Sunday, March 14, 2010
My Blood, In the Flow
de la tierra
My blood and I, we’re getting to know each other these days. Doing dialysis on Monday, Wednesday and Friday keeps me hyper aware of the blood that flows inside of me. Two fifteen gage needles pierce the vein in my left arm, one for the blood that flows out to be cleansed by the artificial kidney and one for the blood that returns to me. I watch the blood through yards of clear tubing that wind from my body to the machine.
My blood is a carousel of pretty ponies being ridden by girls with long red locks. I like to look at it and wander inside. One drop of blood carries a snapshot of last night’s dinner, tomorrow’s potential diseases, the shadows of my ancestors. One drop of blood is a flowing fingerprint. It is a crystal ball.
Under a high definition darkfield microscope, one drop of blood shows erythrocytes, leukocytes and platelets along with potential parasites, toxins, infections and more. Last year I had my finger pricked by a naturopath and oozed a little blood onto a slide for my first live blood analysis. I sat back to watch the blood’s performance on the monitor and applauded as my blood cells clumped together and wiggled around doing the conga to the Miami Sound Machine.
But the doctor wasn’t smiling. “That’s rouleaux,” he said, referring to the stacked cells, an indication of poor oxygen distribution in the blood. Not too long after that appointment I was hospitalized for two weeks due to low platelets and rouleaux turned out to be the least of my problems. I needed blood—lots of it—whole blood, plasma and platelets. Bags of blood were special delivered to me in the hospital. I blessed each one, amazed that the blood of others would conjoin with mine in red matrimony.
Those days were the beginnings of my obsession with blood. The underlying cause of my lack of blood was kidney malfunction, I learned. Healthy happening kidneys produce erythropoietin, a hormone that faxes the bone marrow an order to cook up some blood. I danced around the hospital corridor with an Ipod blasting Juanes’ “Mi sangre” into my ears, rocking out and jiggling the kidneys, urging them to get with the program. But in the end, shots of genetically engineered erythropoietin were my saving grace.
The first blood I remember seeing was during an outing in the countryside in Colombia when I was four years old. I don’t know the cause, but blood poured down a boy’s leg, staining the top of a huge boulder that he was standing on in the middle of a river. Another similar memory took place when I was with my family in Miami Beach and my brother’s leg was gashed with a broken bottle. I watched his blood soak into the golden sand. Besides that, the blood that I remember in my childhood was for human consumption—the fast dark blood of chickens that flows after their heads are sliced off, the dry reddish brown of bulging blood sausages, the red flesh of carcasses strung out for sale at la carnicería.
Blood became most personal when I was playing kickball in sixth grade and discovered a dark wet stain on my pants. Eventually I came to love my bloods, which were supposed to come monthly but came only every once in a while. Other women complained about their periods, but I celebrated mine. I dipped into my papaya to fill my painter’s palette with red and used the color to paint on typing paper and bathroom walls. Mostly, my blood art consisted of psychedelic swirls.
Dialysis is an ongoing live blood show. It’s not just my blood on stage. Everyone who’s swinging on hammocks at the dialysis center has their blood exposed. But most others seem uninterested. They watch television, chat on cell phones, gaze at the ceiling, ignore their blood. Those who have been on dialysis for five, ten or twenty years seem to have lost fascination with the process that keeps them alive. They’re sitting at the bank for hours, waiting to cash that check.
I like to hold the warm blood in my hands, especially when I’m cold. Sometimes I wear the tubes around my neck; one day I dozed off and woke up sweating from the heat of my bloody scarf. I look at my blood as if I were looking at decorated cakes at the bakery, wanting them all. I talk to my blood as technicians prepare to flow it back into me. Sangre de mi sangre, return to me. Come home, come home. Let’s get together and hit the road and travel as far as we can go...
I always get a terrible sharp pain when they remove the needles and hold my breath as they plug the punctures with gauze and tape up the arm tightly. The grand finale is traumatic, a harsh reminder that my pulsing blood comes with a price. All revved up from flowing at 500 milliliters per minute, my blood bubbles to the surface and threatens to spurt in red glory. Just like me, my blood is passionate and impatient. We have things to do, places to go.