Bookworm Sez: ‘Nine Pints’ — Following the trail of blood

“Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood” by Rose George

It didn’t hurt at first.

At least not for a second and then — yow, that knife/scissors/serrated edge was sharp! There’s a cut that’s going to leave a nice scar. There’s a cut that needs covering, pronto. And in “Nine Pints” by Rose George, there’s a story inside that cut.

What was on the screen above her head wasn’t nearly as interesting as the clear bag near her elbow, and so Rose George studied the latter. Healthy and willing, she watched as one-ninth of the blood she had in her body moved up to three miles per hour around her limbs and out to a collection bag for donation.

Once upon a time in history, blood was a commodity, the giving of which could make a person a decent living; there was a time when unions were formed for blood-givers but we know now that blood-for-bucks is considered less safe than relying on donors. Safety is key, since that anonymously donated blood is needed “every three seconds, somewhere in the world…”

That’s important news for American blood donors who contribute to one of the safest blood supplies in the world. Even so, bad things can happen, as George discovered: she looks at the history of tainted blood, unsafe sex, and how both caused the AIDS virus to be passed from person to person. Sadly, it doesn’t stop there: paid plasma donors may have contributed to a tainted plasma supply and contributed to the spread of Hepatitis C. Obviously, we need more healthy blood donors.

But, of course, human blood is not just used for medical purposes or research. In her quest to get to the bottom of what keeps us upright, George traveled to Nepal where teens and women endure a monthly ritual called chaupadi, which demands total isolation from family and friends. Because products for “catamenial flow” are expensive in developing countries, she met with a male “sanitary pad superstar.” And finally, George examines what happens when blood spills… and nothing can be done about it.

In the average day, your blood travels 12,000 miles in a circuit around your body. And that paper cut you got at work today? Your blood is splendidly capable of fixing it, all by itself. No wonder you’re tired, so go lie down — and take “Nine Pints” with you.

With a strong vein of humor, total candor, and a willingness to dig in deep, author Rose George takes readers on a journey tailored to the curious: into laboratories, Nepalese huts, and several countries to examine how blood fits in with health, culture and science. It’s a trip to open eyes and inform, but it’s never boring: along the way, George drops fact-nuggets like bread crumbs on a path, making even the most squeamish want to follow.

So whether you’re a red-blooded patriot, a bit of a blue-blood, or you know what’s thicker than water, this book will be near to your heart. For inquisitive readers and fans of Mary Roach, “Nine Pints” is a cut above.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@yahoo.com.

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