Blood is a magical constituent of our bodies. A diligent soldier that fulfils our basic needs yet is the most intimate substance that clasps our secrets close. Even as an adult I will always take the moment to watch as it lazily oozes from my skin; it’s luscious and unctuous colour mesmerising. Startled as to how the hue mutates into vibrancy as it stains or settles in a seemingly diluted form.
Rose Gore wrote a beautiful book about blood called Nine pints. A thought provoking quote below.
‘The iron in our blood comes from the death of supernovas, like all iron on our planet. This bright red liquid . . . contains salt and water, like the sea we possibly came from.’
Our blood also contains trace amounts of manganese, lead, zinc and gold. It is daunting to ponder on that which flows within us having re-circulated throughout our planet over millennia via birth, death and life. Its origins in the stars. We are much older, wiser and of the universe than we appreciate.
Single celled organisms such as bacteria and fungi can absorb and excrete the necessary nutrients to survive via diffusion but more complex animals have developed circulatory systems incorporating the heart and blood vessels. Blood accounts for approximately 8% of our body weight. It is formed in our bone marrow and lungs and is an amalgamation of red blood cells (to deliver oxygen), white blood cells (to fight off pathogens), platelets (to aid clotting) all suspended in a plasma which carries essential nourishment and waste products. Blood conveys oxygen and other much needed nutrients to every crevice in our body via arteries, veins and capillaries and transports carbon dioxide and dross to the lungs, kidneys and digestive system for excision. It takes 20–60 seconds for blood to travel from the heart, circulate throughout our physique and return. Gore writes the nine to twelve pints of blood in our body travel circa 12,000 miles everyday through a transport network stretching about 60,000 miles long — more than twice the circumference of the Earth.
Intriguingly, aside from these super powers the Japanese believe our blood type determines personality:
O blood types : rational, understanding, optimistic, energetic
A : patient, loyal, responsible, sensitive
B : passionate, creative, thoughtful, curious
AB : artistic, serious, indecisive, caring, rational
Unfortunately no scientific link has been found.
Throughout history and cultures, blood has been ostracised and worshiped in turn. I don’t know how to explain why nature saw fit for women to incur a monthly bleed better known as menstruation but in some countries and religions menstruation is regarded as dirty and polluting. As a youngster in distant Indian villages I have memories when on my period of being isolated in a corner, excluded and unable to touch anything for fear of contamination. It was inexplicable even then. According to The New Yorker, in America menstruating women were thought to spoil meat if contact was made and in Rome at the time of menses, women were thought to be able to ward off swarming bees and cause pests to fall away from crops. Here in the UK where many taboos are being broken, we have only recently started to openly discuss menstruation as a habitual part of a woman’s life although I felt a tinge of sadness as I realised Cost centre 3 is close to begin suffering this curse…
We could mention Christ and the symbolism of wine at The Last Supper which came to represent his blood. In ancient times, gore spilt in battle was glorified. In the Middle Ages, blood letting was a process to remove ‘bad blood’ from the body. The cult of Vampirism both in fiction and real life convinces vampires of a biological need and desire to feed on others. The Jewish and Muslim religions drain meat of its blood before it can be ingested because it is considered to be ‘impure’. Through the ages, this vital fluid has been devoured to access its healing powers or confer the gift of youth with particularly salacious tales of the consumption of blood of freshly executed criminals or young boys which was thought to contain air to eliminate epilepsy and migraines. The list goes on. Ostracised and worshipped in turn.
Blood adapts dependant on the chemical composition and temperature of the environment of the host. We have blood that appears red; crabs blue blood; earthworms and leeches observe green blood and starfish and some insects are distinguished by yellow blood. Curiously, real blood looks fake in a theatre setting. It appears too bright and so it is darkened to project realism. Many years ago, in a Shakespearian production at the Globe theatre in London, approximately 40 people fainted at each show traumatised by the gore and the perceived faithfulness of the blood freely splattered.
Our competence in analysing blood for use in personalised medicine (treatment tailored specifically to the individual) is progressing in leaps and bounds. Car T therapy involves engineering the body’s immune cells to fight cancers such as Leukaemia, Lung cancer and Hogkinson’s by (in simplistic terms) reprogramming a patient’s blood to develop fighter cells to bring to bear on marauders. It is presently an expensive treatment and early days (only 2 such therapies have been approved by health authorities) but highly innovative and exciting.
Blood is a curious but unostentatious substance. It is imbibed with our mysteries yet unambiguous in its intention to ensure our life. From birth to death, this extraordinary ingredient is an unyielding constant throughout the stages of our existence. We take it for granted but every now and then surely we should marvel?