Wednesday, July 14, 2010


  Remember a while back when I was sick, and I said I had been told that the Austrian authorities might contact me about my illness because it was unusual or something?  Well.  The faint at heart, and those who do not welcome "too much information," ought to skip this entire post.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

  I have been contacted.  Not only that; they want stool samples.  I got a letter in the mail, sent to the guesthouse address in Simmering.  Normally I don't even check that mailbox (who would send me mail there?), but I was bored waiting for someone in the lobby, and so I opened my mailbox, and there it was: a little slip telling me to pick up a piece of registered mail at the post office.

  Now, a smarter man than I would have stopped right there.  Why open Pandora's Box?  I knew, at some level, what it had to be about; and it should have been obvious that it would cause me nothing but heartache.  But who can turn down a piece of registered mail?  Certainly not me.  I mean, you have to sign for it.  It's important.  So I dutifully reported to the post office, and was given a piece of mail in German.  I took it to Sheila, our steadfast program coordinator, and she dealt with making various phone calls and so forth, and told me the upshot: I must deliver a stool sample to the Magistrate of Vienna (I love that s/he is the one on the receiving end, how appropriate is that?) once per week until I manage to deliver two consecutive satisfactory samples.  "Satisfactory" being defined as an absence of Campylobacter jejuni.

  OK, so, fine.  But this does seem a bit odd to me.  Wikipedia says that C. jejuni is "one of the most common causes of human gastroenteritis in the world."  Why does the Magistrate of Vienna take such a personal interest in the health of my digestive tract and the status of this apparently common bacterium?  In particular, what does s/he plan to do with this information?  As far as I have been told, there are no consequences for me if I continue to test positive; I will not be isolated or hospitalized or anything.  They just want to monitor me.  Why?

  My best theory is that Austrians are just generally interested in stool samples.  The design of their toilets is actually different here.  (OK, those who don't want too much information really ought to move on.) There is a little shelf above the water level, and when you go to the bathroom, your, uh, sample, rests upon that shelf.  I gather the purpose of this design is that your sample might be readily examined and accessed.  When you flush, a jet of water from the back briskly sweeps everything off into the netherworld.  I've never seen this design anywhere else I've traveled, so I take this as a sign that Austrians are dedicated stool-examiners.  And the Magistrate of Vienna, being a nosy parker like magistrates everywhere, takes an interest in the stool samples of the entire populace.  They won't do anything with the information they gather about the state of my gastrointestinal tract; they just like to know.

  Well, there it is.  I have made contact with the aliens, and they are indeed obsessed with anal probes.  Caveat lector.  And be thankful this post has no photographs.

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