I’ve long been engrossed with the human body’s inner workings—blood, organs, disease, disorders. Even as a little girl, I pulled the plastic tubes of water from the stems of my birthday bouquets and pretended to fill them with my doll’s blood.
With this macabre interest trailing me into adulthood, Laura didn’t have to beg me to go along to her blood-work appointment a few years ago. Like some eager vampire child watching blood candy being made, I waited in the small LabCorp exam room to see the vials turn burgundy with my friend Laura’s blood.
This was Laura’s second time in the clinic that week. The first time, two days earlier, she’d come straight from the doctor’s office to have blood drawn for an upcoming surgery on her leg. Though the LabCorp office was preparing to close, the secretary waved Laura down the hall to a room where a gaunt, red-haired technician greeted her with a disgusted glance. Another job, another jab, another vial full of sticky red mortality the woman didn’t want to handle.
She pointed Laura to a chair and yanked out a tourniquet and needles. She stabbed in the needle and drilled around for a vein. When she hit one, I watched the ten vials fill quickly.
Two days later LabCorp called, not to give results but to reschedule. An error in the process. More vials. Come back in.
There we sat, me with my morbid anticipation and Laura with a bandage swaddling her sore left arm.
When the technician lumbered into the room and grunted at us, I doubted her ability to treat Laura more gently than the last technician. She was a hefty lady with a bored, almost resentful, expression on her face, and she worked silently. But after unwrapping the bandage to reveal the mosaic of yellow and green, purple and black, blue and red spread across that tender crease in Laura’s arm, the woman’s eyes darted up, and she demanded, “Who did this to you?”
“The nurse who drew my blood a few days ago.” Laura’s voice sounded small. Like me, she was unsure if the woman’s low voice harbored blame or concern.
“Who did this to you?” The woman wanted details, a name.
“I don’t know. She had red hair. Really skinny.”
Recognition registered in the technician’s eyes, and she glanced down the hall as if making a mental note. Without letting go of Laura’s arm, she leaned in close. “Don’t you let nobody hurt you. It’s your body, and you gotta walk around with it. You hear?”
Falling back into the silence, she wound Laura’s arm with fresh gauze and tape, then searched the right arm for a vein.
This time, I didn’t watch the needle or the blood squirting into the vials. Instead, I stared at the woman’s solemn face. Had she issued that challenge for self-defense from years of staring at her own bruises? Or had she drawn her insistence from watching too many people walk into this room battered by partners or pathogens, by heredity or habits—victims thinking they were too weak to fight back?
With her work done, she gathered the vials and left the room as slowly as she’d entered.
And Laura and I walked from the office into the summer afternoon, somehow braver.
I think often of that moment, when I’ve allowed my insecurity to batter my confidence and self-worth; when I’ve let my fear sock me a good one in the faith; when the world with its violence and self-destruction have beaten my hope and joy flat. And I am encouraged, not by the words of that austere nurse but by the Comforter who sounds a lot like the lion Aslan in C. S. Lewis’ fantasy Prince Caspian, as he tells Susan, “You have listened to fears, Child. Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”
And you know, somehow, I am.