‘SBlood: a (Reformed) Vampire Confronts Time

Part One: Happy Birthday!

I had no idea that anything was even slightly ‘amiss’ other than awareness of a ‘slight anemic condition’ I had to explain to shocked doctors who would do double-takes after glancing at results of routine blood exams, on the few occasions I had them, and begin to stammer ‘nonsense’ about ’emergency rooms’ and ‘immediate transfusions.’ 

“Oh, I’ve been slightly anemic since I was a kid. My usual hematocrit is 27,” I’d repeated throughout my 20s, not actually knowing what hematocrit was, or that the normal range for adult males was between 45 and 50.

“It all began…” as the trope slopes – downward slanting Kafkaesque – January 1st, 1995, the morning I turned thirty… 

Someone must have traduced Adam E, for he woke from strange dreams on the morning of his 30th birthday to find himself accused of possessing the blood-count of a large insect…

“Eleven,”  nurses, interns and attendants who’d gathered around him whispered excitedly among themselves.

“His hematacrit is only eleven!”
“Unbelievable. He’s an anaerobe.”

“Lowest hematocrit I’ve ever seen.”

“Impossible. How is he still breathing?”

“I’ve seen dead people with higher counts…”

Something was not right. I didn’t feel well. Nor was I particularly aware of where I was, or who the faces peering down at me belonged to, or why, if peer they must, it should be down and not up. Had I gotten drunk? Been in a fight? Was I laid out on a beer-and-vomit sticky bar-room floor among saw-dust and spent peanut shells, awaiting the thick, rough hands of yet another bored bouncer? Think.
“Shhh. He’s going to speak,” one of the faces announced.

“Cabbage-men,” I said, prepared to talk my way out of whatever mess I was in with properly arch tones — hinting litigious – of outrage and righteous indignation: works every time. “Spaghetti-people.”

The ‘see-I-told-you-so’ winks, smirks, nudges exchanged among my observers indicated that this was definitely not the thing to say. Was it even what I’d meant to say? Dangers of a mind unhinged: thoughts slip; word-dust scatters. I struggled toward the perpendicular.

“Try and relax,” said a woman. Her warm hand gently pushed me down. “You’re very sick.”

“Enough to skip school?”

“You have a fever of one-o-six. And double-pneumonia. More than enough to keep you home from school. I’ll write you a note myself. But these are the least of your concerns…”

Hundred-and-six fever. Well, that would explain the cabbage-men. And the spaghetti-people. Hallucinations. Perhaps this whole thing was an hallucination – or a bad dream. Was the soft feminine hand on my chest in actuality the bearish paw of an eager bouncer…?

I was sent — stretcher express – on a tour of various small, bare rooms, exposed and processed like a roll of film through snazzy contraptions stocked deriguer with all the latest high-tech audio-visuals: whirs, clicks, zaps, flashing lights. Real sci-fi stuff. That fewer and fewer of the white-coated technicians who operated these machines were cabbage-men or spaghetti-people indicated my fever had begun to subside.

After the show was done (look for ‘tests’ on your copy of the bill), I was wheeled back to ‘my spot’ in the crowded ER and hooked to smaller, less impressive gadgets than those that flashed and zapped me in the naked rooms. A womanish voice over the intercom announced something about visiting hours and would Dr. Blip report immediately to section Blap kindly respect that all of NYU Medical Center is a smoke-free zone please thank you.

It was 5PM. The day had escaped untouched. But I could think again – a mixed-blessing at best, under the circumstances. I recalled the night before:

My girlfriend and her room-mate had thrown a New Year’s Eve party. I’d been preternaturally exhausted. Barely the strength to lift a beer to my lips. I went into my girl-friend’s room and fell asleep, before midnight, missing the inevitable birthday cake and boozed-out chorus of ‘Happy Birthday.’ Perhaps she’d tried to wake me, I could not recall. But I awoke startled, sweating, around four AM. My heart raced. I lumbered to the bathroom and turned on the light, catching the ‘cabbage-men’ and ‘spaghetti-people’ crouched in secret ritual. They did not welcome the intrusion, and told me as much, before I passed out. My girlfriend and her room-mate managed to gather me into a cab to the ER at NYU Medical center, where I was insured under the student plan. An ambulance would have taken me to…I don’t know. One of several hospitals nearby – she lived in the West Village, not far from New York University itself – where I might or might not have been covered.

And now I was a ‘victim of circumstance,’ stuck in the ER with some kind of ‘condition.’ What bad luck. I supposed my mother would be calling to – no. That’s right. My mother had died on December 9th – December 8th? – leaving me an inheritance: percocet, fioricet, darvon, valium, and assorted other goodies I’d been sampling all month. Trick-or-Treat. My sister kept the bottles, recorded brands, dates, doses, name of prescriber. She wanted to sue. “Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth,” I’d told her. Maybe I’d overdone it. Too much of a good thing.

“Hi, I’m Mimi, your nurse,” extending a soft hand.

“You’re not a bouncer.”

“Depends on how you behave,” she winked. “Do you know your name?”

“Is this multiple-choice?”

“You’ve got two: right or wrong.”

“Touche. Adam. Adam Engel.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Some sort of medical facility. NYU — if you wanna get paid. NYU hospital.”

“NYU Medical Center,” she corrected. “What day is it?”
“January 1, 1995.”

“Who’s the President?”

“Of NYU?”

And so on. Stack of papers I was too tired to read or fill out – she did it for me – but managed to sign. Not a smart “business move,” but I assumed they’d be giving me the business one way or another. Anyway, I was a student, immune from strong-arm debt-collection for at least another year-and-a-half.

“How long have you had your condition?”

“What condition?”

“Ha, ha. Funny.”


“Have you always needed a cane?”

“Stick. It’s not a cane it’s a stick, a walking stick. Byron may have been a great swimmer, but he was an arrant gimp. Club-foot. He walked with a stick. Reagan, on the other hand, or what’s left of him, uses a cane. Or so I’ve heard. Haven’t seen him around much lately. Have you?”

“You’re a man of many opinions.”

“Only the right ones.”

I explained that I’d been a long-distance runner until I was blind-sided by a bicycle in the fall of ’92 and my hip blew out. Avascular necrosis, according to the sports medicine guy I saw the following Spring. He said I had the hip of an 80-year-old man and would require full-replacement surgery, but was far too young, and would have to wait another five years at least — or as long as I could stand it. That was two years ago. It had indeed begun to smart a bit, a lot actually. I had so much to look forward to…

“A bicycle caused this?”

“Straw that broke the camel’s back. Probably something latent, some runner’s thing, or whatever. Same hand dealt to Bo Jackson. Haven’t seen him around much lately, either.”

“And you’re a grad-student of which program?”

“Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). Kind of NYU’s answer to the MIT Media Lab.”


“Film school. It’s a computer division of Tisch – the Film School.”

“Film student,” she said aloud as she wrote.

She told me I’d soon be evaluated by Dr. So-and-so, and advised me to keep my mouth shut about the cabbage-men and spaghetti people, cause he ‘might not understand.’

“What is he, some kinda racist?”

“He’s a specialist. He’s actually seen other patients with your condition.”

Again with ‘the condition.’ Had I come down with something strange? Would I be quarantined?

“Oh, there you are, Doctor. This is Adam Engel, the young man we called you about.”

Enter the Specialist, whose eye-brows twitched up-and-down quick as the shutter of a high-speed camera. Dr. Brows.
He began the interrogation. What medications was I on? When was my last hospitalization? Was my last “drop” so precipitous? Where was my medical history Database of Origin? On, on, on. Exhausted. I craved sleep.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “None of this applies.”

“You’re a thirty-year-old man with a grave anemic condition – some form of myoplasia, I’m guessing, or aplastic anemia, and you have no idea of your own history? This is not something you catch like a cold, for God’s sake. It’s something you contract. Usually in childhood. Usually through exposure to toxins. You may have been in remission for quite some time, but somewhere in your past are transfusions, treatments. You can’t remember anything at all?”

Pregnant – or maybe just fat? – silence. His eyebrows bobbed like buoys.

“How many time have you been transfused?”

“I’ve never been transfused.”

“Oh please. With your condition? Stop playing around. They called me in on New Year’s day for – “

“My birthday.”

“Yes, Doctor. Here,” Mimi showed him my ‘papers.’

“Oh. Well. Happy Birthday.”


“New Years baby. You do a lot of partying last night?”

“Too tired. Went straight to bed.”

“Do you drink alcohol?”


“How socially?”

“Wine, occasionally. With dinner, when I go out, if someone else pays…”

“Do you take drugs?”

“Only as prescribed and directed by a qualified physician.”
“Have you been under stress recently?”

“Well, yeah. This whole grad-school thing. Teaching. Over dead-line with the screen-play…”

“You’re having a movie made?” this sparked his interest.
“Not a chance.”

“Oh. So the ‘screen-play’ is just a student thing.”

“Well, I suppose everything is a ‘learning experience,’ in some sense. Maybe. But I’m getting paid, if that’s what you mean. Nobody writes a screen-play just for shits and giggles.”

“But you said – “


“Excuse me?”

“Optioned. The script was optioned.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It means they pay you to write a script they intend not to make.”

Again blank stares. Eye-brows in over-drive.

“It’s like this: they give you – me and my screen-writing partner, in this case – a certain amount of money for the ‘option’ of keeping your script on the shelf for a few years. This way, if somebody else produces a movie that ‘resembles it’ as someone is bound to do, cause they’re all the same, more or less, unless you’re a director with independent funding, they sue the pants off the offending studio – usually settle out of court – and make double the money they would have if the movie had been made, without the expense and other head-aches of actually making it. The House always wins.”

“Hmn. Interesting.”

“No. It’s not. If it were it would at least be kinda fun.”

“So you’ve been under a great deal of stress, then?”

“Hell yeah. Except for my mother’s funeral, I haven’t had a break since –“

“Your mother’s funeral?”

“Yeah, my mother died three weeks ago. My parents live – or my father still lives – in Florida. So it was good to get away from the cold for a few days. Hate the winter. Even with this ‘climate change’ thing, anything below sixty degrees – “

“Oh my gosh,” blurted Nurse Mimi, with sincerity. Genuinely touched, and therefore, touching. “Your mother just died? And you being this sick? I’m so sorry…”

“Why? You kill her?”

The eye-brows froze mid-twitch. Foreboding. Shit. I forgot. I was supposed to be grief-stricken or something like that. Doctor Brows looked at me kind of funny, which was not funny at all. I felt like whats-his-name in The Stranger. Was I that guy? Why didn’t I feel bad? It’s not like I was happy, or that I wanted my mother dead or any of that nonsense. Though it was kind of nice to get away, smoke cigars on the beach with uncle Al…maybe I was going through delayed dramatic grief syndrome, or whatever they call it on the talk-shows. Yeah, that was it. I was so grief-stricken, I’d lost my senses, sublimated it all, etc. But I don’t think Doc Brows would have considered anything ‘delayed’ but my consignment to the bug-house. There but for the grace of Nurse Mimi could have gone I…

“This guy’s on drugs,” Dr. Brows announced.

“He’s been hallucinating, Doctor,” protested the good Mimi. “He came in with a fever of –“

“Nobody hallucinates like that, no matter what kind of fever he’s got. This guy’s on drugs.”

The icy thumb of paranoia jabbed my sternum. Could Doc Brows have somehow found out about my ‘inheritance?’ These medicos have their own secret societies, like gangsters, spies, businessmen, or anybody else. Maybe the guy who prescribed all those goof-balls to my mom, the guy my sister was threatening to sue, no less, set up this whole thing and tipped him off. ‘Condition’ my ass. I wasn’t sick at all. I’d been framed…

“He’s acting strange. I think he’s high on something,” somber Dr. Brows. “I might want to put him in Bellevue and treat him from there.”

This blunt development smashed the false-smile directly down my throat. Anxious hiccup. You could sign into the psyche ward, but you couldn’t sign out. And if an authority, a DOCTOR, no less, signed you in, there was no leaving until he was damned ready, or remembered, to sign you out. Months, maybe more. They drove you crazy in there.

“He said he’s in film-school, Doctor,” interjected Mimi. “All those guys are strange. They live in fantasy worlds, after all. They adapt, even prosper by putting these fantasies on film. But they’re all a bit ‘out there.’ ‘Eccentric,’ might be a better term. These guys are eccentric.”

Dr. Brows thought, or pretended to think, deeply. His pen hovered over the paper that could have assigned me to a long convalescence in a rubber room.

“Eccentric. Oh. Yes, you’re right. Yes, yes, you’re right, ‘eccentric.’ I’ve actually witnessed this phenomenon. Saw the man who tended my father’s garden talk to shrubs as if they were alive.”

He prescribed this drug, that drug, and this and that other drug, all intravenous. Antibiotics for the pneumonia. He’d see me in “a day or so,” after more results came in.

“That was a seriously close call,” said Mimi. “He was ready to sign you away to psych. Proof of sanity would been entirely your responsibility.”

“I’m not feeling well. I would have explained that I’m not feeling well; hence, not at my best.”

“See what I mean? That’s the kind of talk that would have kept you there for life. Only a crazy person would try to argue that he’s sane. The doctors at Bellevue would have become quite offended were you to challenge the integrity and authority of their professional diagnoses by claiming they were incorrect.”

“So once they say I’m crazy, I’m crazy? Or I really piss them off and make them crazy, in which case I’d be really crazy.”

“Pretty much. Unless you can prove otherwise without offending them. But you’re in the clear, and I can tell already we’ve brought the fever down. Why dwell on the ‘what if?’”

They put me in a room among the sad, mad, drugged, moribund. The old guy across from me was dying of cancer; he didn’t say much. The young kid in the far corner, age about twenty, was also dying of cancer, resigned and reticent before the TV – except when Dr. Feelgood was late with his morphine shot. That put the pep in his step. He paced and growled like a tiger and cursed the dirty-rotten lying fat-assed bastards who invaded ‘his’ TV. It was the year Newt (appropriately named) Gingrich and the Republoblips yanked ‘control’ of congress from the Democripubs, or what-have-you. I could understand the kid’s point. Very inconsiderate of Dr. Feelgood to keep him waiting. Problem was, his dope-sick invectives set off Mr. Patriot, the codger in the bed beside mine, who cheered on pudgy Newt’s pin-striped marauders and yammered about ‘getting America back on top again,’ and all that rigmarole. I didn’t know what he was dying of, if anything, but he was killing me with a litany of has-been heroics he’d allegedly pulled off during the ‘Great War’ (the second one, I supposed, but who knew?). I was still connected to monitors, machines and bags of fluid glop, so I couldn’t escape. Enough of this shit, I finally said to myself. Enough is too much.

“Hey, man. Hey, Mr. Patriot. I have uncles who got their asses shot-up in Germany and the Philippines, respectively. What was so ‘Great’ about that war, or your particular version of it?”

No answer.

Huh. That shut him up, I thought, content.

Might have seriously over-shot the mark.

Woke up next morning to spook-drones of Latin – a Capella prayers of a lone priest; always expected organ music, or choral, with that stuff. The priest crossed himself. Some old army guy decked out in ‘dress greens’ he’d horizontally outgrown and an officer’s cap that pinched his head, muttered, “Good-bye, old friend. You were a good man.” Mr. Patriot had friends? Friends who considered him a ‘good man?’ Orderlies pulled a sheet over the late Mr. Patriot’s face — before I could get a better look (never had seen a dead guy before, though I’m sure Mr. Army Man had seen his share). They wheeled the corpse out on a gurney.

Holy shit. Did I do that? Words can kill. Really I didn’t care at that point. Whatever the guy had or hadn’t done in the Philippines or Normandy or wherever he claimed he’d been, I was in a blood-and-guts combat zone, as far as I could tell. Kill or be killed. Every man for himself. I doubt even Achilles would have been such a hot-shot if Newt & Co. had raised his premiums or gathered the where-with-all to zap his coverage altogether.

“But I’m a veteran…of the War to End All Wars, no less!”

“Yeah? Where were you stationed?”

“Ilium. Troy. Whatever. Damned barbarian names. Stormed the beach. Got medals, slaves, booty, all sorts of stuff to prove it.”

“Sorry, Mr. Achilles. Take it to the VFW. Next!”

Mr. Patriot’s replacement was pale, twig-thin, terminal.  Shat constantly.  Foul yellow-brown-ooze, squirted more or less hourly.  Everywhere, despite rubber pants and diapers.  Nurses’ aides, orderlies cleaned his mess, impatient despite the patient’s pain — months of round-the-clock fudge-squirts had burned his ass like a bullet wound.  With each cleaning he squealed like an infant shocked to first awareness of the import and finality of pain.

Long, high-pitched, terrified.

Nicknamed him “Old Faithful,” such were the frequency of his eruptions. Deep, fishy stink overpowered even the programmatic vomiting of the cancer guys across the room.

“Look at you, a grown man messing himself like a baby,” a frustrated nurse’s aide said one night.  “Dear God in heaven, what a mess.”

“I can’t help myself.  Do you think I chose this?  This has been going on for months.  I’m defecating myself to death. This is a terrible way to die.   I’m shitting my soul.   Have you no compassion?”

The Nurse’s Aide softened.

“Well, the doctors will make you better. You’ll see.  But you should ring for us,” she said, and pointed to the button near his bed.  “Ring when you feel a poopie coming on, so we can catch it.”

Snatching motion with her right hand.

“It just comes,” he wept. “It just comes.”

The Aid cleaned him.

“Old Faithful” groaned and squealed through clenched teeth.

“It’s unhealthy, that’s all,” the Aid passed me.  “It’s not fair to other patients.”

Adam Engel lived for your sins -- and he lived well! -- in Fear-and-Trembling, Brooklyn, one of the last gangrenous toes of NYC not yet severed and replaced with a prosthetic gentrification device. Engel has traveled the farthest regions of cyberspace, where Dark-matter meets Doesn't-matter; and Anti-matter, despite its negative connotation and dour point-of-view, excercises rights of expression protected by Richard Stallman's GNU/Free Software Foundation and CopyLeft agreement, if nobody and nothing else. Having spent many years studying Boobus Americanus (Summum Ignoramus), allegedly the most intelligent mammal on earth -- after its distant relative, Homo Sapiens -- in various natural habitats (couch, cubicle, bar-stool, ball-game -- televised or 'real-time') -- Engel has thus far related his observations of and experiences with this most dangerous of predators in three books -- Topiary, Cella Fantastik, and I Hope My Corpse Gives You the Plague (the combined international sales of which have reached literally dozens, perhaps as many as seventy, with projected revenue to top three digits by decade's end! Truly a publishing phenomenon). Engel is Associate Editor of Time Capsule Books, a division of Oliver Arts & Open Press, published in limited editions for a tiny, highly specified, though eclectic, target-audience: people who actually read books. He can be reached at adam@new.dissidentvoice.org Read other articles by Adam, or visit Adam's website.