I was supposed to be working on today's Monday Mystery right now, from a bed at MGH, where I had volunteered for what sounded like a pretty harmless study on glucose metabolism. Instead, I am at BPL Copley, struggling, and mostly failing, to stay conscious.

I dealt with the 'fasting since midnight' part. I dealt with the 'no allergy medication' part. I only cheated slightly on the 'no caffeine' part, since without it I'd be incoherent and probably migraineous. (They didn't tell me 'no caffeine' the first time, just 'no calories', so I'd already shown up once last week and been sent home.) I even dealt with the first two stabs -- pun intended -- at the IV placement part, even though I hate it.

The part I apparently cannot deal with is the 'show up at 8 am'. I did this last week, and horrible things ensued. It makes me massively emotionally unstable, among other things. If you've never sat at the kitchen table terror-crying like the world was going to end and legitimately not known why, it's a trip. Normally, if you ask someone why they're sobbing and they say they don't know, what that really means is 'I don't want to talk about it' or 'I'm embarrassed at crying over some stupid thing I would ordinarily shake off'. I asked myself what the hell was going on there and came up with a resounding, '.........?'

I suppose it's easier, in a way, when I realize that there is literally no reason -- not even a foolish disproportionate one -- to be upset. This means that whatever is going on is some weird neurochemical thing and not my actual sanity leaking away. That doesn't really make it any easier to function, mind you, but it does stop me flopping around trying to find and solve problems that don't exist.

I don't know if doing that last Monday was what joined forces with the yo-yo weather to give me three cracking migraines in a week, but I would not be surprised.

I drugged myself into getting six-ish hours of sleep this time, since technically by their study guidelines anything I had before midnight was kosher, and I was taking Benadryl for itchy eyes anyway. It did not help. My natural sleep schedule is something like 4 am-noon. I can roll it back as far as maybe 10:30 am, but it takes me 60-90 minutes to get out of bed and do anything useful. I effectively spent three or four hours lying around in a dehydrated drug haze, and got about three hours of real sleep, which is not enough.

I made it all the way up to the part with the blood draw without even stabbing a single nurse, but for some reason the IV placement just... did not work. She got a vein the first time, but nothing happened(?) I don't know how you can get a vein but not get any blood. I know I have blood, because they took my vitals and got a heart rate (72), a blood pressure (119/73) and an O2 sat (99-100). The first two are rather high for me, but again, don't like getting jabbed with things, and apparently that puts me into the normal human range. (I also got a dermal temperature of 97.6, which is about a degree high for me. I didn't mention that part, as I was already lying through my teeth about not having any chronic medical problems. Anecdotally, low body temp is apparently yet another symptom of EDS.) So she piled me in warmed blankets and tried the other arm, and when that didn't work, told me to keep the first arm under the blanket in case she had to go back to it...

What? No. I have two arms. You get two chances. I already told you I have a history of going all vasovagal when people root around in my flesh with needles.

I tapped out and told them this was exceeding my acceptable ratio for discomfort endured to money paid. (It was supposed to be $100 for 8 hours of my time, which is borderline to begin with; having sent me home once because they forgot their protocol made it $100 for 12 hours of my time, which I think is actually below the state minimum wage here.) They sent me off with some sort of breakfast anyway, which I've only eaten half of, mainly because being sleep deprived also makes me feel rather like throwing up.

The last time I did this I bought a box of fucking ephedrine to cope, and you know what? It's not helping. I've had 37.5 mg of goddamn drugstore yellow jackets (plus a hospital bagel) and I'm falling asleep. It's a good thing I'm not driving, or I'd be a massive road hazard. I can only assume this is how other people feel when they have to work graveyard shift, and you know what? Doctors tell you not to do that.

You have no idea how much like a useless failure it makes you feel when you can't even be a guinea pig properly. This is what wasteoid college kids do for beer money, for god's sake. I've already aged out of most of the good trials, and I'm ineligible for the well-paid sleep trials, because I can't get up this early for a week straight without completely decompensating. Never understood that one, especially the NASA-sponsored trials. You're running a 24-hour mission clock; don't you want someone who's legitimately awake to be watching your expensive space shit at midnight?


  1. Disclaimer: NASA engineer, 2010-2013, GSFC.

    WRT to the NASA remark:

    tl;dr - No, and NASA selects against it.

    No, we didn't want somebody who's naturally up at midnight watching or running a mission. Not unless they were on the ground and still capable of working during the day (depending on the mission, append "if they had to" as appropriate).

    When it comes to space missions, NASA aggressively selects for humans who are baselines, but are also near or at the top of what it possible for baselines because, as far as the mission organizers are concerned, they're the most reliable and flexible humans they can get for such a hostile environment. They're dead-set on making sure that they can predict, reliably, based upon almost seventy years of space medicine that their astronauts' bodies work a certain way and within a very strict set of parameters. Even something like having your appendix out when you were seven (even though the hypothetical you is now in your late thirties) can disqualify you from getting into space because they have no way of knowing how it messed up your abdominal cavity; c.f. Chris Hadfield. Most marathon runners wouldn't make the cut; I don't know how many no-shit-Olympians would make the cut but if I had to guess I'd give it 50/50. Given what's at stake (and the laughable budget NASA gets) they are some of the most risk-averse people on the planet because they need to be as certain as they can that nothing could go wrong with that astronaut. 99.9999999999% certain. Even some peculiarities like having quadrachromatic vision or being a supertaster can disqualify you, even though they're measurably advantageous.

    As for ground-based stuff, it depends less. If you were Mission Control for a 24x7 space mission, and that was your shift, it probably wouldn't matter. You'd have to finangle to get midnight shift but you could do it. If it was a lab-based mission and you were doing something like THERMOVAC or VIBETEST on an assembly pre- or post-integration, you'd have trouble because everybody on that contract has to be able to work, at a minimum 0800-1700 because that's normal business hours. The 24x7 shift work didn't come very often (once or twice a year on my charge codes, mileage may vary, contents may have settled during shipping, blah blab blah) but when it did they always had trouble finding people to work overnight and weekend.

  2. Fair enough. I didn't think I qualified, but I also know that most "baseline" humans are not particularly awake and aware in the middle of standard night. All other things being equal (i.e., the astronaut being a paragon of humanity, and in prime shape), I'd select someone nocturnal to run the night shift, but I'm not watching out for NASA's budget either. (I suspect airline pilots self-select, as much as they're able, for ability to run red-eye flights without conking out. Crew sleep in shifts on lengthy flights, and negotiate among themselves who's awake for what.) Maybe Elon Musk will give it a whirl.

  3. Also, I'm going to take a moment to process that a (former) NASA engineer is reading my blog. Oof. Impetus to try not to be stupid in public, I suppose.


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