One Drop: Purity and Contamination
“They look like big, good, strong hands, don’t they? I always thought that’s what they were.”
In this scene of The Neverending Story, the winds of the Nothing have swept through the Land of Fantasia. The Rock Biter laments his inability to keep his friends safe. I was six when this movie was released in 1984. I don’t know remember how old I was when I actually watched it on television for the first time with my family, but I will never forget how struck I was by the Rock Biter’s sorrow and dismay. He, in this state of being, touched me more deeply and profoundly than even Atreyu’s gut wrenching loss of Artax to the Sadness of the Swamps. Oh, how I love this movie!
In the course of my life, I too have under and over-estimated the physical strength of my hands. I have also taken them for granted. While I don’t get manicures, I do lotion and massage them between crafting lines of dialogue and fits of monologue. Interestingly, on my recent trip to Texas, I spent a great deal of time thinking about my hands. I was doing yard work to escape the homophobic rant of my mother’s home healthcare nurse. It was one of those pick your battle situations (and my mother was doing her level best to enlighten this woman). Instead of joining where I knew I could do no good, I chose the harsh, glaring Texas sun and good hard labor. I cut about half an acre of grass with the push mower, though I could have easily used the riding lawn mower. I tilled a 4 foot by 6 foot patch of earth with a handheld cultivator, though I could have easily used the electric one. I did all this by hand to buy time away from this woman’s rant.
At some point, right about when my hands began throbbing from being clenched in fists for so long, I began contemplating all the great work accomplished with one’s hands. I thought of the American Indians who lived by and one with the land. The pioneers and homesteaders who braved lands and took root. The slaves who worked this land and built the nation on cotton, sugar, and tobacco crops. The immigrants and freeman who laid the tracks of steel and connected us from sea to shining sea. The men and women who raise cattle, sheep, goats and grow corn, wheat, and barley. The day laborers who build houses and sky scrapers, who landscape parks and gardens and who repair roads and bridges. In this moment of contemplation, I looked down at hands and remembered my Mama’s prophecy dream for me. The prophecy told her that I would be working with my hands and that it wouldn’t be rough. Excuse me, and I mean no disrespect to the Prophecy, but I assert that “rough” is a relative term, and humbly, I’m learning to grow a thick skin. Growing up, Mama always told me that my long slender hands were piano hands. We have a piano in the house that I learned to play by ear. Even after I learned to read music notes, having taken up the trumpet-only after my sister took up the baritone, I would cheat sometimes and just play by ear.
Later that evening, exhausted, covered in dirt, ready to shower and sleep, my Mama’s dog escape from his pen! The great escape, I like to call it! He took off like a fury from hell and tore through the neighbor’s yard, the woods, and the back yard where the horses are kept. I went after him through three barbed wire fences and into the woods (where were you, Sondheim?). The whole ordeal was over in 15 or 20 minutes, but I was left with a nasty dog bite in the process. There was swelling, redness, blood, and pain. Immediately, I started thinking infection. The dog had recently had its rabies shots, but it had been years since I had had a Booster Shot.
It was agreed, after much reluctance, pomp and circumstance on my part, that I would go to the ER in the morning. Reason being, our house is situated 30 minutes away from town and were getting up at 4:00am for Papa’s dialysis anyway.
Now, this was my first my visit to the Dialysis Center. Papa goes three days a week for 4½ hour sessions. I was transfixed as I watched Papa’s blood leave his body, enter a tube that purifies his blood, and return to his body. Fascinated by the work of the hemodialysis machine, my mind filled with questions. However, before I could rattle them off, I had to drive myself to Urgent Care to get my Booster Shot. There, a jovial doctor spoke to me at length about what wasn’t happening with my bite and why I shouldn’t be worried. Then, a lovely nurse injected my arm with trace amounts of Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (there’s a whooping cough epidemic in Texas); small amounts of contamination to keep me from getting sick.
When I got back, I learned about the dialysis machine. It has two systems:
· The extracorporealcircuit, which contains lots of tubing, a blood pump, a heparin or blood thinner pump, and the kidney or hemodialyzer. This part also monitors blood flow, blood pressure, air bubbles and keeps track of time.
· The dialysate delivery, which mixes and delivers the dialysis bath (sodium chloride, sodim bicarbonate or sodium acetate, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, and sometimes glucose) with purified water, and regulates for safety or purity.
On my second visit to the Dialysis Center, I was taken the “back room” and shown a machine that makes the purist water in the world. So pure, I’m told, that if I were stranded in the desert and had only this water to drink, I would die. Our bottled and tap water are filled with small amounts of contamination or nutrients that can keep us alive.
Thanks to Homeland Security, the “back room” is on lockdown with a coded key entry and high level security system. Unfortunately, there was little HS could have done to stop a disgruntle nurse who was convicted of killing five dialysis patients by injecting them with bleach and injuring five others. She’s been spared the death penalty, but was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.
I’m fascinated by the science behind dialysis: these two great and complex machines do the work of two tiny, but mighty kidneys. I'm intrigued by the varying levels and degrees between purity and contamination: the one drop of blood it takes to go from Holy to Vile; the one person needed to believe in order to save Fantasia; and the one drop of bleach it takes to enter the bloodstream and kill. Deeply aware that our capacity for love and empathy can fill as quickly as our capacity for anger and indifference, I 'm disturbed and sadden by the actions of this woman. I''ll work to hash all of this out in my next, next new play, The Devil Rode Beside Her. I'm excited to see where this play will go and look forward to sharing it with you.
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!