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The Vampire - Part One:
"Good morning Mr. Page, I need to draw your blood," Carla said as she opened the door to his room.
"Oh no, it's the vampire again! Whatever do you do with all that blood?"
His smile was warm and genuine. Carla made eye contact. It was something she rarely did. Eye contact would reassure the patient. It would also cause her to think of him as something more than just a way to make a living.
She walked over to the bedside and began to prepare the needle and tubes that would withdraw the blood. Mr. Page stuck his arm out for her. He was not afraid. Blood had been drawn many times from this man.
"I guess I've left some of my blood all over the world. Some in places where the atmosphere was not so pleasant as this, like that Turkish bar back in 56'. I was in the Merchant Marines. I guess you won't hurt me as bad as that guy did, huh?" he said.
"No, I certainly hope not!" There was something familiar in his eyes. She smiled at him.
"Which arm do you want?" he asked her.
"Oh, either one will do, Mr. Page."
"You don't have to be so formal, even if you are young enough to be my daughter. Call me Henry. What's your name?"
"Carla Lansing," she said. She felt dangerously close to liking this patient. She mustn't get involved. That was Carla's first rule of Medical Technology.
"Carla Lansing. That almost sounds like a movie star's name," he said.
"I think there might have been someone famous named Lansing somewhere," she said with a smile.
She was almost done with the venipuncture. She noticed the tattoos on his right arm. One, right below the vein on his forearm, was a sailor's anchor. The other one above her needle was a heart inscribed with MARY.
"Was Mary your girlfriend?" she asked.
"She was one of them, I guess. I suppose I liked her the best. Met her down in San Diego a long time ago. We sure had some good times then."
"Well, I'd better be going. We have to run all of these tests before the doctors start coming around." She showed him the stack of orders yet to be done.
"I understand. If you get time, come back up and visit. I'll tell you all about Rio de Janeiro!" he said, grinning.
Carla walked quickly back down to the lab. "What nerve, him asking me to come back up and visit. I don't know him from Adam. And I'm not going to get to know him either!" she thought.
Thinking about Henry bothered her all day. Usually, she forgot about the patients as soon as she closed the door to their rooms.
She worked in hematology running the Coulter Counter with its mindless repetition. Her mind kept wandering. Push the buttons and the machine sucks up the blood and spits out the results. Mindless.
She was startled to look down at the tube of blood she was about to run as she noticed Henry's name on it. Once again, his friendliness leapt out at her. She read the data on the screen, Henry Page, age 58, room 256, Dr. Upton, Number 246743, date of admission 6/19/83, birth date 7/27/25.
She thought about what her own life would look like reduced to the confines of a hospital request. Carla Lansing, age 25, birth date 10/5/58. Really not much. But then what was her life? She was single, working at a job she didn't like much. She was good at it and if the truth were known, she would say she enjoyed the lab work. It was just getting involved with sick people all the time that bothered her, and being called a vampire a lot.
She remembered Deborah, a thirteen year old girl that had been so determined to kill herself that she had swallowed over 300 pills. Deborah had been one of her first patients. She died without regaining consciousness. Carla frowned at the memory. Such a loss.
After finishing with the Coulter, she took the blood smears over to be stained. She took her first break of the day.
"What's for breakfast, Steve?" she asked another tech.
"Oh let's have eggs benedict, fresh o.j. and country ham. How about we have room service deliver?" he joked.
Carla laughed. What they would end up with was runny powdered eggs, burnt bacon and cold toast. Hospital food was the world's worst. They walked together to the cafeteria. It was crowded. Some of the doctors had arrived they noticed.
"Guess we'll have to make this quick. If I know Dr. Upton, he'll be wanting that report on Henry right after he eats."
"Who is Henry?"
"He is a nice man I met on rounds this morning," she answered.
"A budding romance, perhaps?"
"No, nothing like that. He's old enough to be my father. He's just a nice guy, that's all."
They stayed another fifteen minutes. Back at work, Carla sat down at the microscope and began to do the cell counts on the blood smears. She checked the names on the slides against the orders. It was automatic. She read the slide on Mr. Page before she noticed the name. He had a decreased white blood count that would indicate cancer and chemotherapy. Most of the patients on his floor were chemo patients.
"Damn, I hate these low counts, she said to Steve. They take forever to do. Then she noticed the name, Oh no, it's him!"
"Your friend on the floor?"
"Yes, it looks like he may have cancer."
"What a rotten way to go."
"Yeah, really rotten. He looked pretty healthy though."
"Maybe he's just getting started with the treatments." Steve offered.
"Or he's coming in for a second round after remission."
Carla thought about all the horrors of chemotherapy. Chemicals strong enough to wipe out cancer cells often wipe out healthy cells as well. They make the patient sick to their stomachs. They make their hair fall out. They make the patients swell with fluids. They make people unrecognizable.
But different people tolerate chemicals differently. "Maybe Henry won't get very sick," she thought.
Finally, the day was over. She went home to her solitary apartment. Most of the time she could separate her work from her home life. She could just kick off her shoes, watch television and forget the hospital. Today, however, she remembered Henry. What was he going to tell me about Rio? I'll bet he has some real interesting tales to tell, she said to her empty room.
The Vampire - Part Two:
The next morning, Carla gathered up her requests and straightened her lab coat as she walked up the stairs. She steeled herself against the smell. Most of the cancer patients rooms smelled like the water in a vase of dead carnations. She thought about Henry again as she came to his room. At least his room didn't smell so bad.
"Good morning, Carla, he said when she walked through the door. Are you going to be my own personal vampire now?"
"I doubt it. How long are you going to be here?"
"Who knows? Do doctors ever tell people what's going on?"
"No, you're right, they never do. Maybe they don't know themselves. What kind of treatment are you getting?"
"Well, I guess I'm on kee-mo-therapy. I've got some cancer running around in my gut."
"I guessed as much. This is the cancer ward." The annoying thing is that he was smiling. She didn't think she would be smiling if she were in his place.
"Now what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? You seem to know what you are doing," he said as she stuck the needle in his arm.
"I've been working in the lab for three years now. It's a living."
"Just living from payday to payday, right? You look like you should be traveling, enjoying life when you're young. I wouldn't have missed it. I had what my old dad called 'itchy feet'. I had to go out and see all those places in the world with the funny names. So that's just what I did. Something tells me that that's what you want to be doing too."
"Yeah sure, I'd like that. My father used to tell me about his travels. He had 'itchy feet' too. But who's got the money for that? Not me." She was starting to let her emotions out. She felt like running away from this man with his talk of freedom. Why was she listening? She was supposed to be so professional and unfeeling.
"You have to make the time and find the money. You know you can't go swimming unless you get your feet wet. And the best way is to just wade in full speed till you get out there in it. To coin a beer commercial, you got to go for the gusto. A girl as pretty as you shouldn't have any trouble."
"That's all well and good, I guess. But right now, I've got to get back to the lab, Mr. Page."
"Call me Henry," he said as she ducked out the door.
His lab tests that day showed a moderate improvement. Carla hoped he would be one of the lucky ones.
That afternoon, Carla decided to go visit Henry. She wanted to explain to him that she was off for the next three days. She felt some inner compulsion to tell him that he would not be seeing his personal vampire for a while.
She knocked softly on his door, not wanting to disturb him if he were sleeping. "Come on in," he said. He was sitting by the window and Carla thought he looked a little lonely.
"I didn't want to bother you."
"No problem. I was hoping to have a visitor today. I don't have much family, just a cousin up north somewhere. All of my friends are scattered around the globe."
"Weren't you ever married?"
"Once. I came back from England and she was gone. I haven't heard from her since."
"Do you regret what happened?"
"Sometimes. I get to thinking how alone I am. But I have some great memories of some good times and good friends. My only regret is that my wife never really enjoyed traveling. For that reason, we never would have made it long enough to grow old together anyway. But I loved her, I truly did."
"Henry, Carla said as she came up to touch him lightly on the shoulder, I'm going down to the beach for a few days. Is there anything I can bring you?"
"How about having a good time and telling me all about it when you get back. I'll be here."
Carla checked in to a small motel at the beach. She came here often when she had a few days off in a row. She watched the sun set on the water from her patio. Echoing in her mind was Henry's strange phrase, "you can't go swimming unless you get your feet wet".
At night she had dreams of lying on a beach at Rio. A handsome young man was sitting beside her. When he reached for his drink, she saw a well tanned arm with a tattoo of a sailor's anchor on it.
All too soon it was time to go back to work. The antiseptic halls and the muffled sounds of pain were a far cry from the peace of the sea.
She came in late and had to take the orders for blood on the patients in Intensive Care. Those patients were usually in a state close to death. She walked into the room, sat down her tray and switched on the light. She jumped back, feeling something like an electric shock. She was looking directly into Henry's gaping eyes.
The only sound she could hear was the whoosh-clunk of the respirator. Henry Page was a mass of tubes going in and coming out. His eyes were staring at the ceiling. The pupils were fixed and dilated.
"It all happened so fast. I never wanted to see you like this, she whispered to him. What happened?"
Through tears, she wrapped the tourniquet around his cold and sweating arm. Two doctors were standing by the door.
"It's too bad he isn't young, maybe we could have used his kidneys." one of them said.
"Right, Henry. If only you were young. I guess no one wants you when you're old. Don't you have anyone to come cry for you? Or am I the only one? Where's Mary when you need her, huh? Why did you make ME love you? Now have to watch you die. I'm not really a vampire, you see. Vampires can make you live forever."
She left Intensive Care in a rush. As she was running down the stairs back to her safe little laboratory, she spoke out loud. "What good is all this blood? We never change anything. The doctors can't save anyone in the end."
She made it back. She looked around the room full of cold, impersonal machines. She looked at her co-workers. They were mostly middle aged ladies that thought excitement was a bonus in their pay checks, or the feeling they got at five o'clock on Fridays.
She sat her tray of blood down on the counter and started for the door mumbling to herself. Steve looked at her, concerned at her behavior. She didn't look at him.
As she walked away, she passed a doctor coming through the door. Steve asked him what Carla had said. "I think she said something about getting her feet wet." the doc replied.
As Steve watched, Carla dropped her lab coat to her side. When she opened the door to leave, he could see the first rays of the sun highlighting Carla's hair. Then she was gone.