Bad Hands • 10 October 2007

Had my blood drawn yesterday, as I do every few months. Went to the little window at the back of the clinic, to the phlebotomy man. Mr. S. He has soft grey hair, and his skin glows. He always seems so happy to see me and notes from the density of my forearms that I am "still working out."

He’s sort of an artist about the whole thing, drawing blood. Says my name and little else in his singing Indian accent: just some sounds to let me know to trust him: “ready… ok… breathe… yes… that is all.” I guess he’s done it thousands of times, this strip of little movements that he has turned into a dance.

He seems to love doing it perfectly. Just as I stand, he darts to the next room for two Motts apple juices, one of them refrigerated and one from his reserves. I used to try to refuse them—the irony of having straight corn syrup foisted on you after measuring for a lipid panel—but it’s clear he’ll feel wrong about the entire episode if I don’t take them.

He always says goodbye wistfully and with love, tells me he will see me in a few months. As if there’s some chance this is our last time together. He must think I have some tragic disease, wondering if each meeting is our last.

Or maybe he has known a lot of patients who one day just stopped coming in.

Yesterday, it was Mr. S who wasn’t there. I know he’s supposed to work on Tuesday mornings.

The young woman in his place was all wrong. Expected me to just know what to do, so nervous about her own movements that she was not at all able to cue me—with both voice and little body movements—through my part of the routine. No human connection, no response to my little weaknesses—the stopping of the breath—when the needle goes in. No emotional signals to let me know it is ok and finished. No food.

I turned on my cell later and someone was booking a private with me as a birthday present for a friend. How do you lead a stranger—stranger to practice, stranger to you—through her first sun salutation? How many times to you have to practice that strip of activity before you’re the master of that dance and your partner can just release into your guidance? How bad is it for her when you’re just thinking of your own movements so much that you’re not merging with hers? And how much of a difference does it make if you’re really there for it, really see them and feel them in a way that means something?

And where is Mr. S? Was he the one with a tragic illness… his emotional doubts about our meeting again more about his own situation than about mine?