Nine Pints

Recommendation: It’s an interesting light read (light for the style not the content)

Where to read: This is prime summer reading, but “feel smug about yourself” summer reading

Read with: A bloody Mary, duh

In brief: This is a fabulous exploration of blood in medicine and society, from blood transfusions to AIDS to the various taboos around womens’ menstrual blood which has, and does, contribute to the subjugation of women across history.

Dedicated quite rightly to the NHS, George’s exploration of nine different themes or stories relating to blood and the use of blood is fascinating reading the whole way through. I polished it off in about a day.

You can read extracts here or similar here (on blood donations) and here (on leaches) but the full set of topics extends to the HIV-AIDS epidemic in South Africa (particularly the impacts on young people and the cycle of infection now in play through “blessers” and “blesees”), menstrual taboos in Nepal and how they impact the education and prospects of young women and the fascinating history of what is now known as NHS Blood and Transplant (previously the National Blood Service) during World War Two as blood transfusion became more common. She also gives us the wonderful image of combat medics on D-Day hooking lines over rifles rammed into the sand.

In another chapter, there is an extended discussion of the blood donation industry and the dangers of paying for blood products. As a case study, she looks at the deaths of British haemophiliacs infected with HIV and hepatitis through clotting factors sourced from American paid donors, many of whom where injecting drug users (a high risk group for blood-borne infections). There was a risk to the general population prior to the introduction of screening procedures however the risks were particularly acute for haemophiliacs for two reasons – they needed transfusion more regularly and injectable clotting factors are an amalgamation of hundreds or thousands of different separate donations (vastly increasing the risk of exposure).

Perhaps the most viscerally compelling of all her vignettes, however, is the account of the attempted resuscitation of a cyclist hit by a bus by the staff of the Royal London Hospital Major Trauma Centre (I think that is the right hospital). The whole thing is both horrific and awe inspiring, not only for the lengths they can go to in an attempt to save someone, but also for the elegance of the London major trauma network and hospital system as a whole.

In summary, it’s wonderfully easy to read and you might learn something along the way.

“Also, there are vampires.”

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