Wednesday 17 June 2015


I was up in The Smoke yesterday for a couple of meetings, and travelled up by WexfordBus, a private concern which offers a faster swisher and generally happier journey than Bus Eireann, the semi-state company.  I often take the laptop with me because they have WiFi but this time I just took a good book: the top of my Summer reading pile How We Die by Sherwin Nuland.  This is part of the end-of-life-issues jag that is not far from the surface of my mind - two funerals last week etc.  I'd been absorbing the skinny about Alzheimer's and as we drew out of Gorey I turned to the next chapter about how the heart will stop if the normal 6-8 litres of circulating blood drops by half.  Nuland is a surgeon in Newhaven CT and decided to illustrate the issues with a case-history about a 9 y.o. girl who had been knifed to death by a madman at a street fair in a nearby town . . .

Next thing I knew I was being shaken by another passenger repeatedly asking "Are you alright? Are you alright?" and the girl across the aisle was offering me her juice bottle.  The bus had stopped and the driver came back to offer me a seat up-front nearer the effective ventilation. It was all rather dramatic and it has quite possibly been captured on youtube <huzzah for smart-phones> for our Russian friends to marvel at.  I'm guessing I fainted . . . again; because I have a bit of a track-record on that.
  • 1987 at an animal-handling course when they demonstrated that the best vein to tap for blood-sampling a rabbit is in the ear.  As the 5ml syringe filled up with black blood I heard the sea in my ears and had to sit down. I skipped the rest of the course. I was only working with mice anyway.
  • 1992 The Boy had an asthmatic crisis and we whipped him into Beaumont Hospital as he was turning from blue to grey.  In A&E he was fast-tracked through the queue and after a jolt of adrenalin was settled in a cubicle. As the anxious parents sat beside his gurney, they took a blood sample and I felt a need for fresh air and a few minutes later The Beloved was told "Not to alarm you missus but your husband is two bays down with his feet elevated".  I'd never made it outside but had been dextrously caught by an A&E physician who was taking details from another patient.
  • 1999 I went on a chain-saw handling course run by Coillte the state forest service.  I'd owned a chain-saw for a few years but had an irrational fear of using it, so the course was a way to get round this.  On the first day of five we spent the morning dismantling, reassembling and sharpening chain-saws in a shed in the Coillte complex.  After lunch we were shown The Video - a series of stills from Cork University Hospitals illustrating the damage chain-saws could do. After some initial blokey comments ["he'll never play the piano again" etc.], the room fell silent and when the lights came up one of the two burly farmers on either side of me said "You don't look well; you should put your head between your knees; open the window, there". But for being wedged between the farmers I would have been on the floor.  After the course, I had a rational fear of chain-saws.
I'm fine with blood; when I hand-sawed half-way through my thumb, I just stopped sawing and went to find a bandage. And I used to deal with the children's gashes.  It's something to do with syringes full of the stuff; or from yesterday's escapade, the thought of buckets-full.  In my days working in immunology labs, the post-grads were always looking for blood samples from 'normal' people to serve as a control. You couldn't, ethically, ask the students for a 10ml contribution - how could they say no, the poor dependent petals?  Accordingly, I often had an appointment with the phlebotomist - one who has been trained in the niceties blood-letting. We came to an arrangement: I'd find a chair, expose my left elbow-crook and look the other way whistling through my teeth, while the phlebotomist would do the biz. The things we do for science!

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