Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Blood Culture

The blood test during my physical exam this morning took a lot longer than expected. In the first place, the doctor was already preparing to draw his samples from my left arm when he realized that I couldn't lay stretch my arm flat on his desk surface. It wasn't that I was disabled, mind you -- just that I'm apparently one of the few denizens of the general population who can't twist his left arm into such a position. So we had to reposition everything for my right arm, and -- just as he was tightening the rubber hose near the elbow -- I couldn't resist a slight quip: "You'd better be careful, doc. That's the arm I write with."

I suspect that he didn't care much for the joke, because it took him two solid minutes to fill two specimen bottles with a fine, steaming sample of the ol' B-positive. I know that most doctors were already happy to fill just one bottle, but this was a particularly comprehensive physical exam regardless. The extra one was probably going to be tested for illegal drugs or unwarranted substances, or something. At the end of the entire procedure, he went straight to the alcohol-cotton-bandaid triplet with nary a word, and then called the next patient in just as I was rolling down my sleeve.

I consider it a point of pride that I'm not afraid of syringes. Admittedly, not many people out there have much of a phobia in that regard either, but when you see even a small portion of the population screaming and running away at the sight of a long sharp piece of sanitized metal, then you have to feel a little proud of yourself. I didn't even see it as much of a concern when I was a kid -- some doctor-or-other would just be taking a little bit of your blood, after all, and would only leave you with this weird metallic sensation in your arm afterwards.

And then there was the alcohol. I loved the smell of isopropyl alcohol, for some reason. It always gave me the impression of being completely cleansed of everything, even long before I found out that it killed germs on contact.

I realize that I've given a lot of blood samples over the years, if only because I needed to get tested very often for a lot of staple childhood diseases. I remember that the blood testing got so frequent that there were days in which I would get up at seven, crawl downstairs where a visiting doctor would be waiting for me, yawn all throughout the sampling procedure, then crawl back upstairs again and sleep till noon. I suppose, then, that it's no wonder that I have high expectations of every blood test I take, and that the entire process feels to me like a walk in the park.

What I find odd, however, is that I haven't voluntarily donated blood to anything yet. On the other hand, Type-B blood is relatively easy to find, and my relatives have yet to find themselves in a situation where an emergency tranfusion could save their respective lives. This could also be, however, merely because I'm a really miserly bastard who doesn't like giving anything away for free. Think of it as you will, I suppose.

Back in my first year of college, there was an ROTC Saturday when we entertained a number of Red Cross volunteers just before afternoon marching practice. I remember that these volunteers were conducting a blood drive back then, and I remember the ROTC officers announcing that anyone who stuck around to donate at least one liter of blood to the Red Cross would be excused from marching practice and could leave early for the day. Unfortunately, despite the attractive prospect of slacking off, I had an important exam the coming Monday, and I figured that I needed all the blood I had at the moment. (This logic turned out to be remarkably accurate -- every single person who volunteered one-fifths of their total blood volume didn't show up for school afterwards.)

A couple of years into my management career, I again found myself giving a blood sample inside one of the local hospitals. A friend's brother had taken sick with dengue fever, and his family was looking for Type-B volunteers for a possible transfusion. So I dropped by, flashed the card that (ironically) identified me as a blood donor, and went through the motions of having some of the red stuff extracted through a clean syringe. Thirty minutes later, however, the attending physician took me aside and explained that they couldn't use my blood at that time -- the sample had indicated an encroaching viral infection of some sort. (Which was true, actually. While I didn't encounter anything along the level of AIDS, I did run into a terrible cold the following week.)

I don't know where I got my blood donor card, to be honest. I think that it came about as a certification from one of the endless laboratories that were giving me my constant blood tests, more to assure future doctors that I was a Type-B (and proud of it!) than anything else. That the card can be used to assure people that there's nothing inherently wrong with my sanguinary profile just happens to be an added bonus.

Yes, I'm definitely not a hemophiliac, nor have I entertained any established foreign substances in my blood. In fact, I've long suspected that I lean towards the converse: My blood clots quickly and scabs easily. I hardly even get paper cuts, and that's a remarkable thing for a man who handles printer paper, writing materials and collectible card games.

The last time I ran into an incident where I bled profusely took place when I was ten years old: I slipped and fell on the edge of a wet swimming pool, and my left leg from the knee downwards felt like steak tartar for half and hour afterwards. The whole thing had developed into a sizeable set of scabs around two days later, though, and at the end of two weeks it looked as though the incident hadn't even occurred. It's amazing what contingency measures the human body has in place, I suppose.

Because of this and other similar run-ins with disease and injury, I've begun to feel more than a little invulnerable to these sorts of things. I will run into bad headaches, bad colds, and even the occasional bad accident every now and then, but I'll always expect to recover quickly. There are few things that feel better than the knowledge that you've just bounced back from something sufficiently debilitating, after all. And after a few days of rest, you'll inevitably feel bored enough to want to just get out and do something.

This was, in a sense, why I was wondering about the chronological length of my blood test this morning. Maybe the doctor was just taking his time, and maybe he just wanted to see how long it would be before I realized that the needle was still up my arm. Whatever the case, it was longer than any other blood test I've ever taken, and those results will probably show the same pieces of information that I've been encountering for my whole life: I'm a B-positive man, usually about as healthy as a good-sized horse and susceptible to a lot of colds. There's not much else to it, I think.

My writing arm is starting to feel a little numb right now. Maybe it's just complaining that the left arm got off easy this morning. Regardless of that or anything else, though, it's time to work on regaining whatever little blood I gave away today.

That, and it's time to sit back and wait for the next blood test. There are few other occasions that you can use as an excuse to stop and smell the alcohol, after all.

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