I had some blood drawn yesterday at my friendly, neighborhood lab. I was greeted by a very pleasant woman with an angelic smile, standing at a podium aligned perfectly with the entrance door. As if she’d been expecting me for days, knowing everything there was to know about me. But would keep all those things a secret between us. That kind of smile. Changing the bend of her smile slightly, she gently advised me that I’d be waiting 25 minutes before my name was called. No problem, I thought, scanning the crowded room for a seat least likely to bear Legionnaire’s disease cough droplets on the armrests.
Within two minutes of finding my little sanctuary and settling in, another lab worker stepped to the center of the room, cleared her throat, and announced my name. Her own cherubic smile strained at one corner by the effort of attempting to pronounce my name properly. I have learned to recognize that look before I even hear my name, often popping to my feet with my own smile, granting instant clemency to my obviously relieved, new friend. This time, though, I’m not feeling great, and couldn’t spare the energy to save her. I don’t remember what she said, exactly. I think I heard at least one “s” although there is no “s” to be found in my name save for my middle name. And if she had announced my middle name, I probably would have snapped to attention, marched towards her like an automaton, and reached out for a diploma while wincing in anticipation of a flashbulb flashing.
This second lab worker was not the maître d’ at the podium, who continued masterfully to welcome each new patient through the door. Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, you might say. This second woman’s role was to ensure the lab has all of my information entered into the lab’s database, before the lab does any actual work on me. The second worker — I wish I remembered her name — was equally lovely. Laughing generously at my weak attempts to break the mundane, digital form filing out with dark humor. At the end of our time together, she let me know that this was just her 3rd day on the job. So perhaps her laughter was genuine. Or perhaps she, like the others, knew exactly how to handle me so that I would leave the lab chest puffed out. Thinking I’m damned funny. Probably the most handsome man to grace that lab in quite some time, too. Fully expecting the lab workers to make little necklaces carrying a drop of my blood in pebble-sized capsules around their necks; a memento of that afternoon in May when that otherworldly being (me) graced their presences.
But I digress.
In the midst of my polite interrogation at the hands of Angel Number Two, Angel Number Two asked, “Do you have a religious preference?” Given the nature of the questions previous to this one, I assumed she meant my preference as to the religious affiliation of my blood-taker, not my own religious preference. I said, “You mean the religion of the person who will be sticking a needle in my arm and taking my blood?” Expecting her to giggle at my misunderstanding and correct me, I got the giggle but not the rest. “Yes. It’s just something they want us to ask. Some people do have a preference.”
Even in my achey state, this sent me off on a bit of a riff: “I hadn’t thought about it, no. But now that you mention it, are the people who follow a particular religion better than others at this? You would know, right? You can tell me. Let me guess: Catholics, right? It has to be Catholics?”
A few questions later Angel Number Two asked if I wanted to provide an emergency contact. She asked this question with the most solemn look she had mustered to this point. Sitting here now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the text of Question Number 17 pulled up on her computer screen was followed by a parenthetical stage direction —
(Note: effect solemn look on your face, make deep eye contact with your interviewee, consider dropping the frequency of your voice a half-octave and reduce its intensity (volume) by one-half).
If those were the directions, she followed them perfectly.
I froze in her gaze only momentarily, though, still emboldened by my real or imagined comedic success in this venue; the faux-wooden booth we had been sharing for the last five minutes. “You mean, in case I choose the wrong religion and the person bleeds me out back there behind those curtains?? Now I really really need to know which religion to pick. C’mon, this is serious business now, you just raised the stakes!” I lean in a bit, lower my own voice’s frequency and reduce my own voice’s intensity halfway to a whisper: “It’s got to be Catholic, right?!?”
I survived the blood-letting…er…blood-taking. And I honestly do not know whether my blood-taker practiced Catholicism, Hinduism, Shintoism, or whatever else there might be to choose from in there. It turns out I am agnostic when it comes to my phlebotomist. To each his (or her) own.
Thanks for reading.