As a metaphor, I always found bloodletting kind of attractive. defines bloodletting as "the act or practice of letting blood by opening a vein." Merriam-Webster describes it simply as "phlebotomy," which is what my dad was trained to do when he went back to school a few years ago, specifically drawing blood for testing. Phlebotomy is the occupation his would-be employers say he is unable to pursue because his bad shoulder and the cancer he recovered from have rendered him "disabled." I do not know if my father is truly hurt bad enough to be considered disabled, but I do know that what he does isn't the sort of bloodletting I'm talking about here.

Both sources go on define the term as meaning bloodshed or slaughter, as well as the "reduction" or "elimination of personnel." I will, for the time being, ignore the annoyance I feel at the inclusion of this example, as a metaphor should never be taken as literally applicable, no matter how apt to the situation may be, but that is not what I'm discussing here. I find myself more tolerant of the parallels drawn between the concept of "bloodletting" and "death" -- perhaps because I like what sounds like an artistic flourish on atrocity, and it brings to mind "Henry V," and other Shakespearean battle speeches. It also, importantly [currently], refers to the pointlessness of the act of bloodletting, implying that the supposed "cure" to a problem is only going to make the patient worse.

I don't know a lot about the actual practice. I know all the old-world civilizations, your Greeks, Romes, Mesopotamias, and Aztecs performed bloodletting as a medical procedure -- if your city had plumbing, libraries, or money, then it likely had bloodletting as well. I know it didn't completely fall out of use until relatively recently -- but I only know this because I saw them do it in the Paul Giamatti "John Adams" series, and I will freely admit this knowledge might be wrong. The only explanation for the practice that I can call to mind was given by Hippocrates, who based the treatment's merits on comparisons to a woman's menstrual cycle which was believed to purge women of illness. Much later, many other cultures, particularly Judeo-Christian religions, would view women who were menstruating as "dirty" and "untouchable," yet despite this shift, bloodletting was still seen as a viable way to rid yourself of sickness and other bad humors. It was used to treat just about everything from the common cold to what we'd probably today call clinical depression, and though now it seems garish and antithetical to any sort of healing process, many undertook it for their ailments and many recovered.

It wasn't only practiced on humans, either; I once knew a vet who still swore by it as an occasional treatment for sick horses. After hearing this from her, I would later read some folksy novel about a country veterinarian who employed the same practice [only in extraordinary situations] with archaic tools passed down to him by his grandfather, and he too found success. Both of these accounts are, of course, glorious lies. The first paints someone I know and think highly of as very bad at her job, while the second is a literary flourish based on foolish superstition, not unlike the plethora of English heroines in literature almost derailed by getting caught outside after dark, and in the rain.

Both's mistakes are understandable, and even charming. There is something about the old ways we will always find more appealing. Even those who constantly seek out knowledge will often find, when looking behind them later, that their old ignorance and naivete now looks like some forever-lost golden age. Bloodletting as a treatment, though somewhat obscene to us now, can still be romanticized like all the other old superstitions passed down to us by our grandparents. I am reminded of the old Navy maxim of "Red sky at night, sailor's delight, red sky at morning, sailor's forewarning" my own grandpa taught me, and regularly laugh when I notice the sky looks pretty red both when the sun was going down and coming up. The humor is less out of how silly and useless this "trick" seems to be now, and more at my constant, almost instinctive need to try and apply at every opportunity. My sailor's weather report is no different from bloodletting in that respect, just coincidence and superstition, tied up in each other enough to become fact.

And why shouldn't that be appealing? Who doesn't occasionally wish for those simpler times, when we might not have understood what we were doing, but we had faith, and knew in our hearts that faith would guide us, protect us, and save us from the dangers we face? Natural. Forgivable. Pleasing, even. A lesser writer might even pause, to ponder if we miss it, and to maybe draw a correlation to the teenage girl with the razor blade, or to the junkie, as his needle first breaks the skin.

But that would be kind of hacky.

For us, for people, I mean, I think the allure in the practice of bloodletting probably goes even deeper than that. Not everything is nostalgia, after all, some things strike us quite a bit more presently, and without getting too fancy, I think a lateral move could be made from bloodletting to a comparison of the way we all move forward, perpetually leaving so much behind us. The concept is inherently simple; the blood in our bodies have gotten stagnant, and diseased, and need to be removed so we may grow and prosper. Life's not so different [if I can be a little over-arching, without being passe]-- we put aside things from our childhood, grow out of people, places, and things, and move forward, removing something of ourselves in the name of some sort of progress. We learn one author we love wasn't nearly as great as we thought they were, that one person will let us down and by proxy most will, that some hobbies and obsessions are best packed away in boxes, in attics, in rooms so as not to distract us from the important things, the things we really need to do. We get stagnant, we bleed, we get better, we move on.

And I think about that point a lot, and think about the world today, about how so many people move into adulthood and take their Nintendo, their Harry Potter, and their stuffed toys with them. I look at that, at these things from our youth we all cling to [and I do this as well, the twenty-three year old who lives with his grandma, and holds no real job, and who's most pressing concern might be having money for comics in the next couple of months], claiming the world is bad and that these things are good, and they bring us joy and happiness, and yet we all seem sort of broken, and unsatisfied. The world is bad. And I wonder if maybe we shouldn't open a vein.

Then again, it could all be superstition and coincidence, and the two things could be no more connected than the rain tomorrow and the color of tonight's sky. And even if [and this is a big if] it were all true, and I had hit the proverbial nail on the head, it neglects the fact that bloodletting as a cure, in actuality, doesn't heal, but rather harms, and there's only so much you can take from a person, only so much one person can willingly or unwillingly give, before there's nothing left. And as useful and necessary as it is to move on, to bleed ourselves of indispositions, it is just as necessary to remember that in sacrificing without gain, all we may achieve is leaving behind the things our heart once beat for. We only have so much blood.

Yes, as a metaphor, I really do like bloodletting -- just antiquated and shocking enough to do the trick.

1 comments :: Bloodletting.

  1. Brilliant.