Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"For the blood is the life" - Leviticus 17:14

CONTENT ADVISORY: This entry is about human blood. If that's the sort of topic that upsets you, please don't read any further.

I had blood drawn this morning, and as regular readers know, I am not a fan. The process of drawing blood from my body is rather adversarial: not between me and the hematology nurses, but between me and my own body. I have a poor track record (especially this year) of resisting the urge to pass out.

It is one of the most frustrating things to me, this losing control of my own body. I haven't had any problems the last two times, but I think that's attributable to three factors:

1) they've drawn less blood than they did the first time
2) I'm now prepared for the worst outcomes
3) I take a sip of juice before the test

Today, the process went extremely smoothly. One might even say it was a breakneck pace. I arrived at 8:29am and the front desk nurse told me to walk back to the lab slowly, "because they don't even open until 8:30." I signed at the lab desk and the woman asked my last name. I told it to her and sat down. Ten seconds later, she directed me to one of the unoccupied special chairs.

At the same time, she directed another man to the chair opposite me. She asked which arm to stick, and despite me having complained mentally since the previous evening that they always seem to stab my right arm (attached to my dominant hand), I heard myself saying, "Right is fine, I suppose."

Great. I thought we had a deal, brain!

I looked away on the left side, forcing myself into deep regular breaths. I have a tendency to hold my breath in such circumstances -- to no one's surprise, that's not a good idea. Many times, nurses have had to remind me to breath when being examined, poked, or prodded. I think it's my base brain function operating on a "Jurassic Park" setting: if I hold very still, maybe all this will just go away.

Within two minutes of being seated, she was done and I was nursing my diminished-capacity right arm as I excited the office suite. Super fast, super quick. No problems, and I was left to enjoy the problem of how to fetch my keys out of my right front pocket with my left hand. Fancy!

Before I left, I glanced over at the vial of my blood, now sitting on a chart with all of my other information. I only had a view of it for a couple of seconds before it was whisked away to the refrigerator (or wherever they store blood). The way it looks is always a little disappointment to my more gothic sensibilities. It's just a glass tube partially filled with blood. I always expect to have a larger reaction, as though my body should recoil from the sight of its precious fluids on display.

But I don't have that reaction. I've never had a real problem with the sight of blood -- mine or other people's. As a kid and even as an adult, I've had many cuts and scrapes that cause blood to be released. I've had blood in my mouth from biting my tongue, blood from my nose after being smacked on it, blood from mosquito bites I've scratched too much, blood from accidentally cutting myself with knives, etc.

I've even attended to other people's lacerations with swift and effective treatment, if they happen to cut themselves with knives or bagel slicers. None of that slows me down a bit, which means that perhaps I'd have made a good trauma surgeon in a different life.

But back to the vial of my blood.

Sitting there quietly, I froze the moment in my head. For whatever reason, this time it was meaningful. Placed there on the counter was a small container about the size of my little finger. It contained the wondrous fluid that runs through practically every part of my body that isn't hair, fingernails, or eyeballs. It was strange to regard it as a separate object from myself, considering it contains all the programming information to be able to identify me and (in lots of science fiction) to make an evil clone.

That little vial's journey means it will be taken away to another part of the lab and subdivided into a hundred different tests. Blood consistency, blood clotting, blood composition, minerals, compounds, syndromes, and even color. Just from performing analysis of this now-separate part of me, so much information can be found about my diet, my general health, my digestion, my water consumption, my propensity for certain diseases, and so on.

I had a friend staying with me a few weeks ago; she is studying for a medical degree in dietetics. For fun, I showed her a printout from the blood work I had initially. I was very impressed when she was able to read the columns of numbers and acronyms and make sense out of it. "Oh, good, you aren't even pre-diabetic," and "well, DHL numbers are low, but you can fix that with flax seed and the fish oil you're already taking."

In some way, suppose that piece of paper represents me. At least, it describes a part of me that is essential to my continued operation, but largely ignored by me. When was the last time you thought about the fact that inside your forearm or big toe is a supply of blood rushing around, continually racing through your body day-in and day-out? Or that the stuff that leaks out when you skin your knee is the same thing that helps doctors diagnose a wide array of nutritional and physiological problems?

Amazing stuff.

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