Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blood and Communion, Weight or Lightness

"Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood.  Friedrich Nietzsche"

I will remind you that before you have a chemo treatment, you have to get your blood work done.  It's called a CBC or complete blood count.  You go to the lab, they withdraw a couple of vials and send it off.  Before you receive chemo, they check it to make sure there are no signs of infection or low counts on anything.  If your numbers aren't right, no chemo for you baby till your numbers get right.

The numbers come from your counts of white and red blood cells and platelets.

So go back to sophomore year high school biology, you remember this stuff.

White blood cells are the core of your immune system and help your body fight infection.

Red blood cells are the oxygen bar of the cells, transporting oxygen to cells all over the body.

Platelets are part of the blood clotting system and help prevent bleeding.

A day or two before chemo, you get your labs done.  I'm lucky.  Right down the hill from my house is a satellite office of a larger lab.  It's tucked into a corner of a small medical center; it's always a very quiet office.  Only one person works the lab, drawing the blood and filling out the paperwork.  I've never seen another patient in there whenever I've gone.

Usually when I go, there is a very pleasant woman who I believe is the full time person.  She knows me now.  She knows she will be seeing a lot of me over the next year.  I appreciate the fact that she never has a problem drawing my blood.  This is not usually the case for me.  I am one of those people with small deep veins that usually blow as soon as they stick a needle in.  Nothing like sitting there, breaking into a sweat as someone continues to poke you looking for a good vein.  I can't help but feel extremely anxious every time someone new has to stick me.

Today when I arrived, Sherri, the full timer, was not there.  A very young woman barely in her twenties, Tina, was working the lab today.  It took her awhile to find my orders.  Sherri doesn't even have to look anymore.  she just knows.  I sat in the chair waiting while Tina searched the files and got on the computer.

I could feel myself getting queasy.  It's not the sight of my own blood that bothers me.  I've had some terrible experiences getting blood drawn and IV's started.

These are the moments you really have to talk yourself through.  It's almost like a mini panic attack.  You just have to breathe through it and talk yourself down from the ledge.

Tina continued to ask me lots of questions.  I don't know, I thought, where is Sherri?  She knows what to do with me.

Finally we were ready to go.

"Do people have a hard time finding a good vein on you?" she asked as she examined my forearm.

Aw shit.  Settle down, settle down.  Breathe.  Breathe.

"Yes, and others no problem at all.  Usually dead center on the left arm is my best spot."

"Ok" she says as she presses her finger on my left inner arm looking for a bulge.  She keeps pressing and ties tight the rubber tourniquet.  Ouch.

She shows me her arm.  "See, I've got huge veins, no problem.  In school they used to practice on me."

Great.  I'm happy for you.  Stick me.

"Ok, make a fist."  I press my fingernails into my palm.

She continues pressing.  I continue praying.

"Ok here we go" and I feel the stick and burn.

There are those 2 or 3 seconds waiting to see if the stick is in the right place that feel like the slow mo time of an earthquake.

One thousand one.  One thousand two.  One thousand...

"Great, here we go.  Open your fist and relax."

I sat there as she filled up a couple vials.  My DNA is all over the Bay Area now.  Blood and breast tissue and a lymph node sliced like pate.

"Ok, we're all done."

"You ever get lonely in here?" I ask.

Her cheerful disposition changed.  She looked sad.  I didn't mean to stick her.

"Yeah, I do.  Sometimes hours go by between clients."

"What do you do to pass the time? Can you read or talk on your phone?"

"Yeah, I usually bring a book.  I get lonely though."

I smiled at her, one of my best Mommy smiles, the kind that wraps you in a blankie and pats you while singing a lullaby.

She smiled back tenderly.

I always thought I'd be the mother of a daughter.  I always thought I would.  Having boys is fabulous, it really is.  Especially mothering sons and evolving their species.  I always thought though, I'd get the chance to mother a daughter and give myself a re-do.  I loved my mother madly, but she was only 15 when she had me and over the years, we switched roles.  I became WendyBird to my MotherBird and she died before we ever got the chance to switch back.

"Can I ask you something, if you don't mind?" Tina said hesitantly.

"Sure honey."

"What kind of cancer do you have?"

"I have breast cancer.  This is Flopsy and this is Mopsy" and pointed to my girls.  Tina giggled.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in Flopsy.  I'm doing good though" I reassured her as I saw the worry on her face.  "I had a PET scan that came up clear."

"I'm doing good" I said again convincingly.

There are moments when that is the biggest blue whale of a lie I tell so that you can feel better.

Tina looked relieved.  "I have a four year old son" she said as she dug her cell out of her pocket.  She showed me her screen saver; he was a cute, big boy for only four.

"I'm divorced, my husband cheated on me.  My son came out of a rebound relationship.  I had to move back home with my parents.  It's funny though, with all the bad that happened, my Mom and I are so close now.  We never had a good relationship before, and now, we're just so close."

This is when I know I am supposed to be a writer, every time a stranger reaffirms my sworn duty by trusting me with their story.
"You are blessed Tina to have that with your Mom..." I said as I felt my lip quiver.  Oh God Damn don't tell me I'm going to cry again.  WTF is it, wearing my heart on my sleeve lately.  I used to be such a good liar.  I used to be able to bite my lip or clench my fist and give my best performance in a supporting role.

I paused. Tina looked worried.  She stepped in closer.

"Sometimes, the hardest part" I choked "is going through this, without my Mom."  I didn't tell her the other hard part.  Going through it without a daughter.  My eyes filled.  Tina's eyes filled.  She grabbed us both a tissue.

Two strangers.  Standing there.  Dabbing.

"I hope everything is going to be ok for you" Tina said.

"Thank you honey."

"Thanks for talking to me today, and I love how you coordinate your scarf with the rest of your outfit.  You look really nice."

"Thank you."

"I hope I see you again" she said and meant it.

I had to take a deep breath.

"I hope so too.  Have a good day."

"You too" she said as I turned to go.

I walked towards my car, alone as I've ever been, connected as I've ever been.

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground.  But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body.  The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment.  The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose?  Weight or lightness?

from The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  A Novel.  Milan Kundera

1 comment:

masonmft said...

I pulled up this comment box because I was so moved and thought I had something say. Wait for it...I got nothin. Just some apres dabbing. I am thinking twice as much about you today. I love you.

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