To find the truth, I’ve even lied

Kaiser Hospital, South City. The technician behind the desk squints at my paperwork. “What is this?” she said, turning the form on its side. “Bleeding time? I’m not sure we know how to do a bleeding time test here.”

And when the technician said ‘bleeding time’ my heart jumped a little bit into my throat. Now I love the good horror movie from time to time, and I’ve even played and enjoyed Dracula myself. But there’s something about the phrase ‘bleeding time’ that makes my heart quicken. Once blood ceases being corn syrup and food coloring and turns into the real iron-based platelet stuff, I begin to freak out. I donated blood once when I was in high school, before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I gave a pint of blood and the phlebotomist held the bag to my face and said, “Good job… it’s warm, just like you.” I don’t remember anything after that.

“Oh, you need a bleeding time test,” said the technician. “Let’s get all these other blood tests out of the way first, and then we’ll do a bleeding time test after that.”

“Now wait a minute, are you saying that –”

“Back this way please.” I followed the technician past rows and rows of people being stuck by phlebotomists. The other patients were cool, mellow, indifferent even. I saw rows and rows of big fat needles sticking into people’s arms. I started to pant a little but kept my cool.

The technician opened another door. “Sit down,” she said. This was a private room with one tilted chair, like a dentist’s chair. To the right of the chair was a steel-framed H. She closed the door behind me and I swear that I could have heard a pneumatic hiss as the door slammed shut.

I listened to the voices on the other side of the door. “John Byrd, yes… He needs a bleeding time test… need the blood work before the bleeding time test…” I could have pounded on the door, but I’m sure it would have been no use.

After about five days the door opened and in came this fiftyish Asian woman. Her name tag read ‘Manager — Phlebotomist II.’ “John? Are you here for the special test?”

“Actually, I was kind of hoping for the ordinary test,” I said.

“We’re going to draw some of your blood and then we will do the bleeding time test,” she said.

“I am drastically aware of this fact,” I said.

She pushed a little shelf underneath my elbows. I said, “Other phlebotomists have done this to me before. They always collapse my veins.”

“Mmmm,” said Manager Phlebotomist II, nodding. She pulled out a butterfly needle and half a dozen vials. “Now I want you to make a fist,” she said as she tied a bit of rubber around my upper arm and swabbed it with alcohol. “Here, your vein is right here. Mmm, let me see your right arm. Yes, your vein is better here in your left arm. For the bleeding time test. Now don’t move. AAAARGH!” And she raised the needle over her head and stabbed it into my left eye, and I staggered around the room for a while screaming. Actually, that didn’t happen. She stabbed the needle into my left arm, and wiggled just a teensy bit, and then puuushed…

I grabbed hold of the table and thought of Mozart’s Sonata #11 in A.

Manager Phlebotomist II sighed, sounding annoyed. “This isn’t working,” she said. “Your vein is collapsing too much.”

I picked up the clipboard and brained her with it, I yanked out the needle, and ran for the door. Actually, that didn’t happen. Instead, I said, “Now what?”

Manager Phlebotomist II pulled out the needle and taped a bit of cotton on my arm. “Give me your other arm,” she said. “Are you OK?”

“Um, sure,” I said. Actually, that didn’t happen. Instead, I said, “I really hate needles. I really hate this.”

Manager Phlebotomist II said, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll be very gentle this time.” She pulled out another needle and began prepping my right arm.

“What’s the, um, bleeding test?” I asked.

Manager Phlebotomist II said, “We make two incisions and time the amount of time that it takes for the blood to coagulate.”

I gulped. “Does it hurt?”

Manager Phlebotomist II said, “Oh, it won’t hurt so much. Not as much as some things anyway. It’s just a little…” And she stuck her tongue out at me, making a little moue of distaste.

I blinked.

She stuck the butterfly needle into my right arm and pulled six vials of blood, each one giving a little dart of pain when she pushed it into the needle. She taped up my right arm with a cotton ball.

“Now the bleeding time test,” said Manager Phlebotomist II. She leapt across the shelf and sank her incisors into my throat and, though I beat her with my fists, she hung on until my consciousness slowly drained out of me. Actually, that didn’t happen. Instead, she said, “We make two incisions and clock the amount of time it takes for your blood to coagulate. Left arm again, please.” She opened a drawer and lifted out a little plastic bag labeled Surgicutt.

I want to die. I want to be killed instantly by a meteor. Anything but this. Anything but the Surgicutt.

Manager Phlebotomist II swabbed me again and placed the Surgicutt on my arm and clicked a button, and the blades cut two 1mm deep by 5 mm long scratches in my arm — two teeny little paper cuts.

“Actually, that didn’t hurt so much,” I said.

“Actually, you are a huge pussy,” said Manager Phlebotomist II. Actually, that didn’t happen.

At Huntington and Malibu they’re shooting the pier

I tell it “get off the highway”, so my global positioning system guides me away from the deadly clusterfuck of the 405 and toward the southern mountains. I drive through Malibu on the way to LAX for the first time, two hours ago. I bolt south on the two-lane Pacific Coast Highway at the maximum possible speed, BMWs and Volvos flanking me like bees or Gestapo agents. Tony two-story houses perch precariously on the crumbling Malibu cliffs. Touristy restaurants straight out of 1953 beckon and shine. Movie studios — or, at least, pricey marble-covered front offices with names that end in “studios” — meditate upon the black Pacific waters.

In my West Virginia redneck mind, Malibu is a theoretical container for diamonds and movie stars and Barbie. Malibu does not really exist as a town or an entity. But I get it now! Malibu is to Los Angeles as Half Moon Bay is to San Francisco.

In one large motion, I return the rented SUV and bolt to the ticket counter at LAX, hoping that my shortcut will allow me to make my flight home. No dice ? I miss the flight by two minutes. Now I’m surrounded by businessmen who all look exactly like me, all peering into their laptop crystal balls, all waiting to be somewhere else.