Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Guinea Pigs, Experiments and Smoking Cessation...

Or is it "Sensation?"

I had that nasty habit... "had" mind you. Monday, April 18, 2005 I started that "Nicoderm" patch thingy and it appears to be working... actually, it IS working and working well. Every morning since Monday the old patch comes off and a new patch goes on. I find myself working through the remainder of the day almost completely without any urges... well, smoking related urges. The only smoking related urge I seem to have is the "reaching" urge... you know that subconscious, so very well rehearsed right hand reach for that pack of (now phantom) cigarettes in my left shirt pocket. I usually catch myself halfway into the reach and pull my hand back to my side. It only happens once or twice a day... usually when I'm not busy... usually when I'm sitting on my lazy butt on the couch or something. Either way I'm well on my way to becoming a "smoke free" citizen... again.

Here's what's happened over the past several weeks that seems to have piqued my interest. We all know by now a new Pope's been selected so I won't go there. And yes, the Michael Jackson trial is shaping up to be as bizarre an affair as it was trumped up to be so I'll leave that one alone too... but does anyone know of the University of Michigan's med school experiments on live human guinea pigs???

I do! I know about it! I'm one of those little pigs! I was offered up to them by my HMO. Holy crap (sorry pope guy) I never thought I'd ever be used as a petri dish experiment by any back alley lab let alone a publicly funded UNIVERSITY. Okay, well... Army time doesn't count here... I mean, when I was in the Army pretty much all of us were subjected to and everything was an "experiment".

But I'm talking now! Real world stuff! Here's what happened. I got my mail one day... not email, but the real mail... that "snail mail" stuff. There was an envelope in it that really caught my attention right out of the box. You know, one of those "OPEN IMMEDIATELY", "TIMED RESPONSE ENCLOSED". It was in an official looking envelope with my name (spelled correctly) as the addressee. I never get "snail mail" addressed to me anymore and certainly don't get it with my name spelled correctly! (Well, unless it's a bill but that doesn't count).

Anyway, here I am standing at the gaggle of mailboxes holding this mysterious envelope and several other familiar looking windowed envelopes. I couldn't take my mind off of the "newby"... the "name spelled correctly" piece of mail. My eyes scanned it for a return address but all I could find were initials that didn't make any sense whatsoever to me and one of those generic "P.O. Box, Suite" things. I walked back to the house and plopped the mail onto the kitchen table. J must have seen the puzzled look on my face because she asked me "what's up?" I watched as her eyes fell on the pile of mail. I didn't answer. She sorted through it and came to THAT envelope.

"What's this?" she asked, staring at the envelope.

"Dunno". I really didn't.

"Who's it from?" she was looking at the return address.

"Dunno". I was hoping she might.

"Well it must be important, they spelled your name right"

"Yah. I saw that too" I did, but then I already told all of you that.

"So open it" I've learned long ago this phrase is simply a formality to her. She slipped her fingernail under the flap and pulled. Voila! the envelope was opened. Simple move, mystery soon to be solved... or so we thought.

J dumped the contents onto the table top... a one page, one sided, three paragraph letter with a signature that I couldn't make out. No return address, no title under the signature, no "sincerely" or "thank you"... nuthin' but three paragraphs, five mysterious numbers and a (true) illegible, signature.

"Who's that?" J pointed at the signature.


"Hey, it says here you've been 'nominated' to participate in a controlled test" J announced as she read the first paragraph. "you have to go to a website and answer some questions first."

Now, I was really skeptical. Here I am watching my wife read a letter addressed to me with my name spelled correctly sent to my home address from a group of initials who's address is a generic P.O. Box, Suite thingy somewhere in Michigan. I mean, it's not that I can't read or anything. It's just that I leave the mail stuff to J. She has that uncanny ability to figure "mailed" things out and culls out the "junk mail" without even opening the envelope. Because of my bad history with junk mail I'm not allowed to even look at it anymore... another story. Let's just say that's her job... it's been her job for a long, long time.

"So throw it. It's probably nothing" I offered, knowing it was a futile offering at best.

"Nope. This is something. We're going to the website." She was positive. Way too positive for me to even think of repeating the "throw it" idea to her.

We went to the computer, I logged on and went to the site. I had to enter a "code" provided to me in the last paragraph of that mysterious letter. After the code was entered "I" came up on the screen... well, not "me" actually but everything about me. I scanned the information, noting a familiar logo at the top of the webpage. My HMO's logo. It was there in bold right next to another one that was later identified as the University of Michigan's logo.

We both read on. Mystery solved. My HMO submitted my name to this quit smoking program offered to 100 persons nationally (or something like that) by the University of Michigan's medical school (I'm pretty sure there's humans involved somewhere on their end but all references were to the "Medical School"). The "program" was actually identified as a year long "study". I'm not totally stupid... in med schools studies are normally called "experiments". Business schools do "studies" not med schools.

Either way, I decided "yah-tah-hey" and gave it a go. I filled out their pages of personal and psychological profiling information and was subsequently invited to participate in their "study" (read "experiment"). I was going to be provided "patches" free of charge and was encouraged to use the patches to assist me in my quest to quit smoking. Until I got this opportunity to participate in their study I really didn't know I had a desire to quit smoking... well, let me qualify that. I knew I wanted to, just didn't believe I could do it on my own and survive without being criminally charged for something in the process... let alone have my loved one's survive along with me.

So you see, that's what this "Guinea Pig" thing is all about. I'm one. I'm wallowing in a petri dish daily. Being monitored and periodically quizzed. My answers recorded, my observations noted, my moods documented. I must admit, my part of this "experiment" thing is rather simple... wear the patch and answer some questions from time to time. In the end I'll be "smoke free"... or so I hope. It'd be my luck that I've been provided the placebo patch. Even so, they appear to be working...

Mind over matter. My Dad's favorite phrase and over the years I've pretty much proved he's right.

Later all, take care.

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