We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother…
—William Shakespeare, Henry V
I never thought much about my blood before my diagnosis. Now I think about it every day.
As a generally healthy person I got my blood drawn at all the expected times. At my annual check-up. In science class to identify my blood type. (Type O. Very common.) While pregnant.
The vampires (that’s what they called themselves) would poke me in my left arm. Had to keep my right arm free from possible pain so that I could go back to work and use the mouse. Sometimes the vampires would have a hard time getting a good vein. Mine run deep (like still waters). Then they use a butterfly which has a smaller needle. I always press on the puncture as soon as the gauze is taped on. Don’t want to bruise. “Don’t want to look like my boyfriend beat me up.” I make a joke—a bad one. And then I wince at the thought of the people whose boyfriends really have beaten them up. The vampires don’t miss a beat. They just let it pass. They’ve seen it all and worse.
My blood has always been dark dark red. “Bull’s blood” the vampire with the Eastern European accent called it. I asked him what that meant. He said, “Your blood is strong.” I also asked him why he didn’t wear gloves. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I won’t get poked.” Such self-confidence in the face of AIDS.
Now I poke myself every day. I draw little drops of red, sometimes as many as seven or eight in a given day. Before taking medication. Before eating. After eating. Before exercise (when I get around to it). After exercise (if I remember). Before bed. When you draw blood that many times in a day every day there’s no saving an arm from possible pain. Both hands and every finger takes its turn.
I draw little drops of red for a machine to “read.” Then I read the number the machine displays. Is it a “good” number or a “bad” one? What do I do now? Eat less? Eat more? Exercise? Drink water? Go to sleep? Stay calm. Tomorrow is another day. Today was fine. It was more than fine. It’s only one number in series. How does the series look over the day? The week? The month? Stay calm. Stay focused. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Be brave.
I used not to think about my blood. My bull’s blood. My blood sugar. But now, as a member of a very particular brotherhood (and sisterhood) I do.