Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Life as a Lab Rat

Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin
Washington, D.C.

In March 2002, after a very successful Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, I flew to Washington, D.C. to became a guinea pig at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. I did so voluntarily, believe it or not. I was going to participate in a five-year Pulmonary Fibrosis (PF)protocol, as part of the control group. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), not Pulmonary Fibrosis, a deathly auto-immune disease which robs it victim of breath.

It was a hypothesis of the doctor in charge of the PF study that PF and RA are related diseases. She wanted to study people with each disease every six months for five years to see if those with PF developed RA and if those with RA developed PF. Both are auto-immune, both are inflammatory diseases.

I learned about the study from my husband's colleague who suffers from Pulmonary Fibrosis. I applied as one suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis and was accepted into the study. I decided to turn my body over to science, hopefully to make advancements in auto-immune diseases. I knew I would be poked, prodded, and x-rayed, but I also received a free round-trip to D.C., a free three night stay in a four star hospital and I could stay in the DC area for as long as I wanted.

Since I have a dear cousin who lives in nearby Annandale, Virginia, I had a friend to visit when I was done at the hospital. It was a win-win deal for me, assuming I enjoyed becoming a lab rat for three days.

Front Entrance of NIH Medical Center

On my first visit, my husband came along to do research at the National Archives while I was at NIH. This visit came just six month after that horrendous day (9-11-01) and just one month after our Winter Olympics.

After our flight, we drove past the Pentagon where most of the damage was already repaired! When we got to Bethesda, the NIH campus was protected much like the Pentagon. Drivers are stopped at the gate and cars are inspected by a bomb squad. Identity badges must be worn and displaced at all times. My luggage was x-rayed. Can't be to careful.

Part of the National Institutes of Health Campus

The biggest surprise to me was how huge the NIH Campus is. There are numerous institutes, each housed in its own building. Luckily, I didn't have to worry about going from building to building, as all my tests took place within the Medical Center.

Map of the NIH Campus

At the Institute I stayed in a regular hospital room, ate hospital food, had doctors' examinations, blood tests, urine tests, EKGs, pulmonary function tests, stress tests (on a bicycle), MRIs, chest x-rays, bronchoscopies, and nuclear lung scans, about $10,000 worth of medical tests for free. I was told I was the healthiest guinea pig in the protocol!

Of course, the best part of my trips were after I was done at the Medical Center. . . all of the D.C. museums and the White House. . . .Harper's Ferry, Virginia, Williamsburg, Jamestown, St. Mary's County, Maryland, Annapolis, Chesapeake Bay and Delaware, home of my husband's ancestors. What great fun I had!

However, instead of going to the institute ten times over five-years, I only went five times in two and a half years. In September of 2005, I discovered I had SVT (Supraventricular Tachycardia) which could not be corrected with medication. I had Catheter Ablation surgery and the NIH dropped me as a guinea pig. Ouch! They didn't want me even with a corrected heart!

The moral of the story is this: It is better to live life as a lab rat in order to see the world, than to be stuck at home!

D.C. -- I Love & Miss You!

1 comment:

TravelinOma said...

Wow! You have had a lot of challenges! How interesting to be in Washington DC right after 9/11.

My husband has asthma, diabetes, and heart disease and his doctor suggested him for a study earlier this year. We thought it would be great because he'd get some tests and meds for free, but they dropped him, too. His body wasn't good enough for science.