BAD BLOOD

Written By Samaria Johnson
Illustrations By Vivian Shih
I am an artist and illustrator from Los Angeles.  I pull inspiration from human emotions, nature, and surreal self reflection, portraying them into expressive drawing and ink works.
Bad Blood

I’m not particularly good at anything.

I was undoubtedly the worst person on my fourth grade soccer team, I don’t know how to whistle, and I genuinely have no idea how to pay taxes.

The only thing I am even relatively good at is donating blood.

Giving blood is a menial task: no skill is required. It’s actually not a talent in the slightest, but it’s one activity I can sail through without making a mistake.

From the sitting and the waiting to the insertion of the needle to filling up the blood bag in record time? Hell yeah; I’m great at that shit! Despite having the body type of an unsalted pretzel rod, I can pump out pints of that red gold and bounce back with zero recovery time. No bruising, no lightheadedness, and definitely no fainting. FUCK your post-drip snacks; I’m not hungry. I don’t cower at the sight of the needle, no. Instead, I watch it as it pierces my flesh.

SHE DIDN’T KNOW THAT NO ONE HAD EVER EXPLAINED TO ME WHAT A POLYCLONAL GAMMOPATHY WAS, AND SHE DIDN’T KNOW THAT I WAS THE QUEEN OF DONATING BLOOD. JAYMEE DID NOT KNOW HOW HER RUN-ON SENTENCE SHATTERED MY HEART IN AN UNEXPLAINABLE WAY.

I may rip off the bandage as soon as I leave the collection center, but I’ll leave on the sticker. My blood is going to save a life. My perfect, perfect, A-positive blood. An A-plus; I’ve saved the day!

When I donate blood, I’m a goddamn hero. I’m the hero, but there are two villains. The first is the nurse who delivered the fatal blow, Jaymee.

“With your increased kappa-lambda typing, and the polyclonal gammopathy, it may not be that good of an idea for you to donate...”

Jaymee’s origin story involves a degree from nursing school, and she wasn’t intentionally ruining my life. Jaymee was doing her job. She didn’t know that no one had ever explained to me what a polyclonal gammopathy was, and she didn’t know that I was the Queen of Donating Blood. Jaymee did not know how her run-on sentence shattered my heart in an unexplainable way. But, Jaymee was there, and she’d told me news that I didn’t want to hear, and at that exact moment in time, I hated her.

The second villain is the biggest, baddest, most feared villain of all: myself. Or, more accurately, it’s my body.

My blood, to be exact. The same weapon I brandished to save the lives of others was now slowly poisoning me, sucking the nutrients away and leaving nothing but disgusting, riddled filth. My origin story is that I was intentionally brought into this planet, and I brought this illness with me. My momentary hatred towards Jaymee was nothing compared to my chronic hatred towards myself.

I AM THE HERO, AND I AM THE VILLAIN. I HEAL MYSELF, I DESTROY MYSELF. I’M MY OWN WORST ENEMY.

When people find out I’m sick, they like to assure me that it’s not my fault. That’s fine; I love a good sentiment. But, it is my fault. Someone didn’t come and hold me down, forcing a toxic virus into my bloodstream. I got it myself. I made it myself. It’s my body, my blood vessels, my cells that mutated because DAMN, wouldn’t it feel great to slowly drain a girl to prevent her from further engaging in everything that makes her happy? I am an organic, homegrown, undestroyable monster. I am the hero, and I am the villain. I heal myself, I destroy myself. I’m my own worst enemy.

Jaymee, the opportune Villain #1, was not the first person to question my ability to donate. She was merely the first medical professional to concern my worst fear. Two months before Jaymee metaphorically stabbed me in the chest, I tried to sneak into my university’s blood drive. I’d scanned the Red Cross website through and through, failing to find anything warning people with idiopathic chronic viruses from donating. I took that as a good sign. Maybe I still had a chance.

I was ultimately rejected from donating that day because of divine intervention (also known as a POTS flare-up), but I wondered if I would’ve made it to the actual donation stage anyway. I’d been so close.

Jaymee was only reconfirming my suspicions, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. I was hoping she’d tell me to not believe everything I read online and give me the greenlight to go back to being the hero I believed I was.

After I’d first gotten sick, I refrained from donating blood for five years because I had a lingering suspicion that I would be turned away. It didn’t make sense for me to give my blood away while I was pinballing between doctors’ appointments. This too shall pass, I’d tell myself as my blood was taken for testing purposes instead of life-saving ones. I’ll be back at it again soon.

Time passed and I felt better. No more prescriptions. The tumors? STABLE. The shotty lymph node? Perpetually swollen, but STABLE. My desire to continue doing the one thing I could confidently do? STABLE.

I’d always based my condition on my level of pain: the more it hurt, the worse I was doing. Nothing hurt. I thought I was fine. I didn’t know I could drown without water.

MOST OF THE TIME, I DON’T FEEL SICK. I DON’T LOOK SICK, I DON’T ACT SICK. IT’S A PRIVILEGE THAT I CAN KEEP MY ILLNESS A SECRET. BUT, THERE ARE TIMES LIKE THIS WHEN THE DISGUISE IS RIPPED OFF AND I’M FORCED TO CONFRONT THE ACTUALITY OF THE SITUATION: NO MATTER HOW HEALTHY I LOOK, I’M NOT.

Being rejected from donating blood hurt more than the spinal tap where I had to hear the needle crunch my spine, more than the biopsy where I had to watch pieces of my internal organs get removed from my body in the most unglamorous of fashions, and more than the nerve conduction study where I swore I could smell the burning of my flesh whenever a jolt of electricity surged through my demyelinated legs.

Most of the time, I don’t feel sick. I don’t look sick, I don’t act sick. It’s a privilege that I can keep my illness a secret. But, there are times like this when the disguise is ripped off and I’m forced to confront the actuality of the situation: no matter how healthy I look, I’m not.

I want things to go back to the way they were before.

When I first found out I could no longer give blood, I sat in my car and cried.

I lost my superpower.

I have to find something else to be good at.

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