Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Phones and Fists: A Bloody Nightmare

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Phones and Fists: A Bloody Nightmare

"John! I want you to go to emergency right now! You've got total kidney failure!"

The phone had irritably blasted out its summons. A telemarketer? Screw it. But one of the few manageable gimmicks of on the modern phone, call display, persuaded me to answer. It was only nine on the morning but my family doctor – waiting room time forty-five minutes—was quite a-quiver. He'd just seen my latest blood test results. They indicated high potassium levels and other signs of the further disintegration of an aging buffoon.

"Any emerg.?"

"It doesn't matter. Just go! Now! Tell them your creatinine and potassium levels are way off. Tell them to give you intravenous fluids. Hurry, John, hurry!"

Holy shit! I must be dying.

"So, who sent you here?" inquired a puzzled emergency room doctor. "I've looked at the blood work we did a few minutes ago and everything's fine. But we'll give you a saline drip just to top you up. You're a bit dehydrated."

What the hell was going on? One minute I was about to plead my rather implausible case to St. Peter, assuming he existed – I'd find out in a couple of ticks, if that's the right expression; the next minute, I'm told that while not quite as healthy as a Himalayan ox, I didn't need to dig my rock garden a little deeper — say another five feet — on this particular spring mourn.

I let the mystery of my almost-dead experience pass, along with other now non-life threatening bodily fluids. Until, that is, I read – how shall I put it? – a bloody gripping report from a British research team. It examined the blood tests of two hundred thousand patients and, as usual, came up with results that blasted conventional wisdom, or stupidity, into that kingdom in which I was supposedly about to come.

If you've ever had a blood test, you've been told for decades to first clench your fist and then let it relax as the blood flows into the collection vials. Well, stop it! The phlebotomists got it wrong. The who? Phlebotomists – the folks who promise all you'll feel, if you'll pardon another expression, is a little prick. Well, they're the ones who will now be feeling less than engorged. The practice of fist-clenching, for blood tests anyhow, is outdated and harmful, according to the experts. It gives false potassium levels and other incorrect indications of heart and kidney problems.

The moral of this tale is that it's still okay to clench your fist, but only if it's a telemarketer — or your family doctor — on the other end of the phone.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Scully

John Scully has been a journalist for almost fifty years and has covered stories in seventy countries for major international news and current affairs organizations. His book, Am I Dead Yet? A Journalist's Perspective on Terrorism, was published in spring 2008 by Fitzhenry and Whiteside.

Go to John Scully’s Author Page