Lab Lab Test

An unusual state fair project brings insight into the digestive tract.

Perusing the many competition entries at the state fair was much more fascinating than I would have imagined. I’d never paid much attention to these exhibits before, but this year I found myself marveling at the copious variety of awards presented for the most unusual of things… aside from scores of pies, breads, jams, photographs, needlepoints, and quilts, there were also hand-made swords, doll costumes, toothpick art, and chocolate-covered pickles. There was even a paper mache octopus/space ship. I don’t even know what category that belonged to, but it was displayed in the same area as the blue ribbon moonshine… coincidence?

Being an engineer, I took special interest in the science projects. One of the more unusual was a 4-H entry submitted by a girl named Eli. It was about a barium x-ray series of the digestive tract. It caught my eye because I recognized the images right away. As IBD patients, many of us have undergone this procedure. You drink a gallon or so of liquid chalk, sit around for an hour while it gurgles through your insides, then you get in front of an x-ray machine while they poke your belly with a stick and take a zillion pictures. My doctor kept asking me about my favorite foods because apparently thinking about eating actually does make digestion happen faster. Old wives’ tale or not, he watches food get digested for a living, so I suspect a better judge would be hard to find.

But there was something different about the procedure featured in this state fair project…it was performed on a dog. Yes, a dog. The title of the project was “Lab Test on a Lab,” which made me laugh—as did one of the captions on her poster board, “Yes, this turned into a $500 towel.” Then I noticed that the backdrop of the poster board was not actually peach-colored paper, instead it was a large piece of a shredded bath towel that had been eaten and digested by her dog. I am still hoping what she posted was the uneaten remainder, but that part wasn’t fully explained. Perhaps certain things are best left unknown.

The pictures and captions told the story of the incident and her trip to the veterinarian. Concerned that the towel might cause a bowel obstruction, they performed the barium x-ray series to determine if it was successfully passing through the digestive tract. If not, the dog might have needed surgery to remove it. Thankfully the bowel-towel was moving adequately, and it eventually completed the trip without ill effect. In the process, she ended up learning a good deal about the digestive system, albeit in a rather unconventional way. And it earned her a blue ribbon at the state fair.

I learned something similar once upon a time… one of the funny stories in my book involves a former roommate’s dog who had eaten a pair of my underwear. I had no idea until I found it, in quasi-digested form, in our back yard. At this point I’m not sure if I wish I’d known about it while she was digesting it or not. Hopefully it wasn’t too much of a danger, but I think I’m glad we were spared the worry and aggravation that Eli went through with her ordeal.

I’m extra glad it ended well in her case because it turns out this dog isn’t merely a pet. Eli raises dogs to be trained as service animals. She spends about a year with each one, getting them ready, then parts company, sending them on to become professional caretakers. For being one of the unsung heroes who adds that extra cup of love to the world, I salute you Eli. Godspeed to you, and to your “Lab-Lab” too.

But one pressing question still remains… considering how much humans despise it, how on earth did they get a dog to drink that horrible barium cocktail?

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Tags: Narratives

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About the Author

Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.