Saturday, May 29, 2010

Living la vida scatalogical

posted Tue, 31 Jul 2007

This is gross, so if you are squeamish or my mother, don’t read this.

I just read a story in a travel book about a woman who participated in a clinical trial for something about e coli. She was required to give stool samples.

I have lived this. When I completed my two years in the Peace Corps in Chile, I had to have a head-to-toe physical before the Peace Corps would let me go. (It’s not as generous as it sounds – if you show up a year later and claim that your blood-borne tropical illness is a result of your time in mosquito-infested Equatorial Africa or that your Chagas disease* is because you were bitten by that darn cockroach falling from the ceiling of your hut in the Andean altiplano and that the gummint should pay for your treatment, the Peace Corps wants proof that the little amoebas were dormant in your blood before you exited your service and not gathered on your six-month post-Peace Corps trek through a dozen third-world nations. As a taxpayer, you should be grateful. I am.)

So. This physical consisted of all sorts of invasive things, the likes of which you really don’t want to know.

I thought I had suffered enough indignity when the Peace Corps nurse directed me to a lab in my town. She sent me a little form to take to them. When I got there, they gave me three little vials with stoppers, several wooden sticks, and a sheet of paper with instructions in Spanish.

I took the kit home and read the instructions.

My Spanish was excellent at the time, but I had to read three times and check my dictionary to be sure what I was seeing.

I was being instructed to put a sample of my poop in the vials. Every other day, one sample, until I had three.

But only a sample the size of “la mitad de una lenteja,” or half a lentil.

If you have never had to collect a poop sample, I hope you never will. If you have, you understand. It is nasty. I will leave this part – the logistics of getting said sample – to your imagination. Suffice it to say that even though my cleaning lady had been scrubbing my toilet with the vegetable brush I kept under the kitchen sink, I still was not happy about poking around that porcelain bowl.

But I did what needed to be done. I thought I had suffered all the nastiness involved with the sampling and was taking my little vials to the lab. I wrapped them in paper, then in a plastic bag, then in a paper bag. Somehow, that seemed appropriate – hiding my poop from public view. I didn’t think the other passengers on the bus would really want to see what I was carrying.

But when I got to the lab, there was a man next to me with the same three vials. And he had filled each of them. Filled. As in two teaspoons of poop, packed in there with barely room for the stoppers.

How did I know this?

Because he proudly tossed those unwrapped, exposed vials onto the counter. “Yeah,” he must have been thinking. “That’s a serious sample! Y’all take a look at that! I’ll bet you don’t get caca like that in here every day.”

* Infectious-disease docs, please forgive me if I have the details of Chagas wrong. It’s been a long time since I read about South American diseases in the South American Handbook.

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