Blood Lines

“Do you have your medical insurance card with you?”

“Sorry, I left it at home,” I said.

The clerk at the desk told me, “No problem.” She said that my insurance company would simply bill me later.

“Left it at home” was true. Actually, completely forgetting my wallet while I was rushing out the door was even truer. I needed to have lab tests done in preparation for a general physical exam and chose a clinic based on how early it opened: 6:00 A.M. I wanted to get my testing completed as early as possible. After all, I had to fast overnight and there’s only so far I wanted to go into the day without coffee. Yup, Larry Patten, caffeine addict.

But I forgot my wallet. No insurance card. No driver’s license. All I had was my pleasant smile. Would they really take my blood without me being able to prove who I was?

Again, no problem. Soon, I was sharing a room with a woman wearing a white robe who was wielding a really big needle.

“Good morning, sir!”

I wondered if she had any family in Transylvania? Even in the early morning, it was bright outside. But why were the blinds tightly shut in the room? Oh, I’m sure it was to protect a patient’s privacy. And why did the needle-wielding woman seem so happy, indeed so eager, to remove my blood in the semi-dark room? Oh, I’m sure she was just a warm and friendly professional.

She stuck the needle into my arm. My precious blood, the “river of life,” flowed through the needle and into an attached tube twice the length of my thumb. A whole lotta me quickly filled the container. And then it was over.

And then it wasn’t! She replaced the filled tube with a second one! Whoa. More me gone. The room seemed even darker!

The average person has about 5 liters of blood coursing through the body. But I have no idea what a liter is, so later I looked at a gallon of milk from our refrigerator. Next to the “1 Gallon” label, the container notes, for us metric system-idiots, that there are 3.78 liters. That’s a big mess of milk in that container, but another 1.22 liters would have to be added to account for all the blood an average human lugs around.

Five liters means that we have a considerable amount of blood zooming along the arterial highways of our body. When blood exits the heart, it’s traveling at three feet per second! If you do that math, that’s “only” 2 M.P.H. But, hey, that’s three feet per second inside my body!

Our blood represents 7-8% of our body weight. Which means, at around 200 pounds of muscle, fat, and anxiety, I’m a 14-16 pounder in blood.

Blood matters. Even the ancients knew that.

It is revered. Long ago, the Vikings (and other Germanic tribes) used the blood from butchering meat to sprinkle on the statues of the gods. The action was called blots and that is one of the root words for “bless” or “blessing.”

And blood was also viewed with suspicion. In Judaism, laws prevented any consumption of blood (see Leviticus 17:13). It is likely the lawyer and priest that walked by the “near dead” man in the Good Samaritan parable were avoiding possible contamination from blood.

Blood brothers. Blue blood. Bad blood. Blood is thicker than water. Blood money. If it bleeds, it leads. First blood.

How did bloodhounds get their name? The earliest known records of dog breeding (a word linked to blood) were the bloodhounds. According to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, the “breed was maintained by the monks of St. Hubert’s Abbey in France in the ninth century.” Until I learned that, I always thought bloodhounds got their name because they searched by smelling for blood. Nope. It’s all about good breeding! Good blooding.

In communion, we partake of the blood of Christ. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters would say that, once blessed, the bread and wine becomes the living Christ. It’s called transubstantiation, and that “the inner substantial reality underlying its appearances have been transformed” (or so says my Handbook of Theological Terms by Van Harvey).

But I’m a Protestant kind of guy. And so the grape juice (not wine, since I’m also a sane and sober old Methodist!) is what is used to symbolically represent Jesus’ river of life.

Christian tradition, in communion, calls us to remember Jesus’ sacrifice, or “atonement” for us. The blood seals that. Celebrates that. Remembers that.

Now, I’m not too orthodox when it comes to the atonement and Jesus being a “sacrificial lamb” for God. And yet, I will say at communion, with love and trembling, this is the “body and blood” for you. For you! It is the gift of life.

The earliest Christians were accused of cannibalism. What were they doing with that “last supper” behind closed doors? And their Jewish neighbors, remembering the laws about blood, couldn’t imagine imbibing blood, symbolically or “literally,” in a ritual that spoke of God’s love.

That was my blood that flowed at the clinic early in the morning. It will be tested and pondered. It will reveal my good and my bad. My “spilt” blood will be a prelude to my doctor smiling or frowning about my cholesterol level. My blood, your blood, is unique, a flowing window on our past, present, and future.

I think of the times I raise up the cup, along with the bread, and bless the meal. It is our common, uncommon cup. In the act of sharing, we remember. We remember abundance. And life. And all that flows in and through us.

Thanks be to God, who never ceases blessing.

We are the Holy’s blood work.

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1 Comment

  1. 1. My suggestion for dealing with having insurance cards at ever darned encounter with the medical delivery system is to scan all my cards, front and back, plus my driver’s license and the card of my primary care physician, then paste them together into a single MS Word page and print them out every time I go to any medical office where they are relevant. It is far less risky than carrying the cards in your wallet (why is it that wallets are just small enough so that they are too small to hold the average credit card on one half… and mush up soft paper over time.) Of course, it helps if you have a color printer. For driver’s licenses and other photo ids, B and W doesn’t quite make it. I do the same trick with all the cards I always carry in my wallet, on the off chance I loose the wallet or it’s stolen. Easy reminder of what bases I must touch to restore lost identifications and report theft.
    2. Consider yourself lucky that your phlebotomist does not have to stick you as if she were drilling for oil “on speculation”. The veins in my arm are virtually invisibile, and more times than not, I get stuck two or three times before landing a productive puncture. I tried drinking up to 60 oz (That’s two liters) of water, to little effect. They use a butterfly needle (very small), and I think that actually makes drawing blood harder (blood is very thick, complex stuff). It’s less painful if they have to try again. As far as the second vacutainer goes, we have it far, far better than it was 40 years ago, before there were needles with one way valves (at the collecting end) so the phlebotomist can switch out tubes without sticking you a second time. Even better is the advent of vacutainers themselves. I once had blood drawn with a syringe. No fun, especially with my mystery veins.
    3. Regarding the Eucharist, having been confirmed a Lutheran, we used real wine. The burden of symbolism in translating the biblical to the practical is so heavy that any use of what the Bible literally says is a welcome relief. But my annoyance with that Methodist grape juice is nothing compared to the fact that only the Catholic clergy get the wine. That may have been one of the few things on which Luther and Zwingli agreed…. Which brings up a related point. According to Wikipedia, Eucharist by intinction, dipping the bread in the blood, is not only old, it is recognized by the Roman church, so why isn’t that done in all the Catholic churches where I have received communion. This shows more of the huge variety of things over which denominations can bicker. This is why I really like the Episcopal service which is full of options. You can kneel or stand to pray, and you can use intinction or drink from the cup for the Eucharist. Same with Lutherans, but a tad less communal, a bit more sanitary (different chalices for drinking and for intinction.).

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