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Monday, May 24, 2010

Blood Light

photo by Justin McIntosh
“So,” said the man sitting in the reclining chair in front of me, “are you here for chemotherapy too?”


“No,” I replied as the nurse began taking my vital signs and laying the medical supplies on the tray table beside my recliner, “I’m here for blood products.” I settled back for the reactions I expected to follow.


“You see I have a bleeding disorder and my blood does not clot.” I explained.


“Oh,” he said and then, much to my surprise, he added, “So, you couldn't have been in the Peace Corps in Bolivia like I was... too many vampires there."


I assumed he meant vampire bats. He got me to thinking though. It certainly would be a turn about to have some creature gaining sustenance from my blood. What would my blood taste like to a vampire bat? Certainly not full bodied and probably not very satisfying.


I am usually on the receiving end. When I was a child it was fibrinogen concentrate that hung in clear glass bottles. The glass bottles clinked against the metal polls. The concentrated fibrinogen was dehydrated and readily available in the maternity ward. It was a fine powder that had the look and qualities of unflavored gelatin. It had to be reconstituted with saline before it could run through the tubing and into my veins. A nurse would stand by my bed tipping the bottle back and forth until all the thick gooey lumps were dissolved.


As a child the blood and food, mixed science with myth and created a recipe for confusion. By the early 1960’s a scientific study concluded that eating peanuts would cure Hemophilia. My Dad went out to the store and carried home a burlap sack of unshelled peanuts that stood nearly four feet high. Later the study was refuted as false, but I finished eating my bag anyway.


There seemed to be no visible improvement in my blood’s ability to clot, however, there seemed to be no negative side effects from the experiment. The same cannot be said of blood.


By the time I was twenty years old fibrinogen concentrate had been taken off the market and was no longer approved by the FDA. The glass bottles had been replaced by plastic sacks and the blood product I used was frozen. It takes time to thaw it. The liquid looks yellow, sometimes almost orange and occasionally green. Often I wonder what the blood donor had to eat just before going to the Blood Bank.


For most of my life, I have cautiously used blood products. I did not live my life in fear but I was prudent.


Since blood transfusions have been used, those of us with bleeding disorders have been the first to get blood born viruses, like hepatitis and HIV. We will be among the first to be infected with prion diseases like CJD and mad cow disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that West Nile virus can be transmitted via blood transfusions.


So if I thought I might encounter a vampire, perhaps I should wear a warning notice on their neck.