Postmarked after midnight?
Mailing the Occult: The Straight Poop

Following an exam by my Primary Care Physician, I have some shocking news to report.

• It is legal to send poop through the mail.

Yes, even in these times of accelerated mail handling precautions, you are allowed to send stool samples via the United States Postal Service. But that's not all.

• This freedom is directly linked to occult blood tests which are routinely ordered by licensed physicians.

This news is certainly shocking, but is not cause for alarm. Before you start writing letters to J. K. Rowling for contaminating society with Harry Potter-inspired sorcery or take on Microsoft for proliferating computers with software installation Wizards, look at things in context.

The ability to send a thin smear feces sample in a card through the mail for processing by a laboratory may seem like sorcery, but it's for scientific purposes and our convenience. While Merlin would have a hard time understanding how the soundness of a knight can be determined by analyzing his latrine deposits, as sophisticated dwellers of the 21st century, we know high tech when we see it. We all know the pleasures of filling that little plastic jar and autographing it while it is still at body temperature. It's nice to be able to apply a stamp to an envelope in order to deliver this other more difficult to obtain sample.

Unfortunately, we don't tend to remember the educational film we saw in grade school which featured a lab technician in a white frock, respirator, latex gloves, and goggles opening a letter containing a card smeared with fecal matter. This, we were told, could be our future career. (We do, however, remember that scene in that cable movie in which a school principal stomped on a flaming package of poop left on his front porch.)

As it turns out, "occult" has more than one meaning. In this case, it means "detectable only by microscopic examination or chemical analysis." So, nothing to fear.

So much is revealed and so much misunderstanding is avoided when we learn the vocabulary and read the instructions.

It took considerable effort to design the occult blood test sample container card. We should follow its instructions. There are a couple of important precautions noted.

Fight that instinct to refrigerate your excrement specimen. And don't expose it to heat or light (that which comes from where the sun don't shine is contaminated by light).

Once you've gone through the specimen collection process, you won't want to have to repeat it from step 1.

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