Lymphocyte Levels: Monthly Monitoring

By Rebecca Wood

Pierce, bleed, fill, test, reveal, repeat
The treatment targets and eradicates my T and B cells
Cytotoxic removal of the game cartridge of my immune system
blowing on it
Pushing it back into place
Hoping that when the pixelated cells regenerate on screen
forming points
then bars
then graphics
my lymphocytes have learned my myelin is not the final boss
Erasing lifetime saved game play data
Rebuilding cellular memory
Pierce, bleed, fill, test, reveal
Baseline bloodwork: immunoglobins, liver function, lymphocyte counts
Starting point
Level One

Monthly monitoring
I used to be afraid
Tricky veins
Rolling out of the way of cold gloved hands
Multiple venipuncture failures
Butterfly needles
My elusive vascular system
unintentionally shaking the confidence of inexperienced phlebotomists
I drink water
I do push ups against the wall
I pump my biceps willing my veins to cooperate
It once took 7 attempts
Needle pressing repeatedly into me
I was 19 and no one had taught me that you could ask them to stop
Request someone else
I just knew I couldn’t leave until the waiting vials were filled

Frequent bloodwork found a reliable vein
Pierce, bleed, fill, test, reveal, repeat
The outside edge of my left elbow
Cephalic vein
Cheat code
Make a fist
Look away
With all my practice I still can’t watch
Tourniquet, pierce, bleed, fill,
cotton, tape, pressure, bruise
Loading interior information
Reliance on women in lab coats to tap these cellular secrets
Blood code exposing my bodily programming
Disease design and development data

Monthly quest to the blood clinic for two years now
Pierce, bleed, fill, test, reveal, repeat
Monthly moves out of isolation
my one indoor immunocompromised activity
Vein to vial to lab to late night log-ins
Desperately displaying my complete blood count
Highs and lows, health meter marked in red
Monthly measuring of my immune system function
Monthly calibration of fear
Risk of infection reduced or enhanced
Dormant viruses lingering inside of me threatening to overpower
and burst through with blisters of shingles
or deconstruct my brain with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy
Severe lymphopenia
System crash
I flag the fast drop for the doctor who won’t see unless I call
My lowest lymphocyte count 0.2
Delaying my next round of treatment
Worrying this means it won’t work
Worrying that this treatment will wipe out every last lymphocyte
and my immune system will simply give up
White blood cells rendered NPCs

Pierce, bleed, fill, test, reveal, repeat
Results dictating solitude
Depression matching dropping lymphocyte count
Life on pause
“I love you” rephrased as
“Is there anything you can do to make your lymphocytes come back?”
Remembering this destruction was intentional
And I rest, and I eat good food, and I meditate on my lymphocytes regenerating
Immune picture unfreezing
Printed circuit board connector of my system
shocked by the force of removal and the pressure
of breath blowing on the 72 pin connector
Air reverberating through the tunnel of plastic encasement
Printed circuit board exposed to air and spit and hope

Pierce, bleed, fill, test, reveal, repeat
Check the cables
Tourniquet, needle, tube, vials, biohazard bin
Ensure all connections are secure
Screen on
Lab results loaded
Hematological pixelated progress
tracked by blood divulging data
Immune function firmly replaced in my system
Select start

About the Author

Rebecca Wood writes from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and has been navigating Multiple Sclerosis and an overactive immune system for 17 years. She has an M.A. in Early Childhood Studies from Toronto Metropolitan University and an M.A. in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Toronto. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in Wordgathering: Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature, Corporeal and Wishbone Words. Her work explores and expresses her experience as a multiply chronically ill woman with an episodic disability through themes of bodies, identity, magic and grief.