A tall, radiant young woman stands in a doorway, swaying. She looks a little drunk. Far from it.
Her name is Alexandria Taylor and she’s the bone marrow donor featured in a documentary called Mixed Match, about the challenging process of finding donor matches for multi-ethnic patients.
The doorway she’s standing in leads out to a brightly-lit hallway at City of Hope hospital. Two hours ago, a surgeon remove some of Taylor’s bone marrow, which will be sent to a 14-year-old blood cancer patient she’s never met.
Hunkered down in the back row of the theatre, I cringe at the thought of how much pain Taylor must be in. A significant chunk of my life has been spent in hospitals and clinics. Before I was out of my twenties, I’d been rocked by infantile anorexia, severe asthma, ulcers, anaphylactic shock, hives, autoimmune disease, rosacea, vestibulodynia and debilitating anxiety attacks (can’t imagine why).
At one point, I had a tooth growing from the middle of the roof of my mouth. After the dentist confiscated my badge of freakishness, my dad gave me a little rubber stamp of a dalmatian puppy holding a heart with the words “You’re Special” emblazoned across it. It was the first of many consolation prizes.
Everything from maple syrup to penicillin has landed me in the ER.
My immune system is the medical equivalent of bringing a pellet gun to a rocket launcher fight and putting my own damn eye out, then running blindly into the other guy’s line of fire screaming, “Aim for centre mass!”.
So when my editor at Schema magazine asked me to watch Mixed Match, I froze.
My first thought was: That doc is just going to make me feel shitty about being unwilling to donate.
I’m a big believer in donating body bits. I’ve shaved my head to make wigs for cancer patients, breathed through my fear of needles at the blood clinic and registered as an organ donor.
Bone marrow donation is different, though. From what I’ve heard, the extraction process is immensely painful. And what about the risks associated with anaesthesia? Sure, anaphylaxis, hypoxic brain damage and death are extremely rare, but: I’m special, remember?
Somehow, my editor talked me through my panic and now I’m sitting in the back row of the Rio Theatre watching Alexandria Taylor smile graciously through what I assume is an incredible amount of pain.
The medical staff are asking her to return to bed and avoid strenuous activity.
“So I probably shouldn’t be twerking or anything?” she asks.
The doctor laughs nervously. “Not really.”
Taylor starts twerking.
It’s in slow-mo, but it’s definitely happening.
Something else is happening too. While Taylor and her entourage burst into giggles, the knot in my gut untangles itself and I start laughing too. This woman just looked one of my biggest fears square in the face and, instead of curling up into a weeping ball of sweat and terror, she’s popping her booty like a champ. I tell myself that she’s a special case, that most donors probably don’t have such a positive experience.
That’s when I realize that ‘special’ doesn’t have to mean a lifetime membership to the Murphy’s Law Club.
I meet Taylor (who’s married now and goes by Hernandez) at the afterparty and give her my free drink ticket, partly because I don’t drink, but mostly because the five-minute walk from the theatre to the bar wasn’t long enough for me to choreograph an interpretive dance sequence illustrating the profound effect she’s had on me.
“You do so much good,” I tell her, when it’s time to leave.
“You will too,” she says. “I believe that.”
Two days later, when I’m swabbing the inside of my cheek to send my DNA off to the OneMatch bone marrow registry, I believe it too.