Thursday, March 6, 2008

Phantom: a true story from the blood lab

a day with a triumph is a good day. a day with a triumph before 8am is -- well, i don't actually know what that's called, since this was my first.

i underwent a blood test at 7:50 this morning without quaking or shaking, without psyching myself up or psyching myself out, without fainting, without crying. i didn't talk maniacally to the lab techs. i didn't even feel particularly nervous. it was like being someone else and getting a blood test done: utterly uneventful. i went to the clinic, they took my blood, i went home.

it is not always like this for me. last time i did a fasting blood test, i worked hard at not wigging out. granted, i hardly slept the night before, but on my way to the clinic (i'll walk, i thought, that way my blood will be thrumming) i started to get nervous. then anxious. then downright scared. but also -- and this is the fatal part -- impatient. how can a self-respecting, professional, propertied woman in her forties be afraid of a banal lab test?

the lab tech -- chinh, i think her name was, and it must be said, she was lovely and gentle and did not deserve me -- could tell i was nervous because when she said to make a fist i whimpered. it's the worst moment: they ask me to make a fist, and my muscles turn to water. even so, when chinh asked if i'd rather lie down i played the hero: "no, no, i'll be fine." she gave me another chance: "it's really no problem to put you in the room back here, we do it all the time." "oh, don't be silly," i said to her -- i mean, myself, "it doesn't even last very long! go ahead."

you can see where this is going, right? i thought i was fine, i said i was fine, but i wasn't fine. on my way out of the cubicle, i passed out, taking chinh with me. we crashed into a filing cabinet and i smacked my head on the floor.

even then my overwhelming sense was embarassment rather than endangerment -- god, i thought, i'm lying on the floor of a blood lab! this is hardly the image they want to project to the outside world. i struggled to get up and out of there, but the lab techs were wise to me now and forcibly held me down. new patients tiptoed fearfully around me while i tried to look serene. someone got me a juice box and i tried not to dribble while i sipped, prone on the concrete floor.

i had a lump on my head but of course my pride hurt the most. that, and my tender inner elbow. the rest of that morning i found myself splinting my left arm. i reached across my body to shut the car door with my right. i twisted around to reach a glass from the upper shelf just so i could keep my achy left arm tucked close.

what with all the mortification and hoopla, it wasn't until early afternoon that i realized what was wrong with this picture: they took blood from my right arm, not my left. i pulled up the sleeves of my sweater to check. sure enough, there on my right was the telltale tape. my left arm was clean. and here comes the really trippy part: even as i gazed down at my own two arms, i could feel the left one throbbing, while the right felt whole and strong.

welcome to the psychosomatic.

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