Thursday, December 21, 2017

Buzzed Safely

Madame Toastmaster, Fellow Toastmasters, and Honored Guests:

Who here is a good driver? Raise your hand, please.

Who here is at least a little better than average at driving?

As I thought. We're all above average. Every one!

I was reminded of this halfway through a day-long study of oxycodone.

Every now and then, I google "healthy patient study volunteers". Usually UW Medical, the Hutch or the VA hospital have some studies going for which they need "controls", people like me with nothing in particular problematic about their health.
This particular study was 12 hours of memory tests and driving tests, plus enough blood samples to choke a vampire. (It was only one needle stick - they just kept a little line in all day - vampires take note!)
At the beginning, I took a detailed memory test and then the most boring driving game in the world. I sat in front of the computer with a steering wheel and pedals and had to follow the car in front of me at a safe distance. It sped up and slowed down for no apparent reason (much like Seattle traffic!), and use my turn signals and horn when instructed, for no obvious reason (again, Seattle!)
I'm a really good driver so the only challenge was resisting the urge to fiddle with the radio that wasn't there.
Next I got the oxycodone. They told me it was a very small dose. After a while I felt mildly buzzed, like from 4 or 5 beers. I won't lie; it gave a pleasant happy feeling, although I hadn't had the pleasure of actually drinking the beers so I don't recommend it.
I felt ok to drive (because I'm a "really good driver", see above) although I'd be extra careful because I'm a responsible guy. Like you, right?
The memory test was a disaster. My immediate memory wasn't bad; I could still echo most of the words and numbers. But fifteen minutes later? it was a blank. I knew that I had memorized some words and I remember the person saying them to me, but if you offered me any amount of money, I would not remember a one.
Fortunately, driving doesn't involve learning new words (apart from the occasional swear). I got behind the wheel and took off confidently, but carefully. It was still a very boring driving game and there were no crashes or anything dramatic, but I did have trouble. A lot of trouble - it was like the steering was loose. One time when I was correcting, I even slid all the way over to the edge of the road, getting a screeching sound that the researchers gravely pretended not to notice.
This was embarrassing. I'm a really good driver and it wasn't that much of a buzz but objectively speaking I had whole lot of trouble. When I had something extra to do, like use the turn signal, it was worse.
We repeated this for hours. After a while the drug was fully metabolized; I aced the last couple of memory exams and had no trouble with the driving test. We all shook hands and I went home (...and then to a party. Yay holidays!)
I took Driver's Ed, the same as most of you. They told us in that class, and many PSAs in the years following, don't drive drunk. Even a little impaired is an unacceptable gamble. We nodded our heads gravely, and always wrote the right answer on the test: I won't do that! Inside we know: we are really good drivers and we won't drive impaired.

We might drive extra careful sometimes.


I now have objective, scientific proof that this is bullpucky. Subjectively speaking, I felt ok to drive (if I drove carefully). Objectively speaking, I was impaired.
Lucky for me it was only a game: lucky for me, and lucky for everyone else on the road.
They say you should learn from your mistakes. But the price of some mistakes is too high. It is better to learn from the mistakes of others. 

That which we hear, we may understand, but that which we experience, we believe. We heard the Driver's Ed lecture, we saw the PSAs, we understood even a few drinks can impair you - don't drive. But we felt ok, if we were careful. We are above average drivers.

We have driven ten thousand times, and we were ok. Only a few of those time may have been buzz driving, and we are ok. We know from experience we will be ok.

Which. Is. Bullpucky.

I am fortunate to have made the mistake of driving buzzed in a laboratory, where I could not avoid seeing and feeling my own b&llpucky and the only consequence was a contribution to science. All of you who are really good drivers, just like me, I ask you to learn from my mistake.

And, if you can, google healthy volunteer and take the test yourself.

Madame Toastmaster.