Friday, 20 May 2011

TALK ABOUT JUNK SCIENCE!

I've heard of some weird scientific studies but this one was perhaps the strangest of them all. While I attended Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind in the late sixties, Our supervisor ordered us to give urine samples for some sort of study. We asked him why but he gave us no clear idea what it was all for.

Thanks to an anonymous letter to my parents, from a supervisor who complained about corruption at the school, I now understand what this mysterious business was about. Here's the relevant part of the letter:

In early May, students from Simon Fraser University wished to receive urine samples from each of the Blind BOYS with regard to finding any chemical or genetic associations with their blindness. As the kids were given no formal explanation, and no reassurance, their reluctance and embarrassment in giving a urine sample was to be fully appreciated. Several of the boys, whose blindness has been the result of an accident, need never have been involved.

At the time, I believed it was a professor at the University of British Columbia, not Simon Fraser students, who asked for the samples. Even so, I did feel some humiliation regarding what the supervisor ordered me to do.

From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, which was written before I found out about the letter, here's what we thought of this oddball request.

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Occasionally, adults required of us tasks which appeared to make no sense. Somebody from UBC approached the school and asked for urine samples from the students. From what we could gather, it was a research project conducted by a professor. One afternoon, Mr. Moiarty marched us into the dorm bathroom and gave each of us a glass specimen bottle with a black lid. "Maybe they think they'll figure out a cure for blindness from this," Peter joked. We all laughed at the thought of such an absurd notion.

After we filled the jars and gave them to our supervisor, some were left over. "Can we keep these since they are unused?," I asked Mr. Moiarty. He consented and each of us who wanted a jar was allowed to take one. That surprised me since adults usually did not let children keep articles which were neither practical nor toys.

One game I enjoyed playing was filling the jar almost to the top with water, screwing the lid on tight, and swirling the contents around. By shaking it in a circular pattern, I made what looked like a tornado form in the bottle. I imagined it was a real twister as I shook the jar and held it close to my eyes. The ability to control such imaginary power helped take my mind off of my helplessness at Jericho.

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Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. Click here to read more about this book and to order it. You may also e-mail me directly if the comment form doesn't work.