Although aspects of the procedure must be painful beyond enduring, I’m not among the noisy many who call it cruelty to harvest an essential medicinal from its only source, but I admit I don’t envy the donor. Her lips are blue from blood loss and the trauma of repeated donations, and chapped from breathing through her mouth, and nobody has heard her speak for weeks or seen her eat except through the tube in her nose. If we could keep her comatose, out of mercy we would, as we tried with her predecessor, but she and we are more likely to live if she’s conscious, medically speaking. She gives her marrow twice a day, not willingly, so that all of us can fight off the killing infection. For all her pain, she doesn’t make nearly enough, so thousands who die daily do so cursing her, not the disease. In the house where she was found were the dead or dying bodies of all her relatives, suppurating, bloated by the final stages and smelling of evil. She’d been living on god-knows-what, too young to use a can opener and weak from hunger but otherwise, to her perpetual sadness, inexplicably healthy. Since then she’s been in what is called my care, making more of what saved her so I can steal it. Before procedures, a metaphorical light will sometimes enter her eye with such subtlety I can’t describe what about her face has changed, nothing probably, a needle skipping, her own awareness, or mine, that there will be no youth for her. Our families had quicker fates. On efflorescent nights like these, when the staff’s been dismissed and every last breath sounds the hall, I give her more relief than is prescribed, in gratitude, and calculate at what cost we survive.

Copyright © July 22, 2009 David Hodges

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