“Get a med student,” someone said. The chief looked at me with restrained optimism as she nominated me to convert this alleged miscreant to an obedient, trusting patient. Be careful, “This one’s got AIDS.”
While I contemplated which heroic maneuvers of interpersonal savvy might elicit my desired effect, a nurse helped me gather a hazmat bag brimming with supplies: a tourniquet, ethanol wipes, needles, tubes, stickers, gauze, and bandages.
The stench of rotting flesh cloaked me as I entered the room, and like an unbathed woodsman ready for the first hunt of the season, I was thankful for the camouflage. I considered that our patient might be nothing more than a lifeless carcass, surely not a belligerent being.
Instead, neither was true, and the patient sat upright, smiling and waving, seemingly relieved to have a visitor. Donned in my whisper-thin protective gown and gloves to the elbows, I narrowed my eyes through my mask and puffed out my cheeks. I hoped he would recognize that I meant no harm. Then I offered my hand.
Maybe I saw that gesture once in a movie, where humans and extraterrestrial life make first contact. I think he saw the movie too, because he reached out his hand for mine. They collapsed to complete each other, like mirrored images.
He invited me to inspect his arms and hands, pronating and supinating, medial, anterior, lateral, and posterior. Before long, his blood was mine.
My pride eclipsed with confusion. Where was the agitated patient who refused to give his blood earlier that morning? Delirium? Psychosis? Personality disorder? Professional negligence? Keep the differential broad, we’re taught.
I wasn’t in the mood for more responsibility that day but intent on impressing my team, I offered up the bag of blood and asked reticently, “Is there anyone else?”