Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Blood Is the Life

(More from the Anemia Diaries. Other entries here.)

May 19, 2011


Just back home from the hospital outpatient ward after another blood transfusion, another two units of red cells via IV. That makes five blood transfusions in the space of a year. Probably will be one or two more before the upcoming surgery, which is now only weeks away. I have to go back to the hospital in four hours so the lab can draw blood for a post-transfusion hemoglobin count, to see to what level the transfusion raises my count. I've been anemic so long, I'm afraid my body's partially adapted.

Every time I go through this, it wipes me out. It wipes out the whole day. It's a shock to the system. It's invasive, even to be honest a little traumatizing, even if it's good for you in the long run. I feel icky. I've got all these foreign cells in my body now. There are always risks with an IV donation. I am not allowed to give blood because of the dengue fevre I contracted and survived when I was in Java, Indonesia, in 1986; as with malaria, those factors stay in your blood forever after, and they can't be filtered out.

I did Reiki energy work on the donor blood bags before the blood hit my veins. It went in cold, from the refrigeration they use to keep the bags fresh. The veins in my wrist on the IV side were noticeably chilled, compared to my other wrist. All those foreign cells in my body. I'm doing more Reiki on myself now. Assimilation, subsumption, absorption: making the foreign blood mine. I feel like a vampire who drank too much, got too high on the rush. Kinda woozy, both good and icky at the same time. How do other vampires do this? I guess they get used to it. I may feel like a vampire, charged up with new fire in my veins, but I also feel disequilibrated.

I've known for some time that I carry a Vampire archetype: everyone carries twelve sacred contracts, or archetypes, and I know what most of mine are, including the Vampire. At those bad times in my life, when I've lived off the generosity (life-force) of others, and doing so all unconsciously, it has been something that kept me alive, if not always ethical. These blood transfusions that literally keep my body alive, this past year: I never thought an archetype could be so literal. Symbolically, though,

Beyond the sexual level, we sometimes form psychic attachments to others because we desire their energy, a desire that manifests through a need for approval, a need to have the "other" take care of our survival, and a fear of being abandoned. What has been defined as a co-dependent relationship could easily fall under the Vampire template. You may find it hard to identify yourself as a Vampire, yet it is essential to review this archetype personally. Patterns of behavior such as chronic complaining, over-dependency, holding on to a relationship emotionally or psychically long after it has ended, and chronic power struggles are all indicators of Vampire patterns. Holding onto someone on the psychic level is as real as holding on to them on the physical.

So, both symbolically and literally, medically, clinically, for me, now, the blood is the life.

I have a short mini-concert with Perfect Harmony this evening, too. Only a short drive away, fortunately. There's another concert I could be part of in Milwaukee two days from now, but I'm not going to go: four hours of driving just to perform for ten or fifteen minutes. Maybe if I was still in my twenties and perfectly healthy, I'd consider it. But not now, not after having been in hospital again, not that much tiring driving for so little performance time. I need to rest for a few days, now.

Funny taste in the mouth from IV saline push, and the other meds they shoot into you, Benadryl for allergic reactions, a diuretic so you excrete the excess plasma. Is this too much information yet? Funny tastes linger in your mouth whenever you go through an IV transfusion like this. Every drug has its own taste, and the blood has a taste, too.

My (GP) doctor decided to tranfuse me since I've been feeling run down and out of sorts, the past few weeks. My last blood count was right on the threshold, in terms of the numbers where he starts wanting to give me a transfusion, and if I'd been feeling good, we would have just tested again in two weeks. That's where we've been for a couple of months, since the last transfusion, but the past few weeks I've been feeling run down again. Although there has been no noticeable bleeding caused by the chronic illness, and my hemoglobin count in fact had risen slightly over the last two weeks. (The first time that's been true in a year.) But I just haven't been feeling good.

Two of the more annoying side effects of anemia, at least for me, are insomnia, and itchiness. I have itched in places I did not think it was possible to itch. Not just on the surface, either, but inside the flesh. And the itch moves around, springing up sharply just as you're about to nod off to sleep. So you lose sleep just from the itch, and the anemia also has its own tendency to mess up your sleep schedule. It doesn't help that this has been a bad spring for my allergies, too. Not to mention how depleted my immune system has been, between the illness and the various treatments. So when they transfuse you, they shoot you full of diuretic and you pee all day. Although I get a reduced dose of the diuretic drug because I already flush out a lot of water due to the chronic illness. Not having a fully operational colon means you lose a lot of water. I'll be at risk for kidney stones from here on out, unless I drink an extra gallon or so a day and keep peeing all the time. Just have to keep flushing it through. Too much information yet?

It only took the nurse two tries to get the IV into the vein on the back of my hand, this time. The really good nurses get it in one, and painlessly. The nurse today was not that good. Took her two tries, and the first one really, really hurt. So new puncture marks on the backs of both hands.

They also scheduled me for an ungodly early hour this morning, so not enough sleep beforehand. As if it wasn't stressful enough, just going in to hospital. I did nod off in the chair briefly, but mostly I sat in discomfort and read. Took along writing and drawing materials, but brain too foggy to write, or even think too hard. Must. Wake. Up. Brain. Brain. Hurts. Fire good. . . .

I'm so exceptionally tired of all this. I really am tired of being sick, and tired, for so long. We'll see if this latest blood influx perks me up at all. Probably at least the itching will go away, tonight. I hope. After the concert tonight, sleepytime beddy bye night night. Oh hell, nap now, even.

And I still feel icky. Food first, then maybe a nap. Then afternoon blood draw for testing, then concert clothes and driving to the concert. I think I'll request that I be allowed to sit down afterwards.



Concert went well. It was an LGBT garden party put on for several of the Madison and Wisconsin LGBT organizations, out in the farm country west of Edgerton, WI. A really beautiful spread owned by a gay man. Gathering was a fundraiser, but also informational, a bit of networking. The Chorus was some time ago asked to perform as part of the event. We did two short sets of music derived from our upcoming concert featuring the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen. There were only eight of us from the Chorus there, which is only about a third of us. But as an octet we actually sounded great. Several people said nice things afterwards.

It was a beautiful setting, really pretty, big green lawns divided by hedgerows and stands of trees, with interesting buildings. The lilacs were in full bloom, and the sun had come out after what had been a cloudy day. I drove back home through the farm fields as the sun was going down, and stopped to make several photographs, as the light was perfect, and the setting was bucolic. Farm spreads, clouds, cows among the trees, beautiful falling-down barns.

I left my hospital ID bands on from this morning, partly because I needed to leave them on for when I went back to the lab for the afternoon blood-draw—but also so I could show the guys how I'd spent my morning. So, how was your day? I used it as an excuse to sit down when I felt too tired to want to stand anymore.

Showing off the hospital bands was kind of perverse fun, actually. I have a twisted, dark sense of humor at the best of times, but lately, with, shall we say, nothing left to lose, I've been playing with my own existential situation, finding the humor in the absurdity of it all, whenever possible. When life is like this, you laugh or you cry. Hospital humor is very dark humor. Actually, since my father was a doctor, I've been around hospital humor my whole life. The only thing that has changed recently is that I've stopped editing my sense of humor in public.

To be completely honest, when I showed up for the concert, and the guys asked my how my life was going, I showed off the hospital bands from the morning hospital business, and told them the absolute truth: I've had a long day, I'm tired and surly, let's have fun and get this over with. But it did go well. Naturally, the food tent provided for the garden party had nothing I could eat. But that was expected; these sorts of fundraiser shindigs almost never cater to gluten-free diets, or even vegetarians, for instance. I was too tired to want to cook my own meal this evening, so I got some quality takeout on the way home and ate when I arrived.

The blood transfusion I think did give me a little more energy. We'll see how the next few days go. I feel less icky now, after food, nap, concert, more food, getting out of formal concert clothes, and now just lounging about at my leisure.

I'm going to take the rest of the night off. Maybe watch a funny movie.

I feel like getting on the studio computer and making some music. I've started a new spacemusic album. i've been making loop-based drum and ambient tracks, which I'll layer over with bass and Stick live tracks later. It's going okay so far. It's got my attention, as does writing out the new music commission.

Doing something creative every day makes me feel better about the day. Even a stressful day like today is not a total waste, if you have something artistically productive to show for it. Making art is the best revenge. Not only does it keep you going, not only does it provide you some hours in which you're positively distracted away from your medical issues, at day's end you have some art and/or music to show for it. It keeps me sane. I carry a couple of art-related archetypes, after all, and they also need to be nurtured.

This story is nowhere near over. There's a lot more going to happen in coming weeks and months. So I guess I'll see how it all goes.


As sometimes happens, your humor gets you through the day, dark and gallows humor though it be. Then, just when you're starting to unwind, at the end of the day, in a kind of delayed reaction, the invasive trauma, the shock to the system, comes swarming back to you, maybe when you're watching an emotional scene in a dumb movie, or even dumber TV show, and suddenly, "for no reason," you burst into tears. Just crying a little. The scene that triggers it can be a very positive moment, a moment of lovingkindness, even. The only consistent trigger is that the emotion is deeper than words. The content of the emotion is less significant than the intensity of the trigger.

I've learned to just let it rain. If you need to weep for 30 seconds, or 2 minutes, then just go ahead and weep. There's no loss of dignity in weeping, and no loss of mythical manliness in needing a good cry.

That is heresy to the macho-bred, of course, or the stoic, emotionally-repressed post-Viking culture of my mother's people. Or the English, who have always impressed me as being among the most sentimental people of all, despite their practice of keeping a stiff upper lip. (Maybe that's one reason the English upper crust always used to vacation in the southern Mediterranean, like Italy: one some subconscious level they knew they were more alike than not.) But the Irish, my father's people, knew the value of a good wail, a good drunk, a good keening.

Sometimes I think that I am keening, as old women were hired to do at wakes and funerals, because it triggers something even deeper inside, that must come out. Something very large, and usually speechless. A beast without a name, perhaps, that lives on in the interior, whose occasional appearance makes the hair stand on end in numinous recognition: we are, after all, possessed of deep feelings, and in our deepest natures remain half-angel, half-beast.

But this quick cry at day's end is how I shed some of the trauma of going through all these medical moments. It can be a daily trauma, some days more so than others. As good as the doctors are, as good as the procedures are for you, in the long run, as healing as they are, they can still feel traumatic and invasive. And you must shed those feelings as you go, alongside the more physical toxins also passing through you along the way.

If you've never received a blood transfusion, you might not be able to fully imagine how very emotional it is. Someone gave this blood, this blood that today is saving my life. Someone made that gift. As alien as it feels going in, and even if it feels weird for some time after, the sheer grace of that is an incredible gift.

It's not something you can ever give back, or ever repay. You can only pay it forward, hopefully passing on the life, the healing, the grace, to someone else, down the road.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

It’s strange, in all of this, much of which was very interesting, the thing that jumped out at me was you talking about your sense of humour. I’m not sure it’s anything I’ve thought about but now that I am I don’t think my image of you was as a particularly funny guy. When I’m depressed my humour remains intact. It actually sharpens. I even asked my doctor if he’d ever heard of someone whose sense of humour improved with depression and he just looked at me. I know I present an image to the world of this grumpy bugger, which I can be believe you me, but I find it hard to be serious all the time or even for any length of time. I wouldn’t say my humour is especially dark, deadpan and dry more like. I used to work with a guy called Brian – he was an engineer but dressed more like a farmer, tall and thin like Beckett – and I’ve never met anyone yet who could keep his face straight like him. You never knew when he was joking and his timing was impeccable. Unless you looked at his eyes. Even Brian could do nothing about his eyes. Never lose your sense of humour, Art. It keeps everything in perspective.

4:50 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

It does indeed. And I do appreciate dry and deadpan wit, too. And, although some find this to be a bad thing, I do love puns.

One of the things I like most about Beckett, which is something a lot of people miss, is his sense of humor. He can be absurdly funny at the strangest of times—and that's something I relate to, because it's not unlike how my own "humor survival instinct" operates, if you will.

Some of my favorite movies contain really black, dark, strange senses of humor. I always smile and laugh through them, which some of my friends think it weird. But maybe that's why my sense of humor is dark. "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang," is one of those movies; "Grosse Pointe Blank" is another.

I've recently watched the "Jonah Hex" movie, which is based on one of my favorite DC Comics characters. I guess you could call it a horror-Western; it has supernatural elements as well as action. At times it makes me smile, in that gallows humor, hospital humor kind of way.

8:44 AM  

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