my week at the national institute of health
by dirk cotton
I spent last week at the National Institute of Health participating in a study.
I have an MRI every year or two so my doctor can tell me that nothing much has changed and that I should come back in a year or two for another MRI.
I have a crappy private insurance policy that costs about a million dollars a month with a five million dollar annual deductible (but limited to just ten million per family), so I pay the $3,500 for the MRI and the brief doctor’s visit out of pocket.
I have a working agreement with my insurer. I pay every premium on time or they will terminate my policy. In exchange for this premium, the insurer agrees to never, ever pay a claim.
So far, they’re holding up their end of the deal.
This year, needing both a colonoscopy and an MRI, I participated in this study and got those two tests for free — my favorite price for expensive services — and NIH threw in a P.E.T, a C.T., and an EKG.
They also ran several blood tests and a capsule endoscopy, but I’ll get back to that.
NIH told me I could bring my wife along for the week and that it would be fine to leave the clinic evenings to have dinner with her and maybe check out a movie. What they didn’t tell me is that I couldn’t eat anything at dinner unless clear broth or apple juice was on the menu.
Doesn’t seem to be all the rage in Washington restaurants at the moment.
Nearly all of the tests required a clear liquid diet the day before, and I had a test every day, so I got two actual meals all week. I could eat anything I wanted as long as it was clear broth, apple juice or a popsickle.
But, I needed to drop a few pounds and I’m now down to 137 soaking wet and I can wear those skinny jeans, so there’s that.
Back to the capsule endoscopy. That’s the test where you swallow a small camera that takes pictures of your innards and transmits them to a small computer that you wear. I had one back in 2001, too.
At first, the doctors at NIH couldn’t believe that I had had one in 2001 because, as they noted, the capsules weren’t in hospitals, yet.
True that, but I participated in a trial of the technology a decade ago. They knew the doctor who ran the trial and are convinced I was one of the first people to have the test anywhere.
When I first took the test in 2001 in New York City, just months after 9-11, the prototype computer and antennas were built into a heavy black vest that I had to wear for eight hours. I wore it under a navy blazer and went to visit the nearby Guggenheim.
It kinda’ had a suicide-bomber vibe and I felt self-conscious so I walked over to the security guard and explained that the vest was part of a medical test that included swallowing a camera that took flash snapshots of my digestive system and transmitted them by Bluetooth to a computer in my vest.
After this thorough explanation, I realized that the guard spoke very little English. In retrospect, I’m probably lucky he didn’t just shoot me.
Heck, I would have.
I walked around the museum for about an hour convinced that everyone was staring at me and then decided to spend the rest of the day in my hotel room.
Nowadays, the computer looks like an oversized Walkman that you carry in a small shoulder bag for twelve hours. No more vest. It is wired to eight antennas that are attached to your abdomen by two-inch diameter adhesive patches, apparently using Crazy Glue.
They warned me to shave my abdomen and I did, but I wasn’t able to shave it perfectly. (It’s not like I practice.)
They promised to have a nurse remove the patches and the computer at 12:30 a.m., by which time I was sick of being wired to a shoulder bag. Besides, all those wires under my t-shirt made me look fat.
A nurse walked into the room and laughed because I had been sitting there with my t-shirt pulled up for over an hour so as not to delay the removal process.
“You must be in a hurry to get rid of that thing,” she observed.
She removed the first two patches with tiny tugs and occasional swipes of alcohol on the adhesive. It hurt like hell.
But not as much as the third patch.
She pulled on the third patch twice, apparently in an area where I had not shaved as closely, and I wanted to scream. Each tug removed about 1/32nd of an inch of patch. She swabbed it with alcohol.
“Would you like me to pull it off in one tug?” she asked. “Some patients prefer that.”
“Absolutely not!” I replied. “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
She grabbed the patch and ripped it. It felt like pulling off four square inches of skin.
I partially stifled a scream and stared at her wide-eyed.
The nurse smiled back at me gleefully and said, “All done!”
I left NIH with a perfectly waxed stomach and now I can wear those too-short belly shirts with my new skinny jeans, so there’s that.
My test results were all good. They routinely do a small biopsy and I got the results yesterday. It was normal.
Winston Churchill said, "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result."
Maybe not, but a normal biopsy report has to come close.
Dirk Cotton is a retired executive of a Fortune 500 Internet company who loves to spend time with his family, fly fish, shoot sporting clays, attend college baseball games, sail, follow the Wildcats, and write. Everything else he does is just for fun. A computer programmer-cum-marketing executive-cum-financial planner who now wants to be a writer, he apparently can't decide what he wants to be when he grows up. He and his family moved to The Southern Part of Heaven in 2005 and couldn't be happier with that decision.
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