The Lab Rat Time Warp

When I made today’s appointment on Monday, the coordinator cheerfully assured me the session would take thirty minutes, max. “Sounds good to me!” I cheerfully replied.

Today I discovered a secret power of the telephone. Maybe you already knew. Maybe I already knew, too, and just needed a reminder: the telephone can warp a measly half hour into a hairy hour and a half. Amazing! I don’t think the handset of the office land line had the power; rather, the power concentrated somewhere central, like the company that operated the telephone data collection system. It seems to work according to the same fun rules as a customer service line for a computer brand or a cellphone service provider: require as many keystrokes as possible to navigate from one question or decision fork to another, but be sure to truncate the keyed entry so the caller has to answer the same question seven times before the system decides to record the actual response.

This particular system was so cantankerous, it said my birth date was invalid three times before finally approving it. For a minute, though, I started to question my own existence.

Other than that existential angst, I took it all in stride. I had my e-reader with me and a very heavy sweat jacket so I was warm and entertained. The study coordinator, on the other hand, tried to throw the phone through a nonexistent window at least three times. To her credit, she persisted. Three calls to the customer service center of the data collection company, two visits to the company’s members-only intranet site, and probably several swigs of something highly caffeinated, and we finally got me registered as a test subject.

I now am subject %$@#%@#$%. Okay, that’s really my pet name in the mind of the study coordinator. I apologized several times for being the problem child and she said it wasn’t my fault. It really wasn’t. I never touched the phone. I was the problem because I was the one that took her an hour to register. I felt badly about it.

I couldn’t feel badly for too long because I suddenly was handed the phone and I had to create a PIN for myself in the system and then once in, I had to answer the same eight questions I will have to answer every day for the next twenty-eight days. Questions regarding the gross activities of my gut, levels of pain, and frequency of feeling like Violent Beauregarde after defying Willy Wonka and trying his new filling gum. 

The questions are standard fare for people with celiac disease. We’re always talking among ourselves about these indelicate matters, not to boast, but, rather, to soothe ourselves that we aren’t alone in the struggle to stay gluten free. Normal people raise their eyebrows when they hear of this, though they don’t really want to hear about this. And neither do we gluten free guys and gals, really. It’s just what we have to talk about when we aren’t busy conquering the world or feeling sorry for ourselves because we can’t pop down to Einstein’s for a toasted pumpkin bagel and autumn roast latte with gingersnap crumb topping . Ah, I do miss those bagels. I saw one on a sign and I could swear I started to itch.

So now I’m in the system and I’m ready to record my symptoms every day using a scale from none to very severe. I like that they differentiate “severe” from “very severe.” I would have termed it “feeling like road kill” and “envying road kill because they have it easier than this,” but that would take too long to say for each question and the system likely would time out before the subject could enter his or her answer.

On a very plus note, my labs look better than they have in years. I’m still “seropositive” for celiac antibodies but only just positive. The doctor said that means the gluten free diet has resulted in some healing. Woo hoo! Take that, road kill! I feel better than you do…today!

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