IT’S NOT JUST BLACK AND WHITE

My last few years of high school and first few years of college were seamed with a global explosion of technology that boldly brought the elusive computer into homes and classrooms. The desktop. It was a clumsy combo of a monochrome display TV, with a typewriter that didn’t have paper, and a great big hot metal unit that had loud fans. And you could make it calculate and record data with a set of commands in a programming “language” called “BASIC.” Although computers scared the daylights out of a lot of old timers, I wasn’t unfamiliar with them. My dad was retired Navy, DPCM: “Master Chief Data Processing Technician”. In simpler terms, he was a computer programmer. 

I had a temporary moment of anti-technology boldness when I enrolled in college and declared my major: Art. Although Master Chief was always supportive, he couldn’t hide the cringe as he taunted me with the declaration that computers would someday paint my pictures. Picture me in the eighties storming away defiantly with my paintbrushes and canvasses as I sit here swipe texting my latest blog entry into a pocket sized smartphone; licking my wounds as I add a fancy filter to the selfie I just took. 

IF >THEN >GOTO> {ELSE} >GOTO>INPUT>LIST >PRINT

My dad knew better than to demand much of us when we were in college, but he did strongly encourage us to take at least one computer science class. I took BASIC programming. IT WAS SO BORING!! Mundane numbered lines of commands that said the same thing over and over.. .And everything was black and white… Including the suck hole of ERROR messages. Instead of trying to memorize what each ERROR message referred to, I’d call my dad and ask him and then brace myself for his favorite reply, “Sounds like and ID-10-T error to me.” (Take your time and look at that closely, like I had to). HaHa. Hang up. Face punch the computer and pick up a paintbrush.

I didn’t like the black and white, or green, or amber strings of text rolling down the screen only to flash an ERROR – except when they didn’t. Sometimes my program would work and it would be like a burst of color on that greenbar tractor feed paper. 

Research is black and white – except when it isn’t. The clinical trial we are enrolled in has a lot of IF>THEN>GOTO scenarios. Take the product, follow the procedure, record the results, test the outcome. The product/procedure/results part is very precise and mundane and easy to mess up. I’ve had a good share of ID-10-T errors. Testing the outcome is downright terrifying. But that’s where you see your color. 

Today the Warrior once again ate an early breakfast, endured the ninety mile drive, and set up camp in the clinic. Today was the mid-trial food challenge that would reveal an outcome. After six months of updosing from 3mg to 300mg of peanut powder (one peanut), it was time for a test. For two hours he was given eight increased doses. Doses one through five were much like the string of lines on the old BASIC program. It was dose six that felt like hitting the RUN PROGRAM button and waiting for the ERROR message. It was 444mg total and that was more than he’s ever had. He didn’t react. IF>THEN>GOTO. 

They bumped up to 1,044mg. As his blood pressure cuff inflated, my heart went to my throat. He didn’t react. IF>THEN>GOTO.

The last dose would bring him to 2,044mg – the equivalent of seven peanuts. I wanted to go back to the drawing board. His tolerance increased, you ran your test, you have your results, please stop. There’s no room in my heart for ERROR.

They brought the dose. He ate it. They hit enter and started the timer. 

HE DIDN’T REACT!

Today was a burst of color in the black and white world of clinical research. And when I realized what that burst of color meant, I burst into tears and I couldn’t stop sobbing. 

It’s working. My God, it’s working. This child was entrusted to his parents to be kept safe, and for us that meant to never, ever let him accidentally ingest peanut. I prayed and begged that this child be cured. The clinical answer to that prayer was “no.” Pushing enter on that program would bring a dangerous, possibly devastating, error. 

The first computers my dad worked on were the size of a small building. Computer Scientists don’t often get hailed as heroes, but you just have to look in the palm of your hand to realize they didn’t take no for an answer. No amount of error messages halted them from building and improving technology. It’s not just black and white, there have been explosions of color in the development that was pioneered by the original Geek Squad. 

My dad died ten years ago today. He saw a span of technological procedures, results, and outcomes that truly changed our world. I didn’t particularly want to be in a hospital on the anniversary of his death. But today I saw a burst of color because of clinical procedures, results, and outcomes and it has changed our world. 

There is a cure. There is. It’s in our reach. It’s in the reach of countless families that live with food allergies. It doesn’t look like we thought it would. It doesn’t look like what I prayed and begged for. It looks like the procedures and results and outcomes we experience in a leap of faith. It looks like a carefully programmed string of hope and love and peace from our Creator. 

The Warrior is half way through his trial in peanut allergy immunotherapy. His mother is just breaking through the bleakness of her weakness. I have learned to not assume how this will look for Coleman. I’ve learned to anticipate the journey of faith. And on that journey today, we had a burst of color. 

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