Listen up, you in your 20s, 30s, and 40s….Your time for this project is approaching…
I passed by a large white plastic basket, about the size of a children’s wading pool, on my way out of Kaiser’s Flu Shot Clinic. Thinking it contained sample soap bars or skin creams, I jammed my hand into it and found I was clutching a Fecal Occult Blood Test Kit, the one that tests for blood in your poop.
Before I go any further, I promise not use the words “stool,” “feces,” “b.m.,” “poop,” the “s” word, or even technical terms like “caca” and “doodoo” in this post. For the sake of gentility l will call the substance to be tested by the occult blood test the arbitrary name of “Lester.” I’m not trying to denigrate anyone named Lester who might be reading this, though I’m alarmed why my mind instantly jumps to the name Lester, the 291st most popular name in the U.S. and the sum of whose alphabetical letters in the name equals 79. This is a significant find, since 79 is the population of Epping, North Dakota (2000 census).
After bringing home the test kit, I avoided using it for a few weeks, particularly after I read through the instruction sheet which, like all instruction manuals, was best ignored to stave off panic. My first reaction to the list of instructions was how cumbersome it was. After all, fraternity boys in college have a long history of collecting samples of Lester in a paper bag, setting it afire, and leaving it on the doorstep of a friend. By contrast, I was provided a large collection tissue paper to lay inside the toilet bowl on top of the water. There was no assurance the paper would not sink, but I presumed the manufacturer of the kit knew what it was doing.
I’m certain, before the product was even released to healthcare practitioners, the company CEO, president and vice presidents all took a kit into their private bathrooms and, with their administrative assistants taking notes and explaining the seven-paragraph procedure, tested the kits. This is how the modern corporation operates, always for the good of the consumer. Officers are personally involved in quality control whether we’re talking mortgage-backed securities or condoms.
In addition to the large tissue paper and a small absorbent pad that, the instructions warned me, wasn’t to be confused with the large tissue paper lest Lester be sunk, I was provided a sampling bottle that looked suspiciously like an emasculated syringe. I was to open the bottle and not spill the interior liquid identified as a preservative to keep Lester around for 45 years or so.
Next I was to use a three inch green probe attached to the sampling bottle cap to scrape across Lester. The instructions specified that, BEFORE taking the probe with Lester and putting him back inside the sample bottle, I must “flush the toilet.”
I only have two hands, manufacturer. You want me to hold onto Lester—by now on the tip of the probe, held aloft and uncovered—and flush the toilet BEFORE I put him away? When you were testing the kit, gentlemen (and I KNOW you were gentlemen because no woman would have devised this kit), did you ask your administrative assistants to hold the probe with Lester and then flush your toilet? Or did you in reality give them permission to first jam Lester into the sample bottle with all deliberate speed?
But o.k., I go along and first flush the toilet.
Suddenly I’m stunned to realize that the opening of the sample bottle where I’m to insert the probe tip covered with Lester is the diameter of two toothpicks. I’d previously chased Lester (and parts of Lester) around and around the sinking collection tissue paper to collect him, and now I’m holding the green plastic probe with a much larger quantity of Lester than will fit through the miniscule bottleneck.
An ethical crisis arises: do I try to delicately remove more Lester from the probe tip? Dump Lester and end up chasing him around the bowl again among the flotilla of Lesters? Dump the entire kit? This was already, I’m ashamed to admit, my third try at using a Lester kit. When I’d asked Kaiser for two additional kits, I’d received a long stare. I know they were thinking, “Yes, here at Kaiser we want our patients ‘To Thrive,’ but in your case we’ll make an exception.”
This is the part where, in a film, they jump to another scene so you can only imagine the barbarism that just occurred. I did manage to do an editing job on Lester and pushed him (protesting) down into the sample bottle. The instructions next requested I wipe off the outside of the bottle before mailing, although it didn’t specify what to use. Ultimately I used a handful of Kleenex followed by three packets of Cottonelle hygenic cleansing wipes; anti-bacterial Dial hand-pump soap; cotton balls soaked with alcohol; a paper towel immersed in Betadine, and a Q-tip dipped in Frontline.
I filled out an accompanying form with the date of Lester’s collection and other information. The instructions insisted I write the same information on the sample bottle. This was taxing since that sample form wrapped around the bottle resisted several pens, then intentionally smeared my scrawled words. All this time I could make out Lester clinging to the side of the bottle, pleading.
When I finally assembled the kit and sealed it, I drove at excess speed to the closest post office, leaped out of the car and shoved the envelope with its enclosures into the mailbox. Then I remembered I’d forgotten to write the return address on the envelope. What if the lab wanted to send the sample of Lester back to me for, say, additional postage because I exceeded Lester’s weight limit?
I hope my fecal occult blood test comes back negative. This is an important test that shouldn’t be mocked. Next year I’ll avoid the errors I made in this year’s preparation: I plan to bring my collection of Lester directly to the lab’s doorstep, secured in a brown paper bag. If they refuse the sample, I’ll be carrying matches.