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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood

I can't remember how Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood by Bill Hayes came into my possession, but I'm glad it did. I like to keep one paperback in my purse as my "commute book," and this was the latest, and a fascinating commute it ended up being this week. 

The body contains five quarts of blood. It's our lifeline -- we can't exist without it. It brings oxygen to the heart and gives us energy. We have the ability to regenerate it and give it away. It comes in types, and it may contain antibodies. It can become infected, quickly or slowly killing us. Physicians of yore have sought out ways to use blood (or get rid of it) to cure all that ails us. Bloodletting was in fashion for FAR longer than it ever should have been. Transfers have only been recently in the making. Blood typing is also relatively new in the history of medicine. Blood gives us life, and it perplexes us in the process. 

This was quite different than what I was expecting, and I mean that in a good way. I was expecting a medical treatise of sorts, and what I received instead was history of the pop culture and medical understanding of blood and how that relates to what Hayes has experienced regarding his blood and his partner's blood. His partner was HIV+, which makes blood take on a different form. While you and I may not think about our blood very often, Hayes and his partner think about it multiple times a day. Bloodletting, once a common practice for curing all that ails you, is no longer an option and in fact, is quite frightening for anyone attempting to avoid the virus. How blood is tested in laboratories is now vital to understanding how to survive, it's not just a fascination. When a nurse is charged with reusing butterfly needles in one testing clinic, many are affected and infected by her careless (or even malicious) choices. Blood takes on a larger than life quality for Hayes, and he makes outstanding work of it in this book. 

This has also been interesting to read while pregnant and contemplating the process of growing a fetus and then giving birth. I am B+ but I am also CMV-, which means I don't have cytomegalovirus antibodies in my system. This means that if I lose blood and I need a transfer, I need CMV- blood I order to avoid directly contracting the virus. It's not the end of the world -- if healthy, a body should be able to deal with it -- but I've never been known to deal with big health issues well. You may have had pneumonia -- my case was so bad I was in the ICU for 5 days. You may be a carrier for meningitis -- I was hospitalized for a week as I fought back to life. So you can see why I might be concerned about CMV. It was something that occurred to me as I was packing the hospital bag, as I added my blood donor card just in case. I realized that I needed to tell my partner so that he could file that information in the back of his head in case of an emergency. Blood is no joke. 

I was so happy this book came into my possession. It was fascinating and well worth the time to ingest, and I particularly found Hayes' visit to the blood processing lab to be one of the best moments of this book. It was incredibly informative and fascinating. I would suggest a read on your part if you are interested in a more interesting and personal history of blood than what you will get in a medical textbook. 

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