It’s my honour to announce the following top winners of UBC Medicine’s 1st ever celebration of the written word – the Art As Adjuvant Writing Competition 2014:
1. The Hidden Cost of Medicine by Patricia (“Trish”) Caddy; SMP 2016 – Prose
2. Blood by Daniel Essau; SMP 2016 – Prose
3. Untitled by Arsalan Hassan; VFMP 2016 – Poetry
Thank you for all those that submitted original, inspiring, sad, funny, hopeful and incredibly creative pieces. It made judging quite difficult, but ultimately demonstrated what talented artists we have amongst us.
Here’s Daniel’s runner-up submission: “Blood”
“Have you ever had sex with someone who may have HIV/AIDS or who was born in Africa after 1977?”
I raise my eyes from studying the carpeted floor to look at the friendly but serious eyes of my interrogator.
I’m in a blood donation clinic, sitting in a tiny cell. Room. The elderly woman scribbles my answer into the bubble sheet, and proceeds with the next:
“Have you had sex with a man, even one time since 1977?”
1977 is apparently an important date here at the blood clinic. I anticipate the next question.
“Have you exchanged money or drugs for sex in the past six months?”
Ok, maybe I didn’t see that coming. Why six months? Random number.
Eventually, the volunteers have nothing left to fill out, and allow me to enter my third waiting room of the night. I glance at my watch. Four forty one. I left my house at two. Not so bad. I might get home by six.
The volunteer comes back and places a large container on the chair next to me. Contained are the forms we just filled out, my driver’s licence, and a sinister tangle of tubes and needles that I assume will soon be poked into my arm. She grabs my shoulder. I jump.
She sounds sincere. In the cell, we had discussed how it is her first time ‘screening’ as they call it; it is my first time donating. I got a sticker for my troubles; she got a red volunteer vest. I nod weakly, she walks away. I look to my left and see a young girl in a beige dentist style chair, wet bandages circling her wrists and forehead. The chair is set up so that her feet are higher than her head – she has sandals on. That’s not how you give blood… Is it? Then I notice the nurse circling her bed, checking bandages and fiddling with needles. He is using his wheeled chair to deftly scoot around the medical equipment strewn around the foot of the girl’s chair. I am staring, and he notices. He gives me a strange look that tells me to get some manners, and I realize that the girl must have fainted during the blood donation process. Oh. I look away. Sorry.
I absent mindedly watch the blood bag of the patients slowly fill up. They have the blood bags on these little machines that go back and forth, rocking the blood. I think I see one patient’s blood form little waves. I imagine the Nile with Moses on the bank, crooked staff in a calloused hand. Does the Nile get waves? Time passes. It’s been fifteen minutes sitting here. Is that normal? I swear that I was here before that bald man who is being helped into his dentist’s chair.
“Are you still here?”
It is the nurse again. Does he want me to leave?
He starts searching through a stack of cards with patients names on them. I filled out one before I went into processing. The old lady, the new volunteer, must have forgotten to put mine in the stack. The stack holds the whole bureaucracy of this place together. A patient’s name goes on a card, which is then placed in this stack. When a patient is taken to donate, their card is removed and the next card is ready for the next available space. Above the stack is a sign that reads: “We Care About Your Time”.
“Never mind,” he says “I’ll take you to chair five.”
I feel more than a slight pinch. What gauge is that needle?
“Worst of the torture is over.”
Cool. The needle man leaves to torture someone else, and my mind wanders. Where did six months come from? They never asked me if I had had sex in Africa after 1977, only if I had stayed there for more than six months. Seems like a possible loophole to me.
I look at my right arm. A needle. Unsurprisingly. I pull away the bandage they have covering it. Metal blends with flesh around a strangely perfect red circle of blood. How long is that thing? If there was a fire or an earthquake, or a terrorist attack, and I bend my arm to protect my head, will the needle punch through my arm? The mass of tubes attached to the needled are straight red. It doesn’t look like anything is flowing through them. They look like solid red plastic.
“It doesn’t bother you?”
It’s the nurse again. I like him. Even though he stabbed me with a long, sharp object, he seems like the decent sort. I shake my head.
“Most people look away.” I nod. “Look,” he says, pointing to a nearby machine “green light, means that your flow rate is good. Yellow means your flow rate is slowing down, and red means flow rate has stopped.”
I am green. It has been several minutes now. How much blood do they take again? I look back at my needle. I feel a little tipsy now, like after a handstand when the blood is beginning to rush back into your head. I look away, but the solid red plastic tubes are stuck in my mind. I try to think about other things. I haven’t seen my family in a while. I wonder what my twin brother is doing right now. Across the room, a patient gets up and walks towards the refreshments table. That’s our reward: cookies and juice.
I turn my head to the television on the far wall. The world seems to have trouble keeping up; it blurs and shifts before finally focusing on the television. Strange how much humans have changed, as a species I mean. I doubt my ancestors would have sit still and let some guy stab them with needles. The television is playing the Simpsons, which reminds me of my brother. We watch it together sometimes back home.
I’m in the backyard, a garbage can lid clutched in my left hand. Shield. My thumb traces the grooves in the chestnut held in my right. A young face pokes out from the large chestnut tree in front of me. I overhand hurl my chestnut and miss terribly, the chestnut flying far off course. The owner of the face, my brother, charges out from the tree and tackles me, all rules of a fair ranged combat bout ignored. I laugh and try to raise my shield, but he ducks under it. The autumn leaves rush up to meet me, and clouds converge in the blue sky above me.
Back awake. People rush around me. Nurse grabs my arm and pulls the needle lose. Ah shit. Can’t even give blood right. A face forms above me.
“You’re in the blood clinic.”
I know. She is trying to help. I could be disoriented or scared. I am fine. They place cold bandages around my forehead and wrists, and raise my dentists chair so that my legs are above my body. I am wearing shoes. I am fine. A small nurse approaches me.
“I’m fine. Sorry.”
I feel terrible. I come in here, try to donate blood, and just end up causing trouble. Should have just stayed home. Everyone in the clinic is looking at me, sitting in their dentist chairs just staring. How rude.
Eventually, I do get the cookies and the juice. They are hard to digest. Everything makes me dizzy. The small nurse is my favourite person today. She tells me that I have given the same amount of blood as a woman loses when she gives birth. Maybe my blood will help deliver a baby, she says. There are other patients sitting around the refreshments table, and all are staring at me.
“If it helps, I fainted my first time too.”
It doesn’t. It just makes me think about it again. They try to give me a little pin as a prize for donating blood but I refuse. The look in the volunteer’s eyes is one of complete and honest hurt. Shit. I seem to be making things worse here. I still don’t want to take her pin, I will just throw it out. Who wears those things around? Just take it. Too late now, she has already walked away.
“It’s not a big deal, happens to lots of people.”
Another patient. They are trying to help.
“Thanks. I feel fine now so I’ll head out soon.”
I don’t feel fine, but I do leave. The bus ride home is long, and the bus shakes and bumps with every acceleration. Not helping my nausea. I try to look out the window at rainy Vancouver, but it is too dark to see anything. I look at my watch. Seven. I have no choice but to confront the thought that is foremost in my mind. You can’t be a doctor if you faint.