Dr. Gilead ("Gil") Bristol-Myer squints at his face in the mirror and drapes a tape measure over his bald spot. It's bad news, according to that morning's verdict. He's still shedding his blond, wispy hairs by the bushel—well, that's what it feels like—and the spot is expanding nasty inch by nasty inch.
Gil groans. It's only 7am. And he doesn't have to roll into work till 8.30, so he's got time to indulge in old-fashioned self-pity. Gil plucks a stray hair. It comes out in his hand. Another strangled sigh. Why him? Why did male-pattern baldness hit him at age 18? Now that he's pushing 35, he's lucky to have any hair on his head. And to add insult to injury, Gil's fancy-shmancy job as a chief research scientist at one of the biggest, baddest pharmaceutical companies in the world isn't helping his hair situation one bit. Here, the company puts itself on the map with its miracle drug that puts the brakes on balding, and makes the company gad-zillions of dollars.
A fat lot of good it does him.
It's just his luck that the baldness-begone drug works wonders for thousands of baldies—except Gil. Well, it could, if it weren't for its ghastly side effects that turn Gil's skin jaundice yellow and his eyes blood-red, plus slap him with migraines. "That's drugs," Gil thinks. All "miracle drugs" have pros, but they do have their cons, all memorialized in the fine print of the "contraindications" listed in the information brochures packed with virtually every drug on the market.
Gil puts the finishing touches on his work getup: business casual clothes, tasteful briefcase, comfortable but stylish shoes. He adjusts his pince-nez—yes, he loves his eyepiece with its nose clip, because, face it, he knows he's brilliant and eccentric, and now everyone else knows, too. Everything's in order, and Gil heads out the door of his industrial-chic duplex.
Gill steels himself of a busy day at his Big Pharma employer. He's the big cheese on a Hepatitis C drug development project, and the company is getting restless. The project is in its 10th year, and even though Gil had been with the project for only a couple of years, the company honchos are getting antsy. They want results. Maybe by the second millennium. Gil laughs at the thought. Pharmaceutical research is not for the impatient or the impulsive.
Gil knows he shouldn't complain about little things like timing and pacing. He adores his job. What more could he hope for? Science and math are his first loves. He's fascinated by medicine and is passionate about helping people. But because he can't stand the sight of blood, it was off the medical doctor path and into scientific research. And he's never looked back. Life would be perfecto—except for that eensy-teensy matter of the hair thing.
Gil hops into his Mercedes, and it's off to the House of Big Pharma, as Gil affectionately calls it.
By 8:30am, Gil is staring at his laptop, sifting through the morning e-mails. Oh no! Another from a deranged man who accuses the company of making a drug that, when he took it for his chronic headaches, altered his eyes so he now sees dead people. Ouch. Delete. Gil scrolls quickly through the rest of the queue. Nothing he has to respond to immediately. Oops. An invitation to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "Teach-in" at 6pm that evening. Gil RSVPs "yes"—it's the best way to stay current on clinical research topics. Plus that talk would be interesting—"Does Thalidomide deserve its bad rap?—Its journey from fetal scourge to cancer patients' shining light of hope." "Geez, good stuff," Gil says to himself. But fire that copywriter.
Next, it's off to his lab, Hep C Heaven. The meeting with his research team is quick and to the point. His top researcher, Dr. Miki Mongoose, delivers the not-so great news.
"Doc, the research subjects are flaking on us," Miki says, tossing a pipette into the air in frustration. It's slow-burn time for Gil's most serious, uptight researcher. "Patient A is back on crystal meth. Patient B drinks her meals. Mad Dog 20-20, breakfast, Olde English is lunch. And dinner…uh, she doesn't remember."
Gil claps his hand to his head in frustration. Yikes. Don't. Another clump of hair falls out. Maybe this day wasn't going to turn out all that well. Gil tells Miki to dump the protocol, and start recruiting new patients.
"Yes, boss!" Miki rushes back to her lab bench, and starts processing samples.
The regulatory affairs-drug safety guy pops in from around the corner. Dr. Berne Measure gives Gil a friendly fist-bump. Oh no, there goes another of Gil's hairs.
"Hey, fella. Any more pow-wows with the FDA about Razorthin?" Berne is about to bump Gil again, but Gil stops the hand midair. Razorthin was a sore spot with the company. It was billed as the drug to end all weight loss diets, but the FDA put a kibosh on it when testing revealed that it did promote pounds-off, but only because it induced violent and intractable diarrhea. The FDA was not amused and has been hounding the company ever since.
Gil checks the time. Gosh, it's already 1pm and time for the fraud committee meeting. Gil rushes to the Green Room, where seven scientists are ready, willing, and waiting to get Gil's okay to track down a counterfeiting gang. Gil takes his place at the head of the table and adjusts his pince-nez.
Dr. Dan Turing, a round little man with a perpetual stoop, starts the PowerPoint presentation. The fuss is about a counterfeiting ring that got hold of the official company batch number, and slapped it on its fake products, Turing drones on in his monotone. Problem is—the fakes don't work, and no one knows which is what. Turning rocks back and forth on his squeaky shoes. "Big, big stink! Big recall. Bad revenues. People pissed!" Hungarian-born Turing keens, lapsing into his clipped Middle European accent.
"Ve must deal with media on this dis troublesome issue," Turing says, in conclusion, now sounding guttural in his outrage and forgetting to enunciate his "W's" and "Th's." He is sniffing in exasperation. "Zo, zo untidy!!" "There go the "S’s," Gil thinks. He remembers that Turing likes life neat and orderly. Turing's lab is a masterpiece of anal-retentiveness. Everything was arranged in perfect right angles.
After an interminable discussion in which Turing is rendered bug-eyed and mute by his rage, Gil green-lights an investigation.
It's now 5pm, and Gil is off to the CDC information fest. Gil is in that kvetch frame of mind reserved for scientists like him who make six-figure incomes (well, he thinks, very low six figures), love all the ins and outs of Big Pharma, but still yearn to return to those days of pure research in the lab.
Gil drifts into a daydream. Maybe, maybe, when all is said and done, when he retires, he can go back to the laboratory he loves and work on a cure for male-pattern baldness that works for him. He pats his head. Another strand of hair dislodges itself and floats away.
Now that would be worth it.