Humans have eaten shit for centuries. In ancient China, it was consumed as a remedy for poisoning and diarrhea, and later mixed with water and called "yellow soup" as a treatment for abdominal diseases. Bedouin tribes too have long eaten camel dung as a remedy for dysentery. Modern fecal transplants first came about in the 1950s as a treatment for ulcerative colitis, and since then research has shown that for some diseases fecal matter transplants are a superior treatment compared with antibiotics.
Could I also contribute to this miracle treatment?
I had never heard of fecal matter transplants until this past New Year’s, when, at a get-together in my new city, I bumped into a old friend who was a med student at the U. She had been involved in the U's program at some point, and hearing the details about it gave me that fluttering sensation you experience only a few times in your life which informs you, in an instant, that your whole future has just been irreversibly transformed. I fired off an inquiring email the next morning, and to my surprise heard back within a day from a researcher at the U whom we'll call Amanda. Amanda told me to fill out an online application containing a dozen pages of questions about my health history.
I'm fortunate to have no known medical conditions, and so I breezed through queries about everything from allergies to mad cow disease with ease. Shortly thereafter, Amanda emailed me that I'd passed the first screening and she invited me into the clinic for further testing. I met her at 7am on Tuesday of the next week and she gave me the low-down on fecal matter transplant (which she'd been careful to abbreviate as FMT throughout our correspondence). It turns out, while she was in grad school, she herself had suffered for a year and a half from a debilitating stomach disorder, only to have it disappear within 48 hours after she herself received an FMT.
The clinic at the U was looking for healthy donors to offer up their dung to the altar of science both to help treat patients who had deficient gut bacteria as well as to help some corporation who was sponsoring the lab to develop an experimental poop pill that could eventually be spun into a mass-produced cure to an assortment of stomach ailments. Amanda also informed me that getting accepted as a fecal matter donor was quite rare: less than 5% of people who apply are accepted (making it more selective, and hence prestigious, than the Ivy League). You have to have a clean bill of health -- no allergies, eating disorders, medications, asthma, hereditary proclivities, nothing .
After hearing this spiel, I was given the consent form with all the usual things, including risks ("You may find it distasteful to provide fecal samples for this study"), benefits ("There is no direct benefit to you for volunteering. The information gained from this research may lead to improved care for patients in the future."), and, most importantly, the compensation! Fifty dollars for the initial screening visit, and $20 for each donation visit, which can be every day of the workweek if you want. In other words, enough to cover rent and then some! All there was left to do was some additional blood testing to make sure my internals were in order, and soon I'd be on my way to paydirt.
Rejection is a turd in the punch bowl
I was a ball of nerves as I waited for the results. Finally, what I was waiting for arrived: a note from the lab. It read:
All the lab tests we did in your donor screening were fine, except for one of the liver tests (AST = 70). This abnormality is very mild. We could re-test to make sure it isn't a fluke of some sort.
I was deflated. My braggatory FB post would have to be tabled. I was also beginning to realize this was meaning a lot more to me than it should have. But the heightened AST was probably just a fluke, right? Trying to maintain composure, I asked for a retest. They were gracious enough to give me another shot. We scheduled it for the following Tuesday, which gave me four days to try to change my levels. I googled AST and asked my science friends what I was doing wrong. My med-student friend told me that AST can be elevated due to running and eating leafy vegetables. Great, I thought, the very things I thought were going to make me healthier are actually keeping me from my dreams. Thanks for nothing, science.
Tuesday came. I went in again and took another needle to the arm. After two more days, I got another email, this time not from Amanda, but from the head doctor himself:
The AST (liver test) was still mildly elevated at 70. I agree with you that the most likely source of this abnormality is exercise. The strict criteria in the donor program do not allow us to recruit you while the test is abnormal. Our options are: (1) wait a little longer (~ 1 month) and re-test, (2) do a more extensive clinical evaluation, which would be outside this donor program. The clinical evaluation would need to be covered by your insurance, which most insurances would have to do. Either way, this is not a disqualification, and we still hope that we will be working together in the future.
Ugh. Rejection again. One month is an eon to a millennial, so it was on to option #2. I called up my insurance and asked them what a clinical evaluation of my liver would foot me. They told me $600. I was taken aback. "But, but, but what about the Affordable Care Act?" "Sorry, kid, you're shit out of luck." I hung up. How bad did I want this? I did a quick calculation of how many shits I'd have to take if accepted to cover the screening cost. Jeez, that was a lot, and in all likelihood I'd have to increase my grocery bill just keep up with the waste I was expected to make. And so I had no choice but to walk away, my dream deferred.