Number Five

I’ve been in Los Angeles for seven years.

After living in L.A. for that long – a city whose residents fill their face with chemicals but their bodies with only non-dairy, organic, locally grown things – it’s easy to lose perspective. Easy to forget how much I had wanted to be here in the first place.

When I start to have doubts it helps to remember exactly how I was able to come to L.A. in the first place.

I donated my body to science.

Right before I moved, I was living with my parents, trying to save money. The small jobs I was able to pick up here and there were not helping me save very quickly so when I heard about a fourteen-day medical study that paid $3,500 I signed up before I even knew what they were testing.

The more my mom and dad learned about it, the more they begged me not to do it but just like begging me to get that Business minor in college, I wouldn’t listen. I saw this as my chance to follow my dream and all I would have to do was take non-FDA approved drugs and have my blood drawn sixty-four times.

Easy.

This is probably a good place to mention that I have an unreasonable fear of blood draws. My Aunt Marcia – a registered nurse – once tried to draw my blood as a kid while I sobbed and screamed accusingly, “WHY? Why would you do this?”

I thought about that as I stood outside the doors of the facility with sweaty palms and a pounding heart. I took a breath and pushed the open the door. I could handle this. I was older now. And more accurately, I was desperate.

After filling out a few forms and presumably singing my life away, I was led to a large room with fourteen other beds and given a paper number (five) to wear throughout the study. A nurse checked my blood pressure, and reminded me of the most important rule: I was not allowed to miss a blood draw. If I did – for any reason – I would be kicked out.

The first few draws weren’t bad. I just closed my eyes and imagined one day telling this story on Jay Leno. But when the nurse announced that they were going to start drawing our blood every two hours for twenty-six hours, things started to go downhill.

The phlebotomists seemed to be getting younger and more inexperienced and the bruising on my arms was starting to make every draw more painful than the one before.

My most recent draw had been carried out by a guy who looked like he’d rolled up on his skateboard after Chem Lab to draw blood for extra credit. He’d spent five minutes digging in my veins until he thew his hands up in the air and told me I had, “Like, impossible veins, dude.”

I tried falling asleep that night beside fourteen strangers, knowing I was going to be awoken in two hours to give away two more vials of my blood.

2am came around quickly and I stumbled out of bed bracing myself for another painful draw.

But something felt different.

I was hungry. Desperately hungry. More hungry than I’ve ever been in my life. I mentioned it to Number Four and she told me I looked pale.

My name was called.

“Number Five!”

I stood up and started to walk to the phlebotomist’s table. I was dizzy and all I could think about was eating a sandwich. Or ribs. Or an entire chicken.

I looked at my phlebotomist and my stomach started churning. It was the skater-kid who hadn’t been able to find my vein.

He tied the cord around my arm as he jammed out to his iPod and ripped open an alcohol swab while blowing a bubble. The smell of the rubbing alcohol, his gum, and the memory of the last time he’d tried were just too much.

Suddenly there were two of him and then there were two of everything.

Right before I passed out, as my eyes rolled back into my head and I started to fall off my stool, I had two thoughts.

“I hope they don’t kick me out.”

And.

“I could eat a horse.”

A few minutes later I woke up on the floor surrounded by concerned faces.

A nurse was taking my blood. I looked up at her and whispered hoarsely, “Please don’t kick me out, I have to get to Hollywood.”

She gave me a strange look and patted my head. “We won’t make you leave as long as you can keep giving blood.”

And I did.

Two hours later, during the next blood draw, I was so weak I couldn’t get out of bed. But I didn’t give up.

I wanted it too badly.

Eventually I became stronger and when I left the study I was four pounds lighter and had arms that looked like I’d done a copious amount of drugs. But I carried that check all the way to the bank.

Now, when I get lost in the ins and outs of ‘making it’ in Hollywood I tell myself that story in my head.

Pursuing my dream is a privilege. A dream very few people get to experience.

Even when it’s hard or heartbreaking I try to appreciate it just a little bit.

It’s what Number Five would have wanted.

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

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