Friday, May 23, 2008

Getting some real culture

Part One

Cindy (name changed) was in the same group as I when I first started as an engineering intern at my job -- I didn't interact with her much, but I remember she was a little overweight in physique and somewhat reclusive in personality. We soon went our ways and I only saw her in passing sometimes.

A couple years later I noticed that she was *much* thinner than the previous time I had seen her, "anorexia" being the only word I could think of. She also was walking waving her arms around in the air, almost like she was swimming or dancing or something, but the look on her face was one of determination, not of someone having fun. I wondered if she'd gone a little crazy.

Some time later, she approached me in the hall and asked if she might speak to me some day at lunch -- "privately".

"What's it about?" I asked, all kinds of red flags and bells going off in my head.

"I need help, and was hoping you might be able to help me -- but I'd prefer to discuss it in private." The red flags and bells hesitated... what could she mean? She barely knows me, what could she possibly think I could help her with? I feared it had something to do with children, though she was probably at least 20 years my senior.

I agreed hesitantly.

I immediately called my wife and my superiors, asking advice and letting them know where and when we were to meet, and all the circumstances I knew of. If she was going to proposition me with something, they would all find out almost as fast as I did, which I figured was my best protection from my biggest worry: people getting the wrong idea.

The day arrived, and she laid out an interesting story that has stuck with me ever since:

"I have a rare condition -- one that results in my gastrointestinal system being very delicate, susceptible to all kinds of infections. My doctors believe that it's because I have taken so many antibiotics that I've killed off all the 'beneficial' bacteria in my system that prevent the malignant kinds of bacteria from taking hold.

"That's where you come in. The doctors have suggested that if I can find a person to regularly donate stools for some time, they could be converted into a solution that could be transferred via enema into my system, and repopulate me with the healthy bacteria that I need."

I was stunned. She wants what from me?

We quickly decided that I wasn't a good candidate because I had gastrointestinal parasites on my mission in Ecuador. Granted I was pretty sure they were all gone now, but she didn't want to take any chances, and I was happy to not have to be in the stool-supply business.

Part Two

Fast forward to last Wednesday, to a routine doctors visit -- my first in ~15 years. I had woken up with a slightly sore throat, but figured I might be coming down with a cold. The doctor looked in my throat -- "How are you feeling today?"

"Woke up with a little bit of a sore throat."

"Well, it looks like you have strep."

Wha? Wow. Well, turns out I didn't, but a swabbing revealed that it was indeed a bacterial infection, and 20 minutes later I started a week-long antibiotics treatment.

Connecting the two

Now stick those two stories together.

1) Do I want to be wholesale-killing bacteria in my system, especially when I've got lots of good bacteria keeping me from other sicknesses? What choice do I have, I hate sore throats.

2) Where am I going to get more good bacteria after I kill off what I've got? Maybe that's what kissing is for. Keep passing the good stuff back and forth with your wife and kids. Maybe that's why our instincts are to kiss babies, to get your kids started off with the best cultures your gene pool has managed to come up with.

3) And lastly, if I'd had the right kinds of bacteria in my throat 3 days earlier, maybe I wouldn't have gotten the infection in my throat to begin with???

I wonder if there's someone out there who never gets bacterial infections in their throat because they *already have* the right kind of bacteria in there, keeping the bad stuff from getting a foothold.

So, if you have kids but you never get sore throats, can my kids kiss your kids? =)

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