An American couple from Massachusetts, traveling as tourists in the snowy wastes of Alaska, meet up with an Eskimo man and his wife, living in a primitive hut.
Eskimos: We've heard a lot about Massachusetts, because our eldest son has spent the last few years in the post-graduate anthropological research department at Harvard.
Tourists: Really? How marvelous! What exactly is he studying?
Eskimos: No, he's not studying anything. He's being studied.
Me, too, I'm being studied... by the prestigious French medical research organization called Inserm. A few years ago, after a strenuous incident that consisted of my dragging unaided my runaway ram out of the rushing waters of the River Bourne, I was the victim of a minor cerebral accident that manifested itself (and still does) by a slight numbness in the tip of my right thumb. I referred briefly to this affair in my article of 4 January 2007 entitled Best wishes for eternal health [display]. Well, ever since then, in the interests of medical research, I've been consuming a daily dose of two fat pills. They're wrapped in weekly packets, referred to as blisters, as shown here:
I have a huge supply of these packets in a cardboard box that I keep in my refrigerator, and I start a new packet each Monday. Throughout the week, I cannot possibly forget to take the pills, because they function as a kind of primitive calendar... which takes a bit of getting used to. For example, when I see that the two left columns are empty, that means that either it's Tuesday afternoon, or else it's Wednesday morning and I haven't yet consumed my daily dose. OK, it's not rocket science, but it's better than making notches in a stick. And I can always confirm my intuitive awareness of the current date by calling upon my faithful Macintosh. [Some readers are likely to wonder: Why don't you use your computer for this purpose right from the start? All I can reply to people who ask such questions is that they are obviously insensitive to the joy of the daily consumption of pills.]
Now, the hitch in my job as a guinea pig is that I don't really know what I'm consuming. Theoretically, the big yellowish pills could well contain omega-3, and the smaller reddish ones, a mixture of vitamins. But either of them might be placebos. So, I won't normally know the objective truth until the end of the experiment, scheduled to last for several years.
The most interesting aspect of this affair is that I meet up with a representative of the organization every summer, at a local hospital, for a kind of checkup. Whenever they phone me up, two or three times a year, the researcher (generally a female with an African accent) always seems to be surprised, first, that I'm apparently in excellent health and, second, that I haven't yet got fed up with taking their pills. Yesterday, I couldn't resist the temptation to invent reasons to explain to the lady on the phone why I've never missed out a single day of their pills:
"I'm not supposed to know whether there are active ingredients in my particular pills, or simply placebos. But I've been convinced for ages that you're giving me the real stuff, and that it's doing me good. For me, that knowledge is intuitive and mysterious, and I can't explain what's happening. It's as if I were to see a vision, say, of the Virgin Mary. But it's clear and certain in my mind. Sometimes, around midday, I feel slightly sick and drowsy. Then I realize that I haven't yet taken my daily dose. I only have to gulp down the two precious pills and, within twenty minutes, I'm back in perfect form. It's a true miracle."
During my forthcoming checkup, I imagine they might decide to scrutinize me carefully for advanced signs of dementia.
Meanwhile, in Sydney, Benedict XVI has just visited the memorial chapel of a local nun, named Mary MacKillop [1842-1909], who's on the fast track towards canonization. Click the photo to visit a web article about this humble individual, whose claim to fame is that she created a new order for nuns specializing in free Catholic education for country kids.
Apparently, she already has one cancer-oriented miracle in her posthumous curriculum vitae, but she needs a second one to acquire full-blown sainthood. I'm looking into the idea that maybe I could lend Mother Mary a hand through the above-mentioned pills revelation. It's an undeniable fact that the pills started to exert their miraculous effect upon me when I was out in Sydney in August 2006. I think I should start out by sending a friendly email on this question to the pope.