A spry personal tour of hematology, from the author of Sleep Demons (2001).
In blood, Hayes finds many of life’s milestones. We are born in it, our family histories are defined by it, it permeates our religion and art. That first shaving nick, that first menstrual period—voilà, adulthood! Blood also has a lengthy and fascinating history, drawn here with a sure if selective hand. Hayes starts his investigation some 1800 years ago with a Greek doctor named Galen. As an overseer of injured gladiators, he had a ringside seat when it came to the inner workings of the body. Galen was a big believer in the body’s humors and in the art (as it were) of bloodletting, a practice that endured into the 20th century. Hayes moves about, looking into the enduring taboos associated with menstruation, the history of blood typing, the fictional Dracula and the very real blood-bathing Transylvanian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the renegade phlebotomist Elaine Giorgi, and the Italian bank robbers, all infected with AIDS, who knew if caught they would be freed under the “compassionate release” law that prevents the terminally ill from serving time. He profiles the pioneering experiments of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, who first looked at blood under a microscope (“it consists of small round globules driven through a crystalline humidity of water,” the Dutchman wrote in 1674), Paul Ehrlich’s work with antibodies, and Jay Levy’s discoveries concerning AIDS. The author also recounts life with his partner Steve, who learned he was HIV-positive in 1994. Being so close to the matter, Hayes wanted to know just what lay behind the nerve-racking, quarterly blood tests Steve underwent; his text brings us into the lab work involved and the research being done, submerging readers in blood’s biology, chemistry, and politics.
A popular and memorable recounting of blood’s social and natural history, as well as Hayes’s own close encounter with the vital fluid. (Illustrations throughout)