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Stool Sampler
Mar 31, 2006, 8:24a

Since I'm on the topic of health, I can think of no better time than to to tell this story. I related some of it to Aki, and he inspired me to post it on my blog.

Several weeks ago, I decided to visit my doctor because I was worried that I had some sort of bacteria or parasite in my gut. The symptom: my #2 had been "looser" than usual since I came back from India in March. The doctor ran through the usual questions and tests and decided that I needed to give a stool sample. "Wow, I've never done that before," I said. "Do you guys have some special toilet designed for this that I can use?" Becca had also given a sample a few weeks earlier and she had used a fancy toilet-catcher-thingy. "No," my doctor said, instead telling me to go down to the lab and tell the nurse he sent me.

I stood in front of the nurse in a lobby packed with people - every seat was taken. I related my needs, and she hands me a brown paper bag. Lucky for me, the bag wasn't empty.

"Have you done this before?"


She proceeded to open the bag, which contained a shallow, white plastic cup with cover and 3 small, sealed, liquid-filled vials. "Basically, you need to collect your sample in here," she said, opening the white plastic cup. "After you've done that, you need to scoop it into the 3 vials. If you can't get it to us within an hour, you'll need to refrigerate it." Apparently each vial was used to test a different kind of bacteria.

"Umm, so am I supposed to scoop it out of the toilet water?"

"No. It can't be contaminated by the water."

"Umm, so am I just supposed to catch it?"

"That's one way to do it."

"Is there another way to do it?"

"Are you going to be OK with this?"

"Are there any other techniques, any tips, any best practices for this? This is my first and I'd rather not repeat common mistakes. Anything you can tell me will be helpful."

"Are you sure you're going to be OK with this?"


"You can do it here if you like..."

"That's OK. I'll do it at home. Thanks."

And off I went.


It took me a week to finally work up the courage to do it. I had it all figured out: I would collect the sample in the morning and drop it off on the way to work. I wanted to avoid putting anything in our fridge.

As I crouched above the toilet, one hand holding the white plastic cup beneath me, eyes looking down between my legs at the cup, I realized I didn't have a good sense of whether the cup was in the right place. Round with a diameter of about 5 inches, it seemed like a large enough target, but somehow it didn't feel quite right. Oh well, I thought, here goes.

It's actually hard to control how much comes out. It took me a while to get to the point where I could confidently offer up a practice shot.

It bounced off my index finger, plummeting to the depths below. Shit.

Well, at least I knew where the cup needed to be now.

After a few more volleys, I had had enough. I covered the cup and placed it on the counter. Luckily, the outside appeared to have escaped unscathed. I finished up, got up, and then proceeded to open up the cup.

There is nothing stinkier than shit. Absolutely nothing - I almost gagged. Somehow, when you're within 2 feet and in direct line-of-smell, it's about 100x worse than the ambient smell. If there was a smell metric, it would have to be logarithmic like decibels for sound.

Each vial's cap included a mini-scooper, and I proceeded to fill each vial to the red line. I had just enough in the white cup to fill all 3 vials to the line. I closed the cup, returned it with the vials to the brown paper bag, washed my hands, and escaped the bathroom. Success!

After all this, a week later, it turned out I was fine - the lab couldn't find anything unusual in my stool.

All in all, it was an absolutely harrowing experience.

I think improving this user experience would make a great senior project for a product designer at Stanford :)

Read comments (7) - Comment

Roy - Mar 31, 2006, 9:49a
Thanks for the amusing story.

Mental note: In the future, will not read Nik's blog right after lunch.

I interned a long time ago at BD, a company that actually makes that sort of product. Never personally worked on stool though, I worked solely on blood collection.

Aki - Mar 31, 2006, 8:06p
Best quote - "Shit."

omar - Apr 4, 2006, 8:28a
your blog is going out of my web clips! this is disgusting!

you know, you could've just shat on some newspaper or something, and tossed it afterwards, no? this whole playing catch sounds ridiculous!

garry - Apr 9, 2006, 6:06p

nikhil - Nov 27, 2006, 2:54a
shitting on a newspaper would have contaminated the shit...

Arkie - Nov 28, 2007, 9:30p
Well, I am going to have to provide a sample of "poop" to my doc and I found your story on line via a web search of "how to do it!" Very amusing, but I'm still not quite sure what I'm going to do tomorrow morning when I try to collect my sample. I think the idea of having a Stanford senior work on this project sounds great. Can the senior student email me his solution before tomorrow morning?

Liz - Mar 13, 2010, 6:44p

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