just comes down to taking a risk. It would be a boring world if everyone played it completely safe, and I know for sure that I’ll take a lot more before my life is done. But the next time I sign a waiver, I’m not going to do it so casually. I’m going to remember the time I chilled in Cooley Dickinson for three days with my left leg twice the size of my right. I’m going to consider: Is this risk really worth it?
Chris Shores is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.