I knocked on his door, an ornate blue slab of wood flaking from neglect, and heard movement from inside the residence. This was already a win — it meant my patient was home, could hear my knocking, and was capable of moving around the house. The door-knocker’s trifecta.
When the door opened, I was surprised to be met by a younger man (younger being anything under seventy) of around fifty-five who squinted at me through blurry eyes set too-close together over a vein-tattooed nose.
‘Good morning, I’m Jonathan, the community phlebotomist. You must be Gerald?’
He gave the question thought as if unsure of who he must be, before asking,
‘What’s all this then?’
I wondered if I’d gotten the wrong address.
‘You are Gerald?’
‘Gerald, I’m Jonathan, I’m here to take a blood test.’
‘I don’t know anything about all this. Come in.’
I was surprised, expecting further resistance from a man with no knowledge of a scheduled blood test and a stranger showing up at his door welding needles.
I followed him through his dimly lit hallway, further narrowed with a collection of boxes, clothes, and assorted piles of what can only rightly be called trash. He stepped into his kitchen, the food-preparation based equivalent of his hallway, and plonked down in a seat by a dining table, picking up a glass of apple juice and taking a drink.
I slung my backpack onto the table and withdrew my yellow sharps container and the pre-prepared pouch of needle, tourniquet, blood vials and cotton ball. Gerald squinted at me again and asked,
‘What’s all this then?’
I had a feeling of déjà vu.
‘Ah, the blood test, remember?’
‘I don’t know anything about all this.’
‘I’m guessing your doctor ordered some tests to be done. Have you see your doctor lately?’
‘No! I haven’t seen anyone in, oh…’ He trailed off, apparently forgetting he was talking mid-sentence and took another drink of his juice.
‘Someone should have rung you yesterday to let you know I was coming. Did you get a phone call?’
Gerald shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Maybe I did, I wouldn’t remember. I’m a drunk.’ He took another sip of what I was quickly realising wasn’t apple juice.
I stopped the preparation of my equipment, stunned slightly by his completely unabashed confession.
He didn’t say it like it was something he partook in, he said it as a title, like how I imagine a pilot would introduce themselves. “Good morning, I’m the pilot.”
Only in Gerald’s case he wasn’t in charge of piloting us south-west at 10,000 feet, he was steering me through the booze-addled maze of his poor logic and patchy memory.
I pulled on a pair of gloves and he glanced at the needle and tubes now neatly arranged on his tabletop.
‘What is all this?’
Now that I knew what I was dealing with, it was easier to handle. ‘I’m taking a blood test, remember?’
‘No. But I suppose I wouldn’t. I’m a drunk. Do you want a drink?’
I tipped my head side-to-side, giving the question serious thought. ‘That’s very generous, but I better not.’ My eyes went instinctively to my watch. It was ten o’clock in the morning.
‘Sorry I’m drunk,’ he said, unapologetically.
I shrugged and wrapped a tourniquet around his upper arm. ‘It’s your house.’
I instructed him to keep his arm still as I swabbed his skin and aligned the needle, slipping the splinter of metal into the curve of a vein. A flash of blood appeared in a tiny chamber at the base of the needle. I slotted the first vial into a canister and watched as a dark line of maroon snaked down the thin tubing, filling the glass container.
‘What’s all this, then?’
The query was calmly asked given, to Gerald, his memory had just reset and he’d blinked awake to find a young man draining his blood. I respect that in a person.
‘I’m taking some blood samples your doctor ordered.’
‘I haven’t seen my doctor in months.’
I didn’t have it in me to explain again. ‘Weird, that.’
‘Well, maybe I did. I forget things. I’m a drunk.’
He went to reach for his glass and I clamped my hand on his, stopping him from moving it, dislodging the needle and bleeding all over he table. He blinked at where I clutched him, and then stretched out with his other arm and took a swig of wine.
‘Do you think that would affect my memory?’
I pulled the needle from his arm, pushing a cotton ball to the site and taping it down, and then snapped of my gloves.
‘Alcohol abuse can affect memories, absolutely. So I’d say that has something to do with it.’
‘Yeah, I’d say,’ he said, leaning forward and chortling a laugh as if we were sharing a joke. I didn’t want to be rude: I laughed too.
‘Well, we’re all done, my friend,’ I said, packing away my things and slipping my backpack on. ‘Thank you for your time, and your blood.’
I headed for the door and reasoned he had probably donated just as much alcohol as blood. Given his state of inebriation, someone could use his blood samples as smelling salts.
I reached for the door handle and was about to make my escape but Gerald was too quick for me.
‘I still don’t know what all this is about!’
‘I took your blood, Gerald!’ I said, dropping all tact.
‘Oh. Okay. Thanks then.’
‘And thank you, Gerald. I’ll leave you to it, mate.’
‘Right,’ he said, easing the door closed. ‘It’s about time for a drink.’
When relocating to London, I moved in with my cousin, Dom. Dom is a primary school teacher, and has spent his time in England working throughout different schools. He also has a blog, and has recently written an excellent piece about an intense conversation he had with a student. It’s worth a read, and worth a click of your mouse.
Click here to read: http://29andprimed.weebly.com/blog