Nursing Book Club

Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine and Mysteries of Blood by Rose George

A bloody good read!

If you like your science books tempered with a healthy dose of eye-rolling, you will certainly enjoy Nine Pints. Author Rose George, an English freelance journalist, has taken a wide-ranging, witty deep dive into her subject: human blood and the industries it has spawned.

George begins with an overview of blood itself. Unless you’ve graduated recently, you could probably use a refresher, and as a nonmedical person, George is adept at making the science understandable. By the end of the chapter, the many types of cells and their function will have all come back to you.

Next, she expands on the many uses of blood. She begins with bloodletting and blood banks, presenting much interesting history of how the techniques for blood storage and processing were developed, the costs involved and how the public has been encouraged to voluntarily give away a priceless commodity. I knew that blood could expire, but had no idea that millions of dollars worth is destroyed when it “out-dates,” nor did I know what elaborate steps blood banks have taken to prevent this.

The author’s interest in blood goes well beyond the merely scientific to include a whole range of social affairs. An entire chapter is devoted to the menstrual habits of Indian and Pakistani women, and refers to a movie I’d just seen — 2018’s Pad Man, available on Netflix. While in the U.S. we argue about whether or not tampons should be taxed as luxury items, in some parts of Pakistan, they still argue about whether or not menstruating women can sleep in the house or should take their chances in a cave outside for five days.

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Another social issue that comes under her microscope is the Jehovah’s Witness demand for bloodless surgery. She looks closely at whether it’s only whole blood or blood products that they refuse, and what they actually do to make their refusal clear.

Fantasy, Science and Science Fiction

George’s survey of the history of blood goes to some unusual places. One of the more obscure involves Red Star, a 1905 Russian science-fiction novel about a mathematician who visits Mars and learns about “blood exchanges,” which allegedly have “rejuvenating properties for humans.” In 1926, Stalin (apparently an avid reader of junk novels) gave the author funds to establish a blood-transfusion site in Moscow to explore this possibility!

Naturally (unnaturally?), vampires also come under scrutiny in a brief section on the practice of drinking blood in order to extend or improve life.

Moving on to the present, the author looks at trauma and how it is handled. If you’ve worked in a trauma center or ED, you probably know that even with severe injuries and massive blood loss, many patients can be saved through the use of blood fractions and blood extenders. George is able to explain just how this works.

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George also considers the future in a chapter entitled “Blood Like Guinness.” She envisions a time, not that far off, when start-ups could use DNA and stem cells to cure diseases like sickle cell and Alzheimer’s, making present-day therapies seem as archaic as 16th century medicine does to us.

Coffee Convo with the Author

I enjoyed Nine Pints far more than I thought I would because the author’s style is just so enjoyable. I felt like we were having a cup of coffee together while she told me about her latest interview subject, in a leisurely, “You won’t believe what he said then …” kind of way. Throughout, she asks the questions that a layman would ask so we don’t have to feel stupid about things we don’t know, and then offers an explanation that flatters the reader’s intelligence. What more could you ask for?

Some parts of the book, like the discussion of bloodletting and leeches in her initial history lesson, are not for the squeamish. However, George keeps tongue firmly in cheek, and the breadth of the material makes for a fascinating read. It will give you a fresh take on a subject you might think you already know a lot about.

Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine and Mysteries of Blood by Rose George (Metropolitan Books, 2018)

CHRISTINE CONTILLO, RN, BSN, PHN, is a public health nurse with more than 40 years of experience, ranging from infants to geriatrics. She enjoys volunteering for medical missions.

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