Bloody Practical Inquiry

by Carl Strang

Today’s account has a lot of blood in it, which perhaps makes it suitable for Halloween month, but if you are squeamish you may want to skip this one. A little over a week ago I was returning home from my bike ride workout. My curb was coated with layers of wet leaves, and I hit it at too shallow an angle. Down I went, painfully striking the inside of my right ankle. I got up, and as I limped to the house walking my bike I thought that I should have been more careful, but here was a lesson learned.

I unlocked the front door, brought the bike inside, but when I bent down to untie my shoes I found squirts of blood decorating my tile entry platform. That was not a happy moment. I got the shoe and sock off, and found that a stick, pebble, or perhaps something on the bike had struck the knobby lower end of my tibia, punching a hole that opened a small vein just under the skin. Blood poured down the ankle, but fortunately I remembered my basic first aid and did the Dutch boy thing, applying pressure with a fingertip. Here’s the hole a few days later.

Ankle 1b

I had stopped the bleeding for the moment, but now what? My right foot was covered in blood, I had nothing to wipe it off with, and I still was holding the bike up with one hand while the other was occupied with dike maintenance. I had the living room carpet to cross before I could reach the bathroom, and I didn’t want blood or bike grease on the rug. And how to get the bleeding stopped permanently? This all made for a high-motivation inquiry. I wiped the blood off the ball of my foot as best I could, hobbled in an awkward bent over position for a couple steps until I could put the bike down, then continued to the bathroom.

I cleaned the foot in the bathtub with a washcloth, amazed (appalled, really) at how the entire bottom of the tub was red with the bloody water. At one point I lifted my finger to take a look, and was surprised to find that the hole had stopped bleeding. When I flexed the ankle the bleeding started again, but a few more minutes’ pressure stopped the flow for good. I slapped a few layers of bandaids over the hole (the first one I grabbed, humorously, was a Tasmanian Devil cartoon bandaid I’d gotten from who knows where), and wrapped the whole with a strip of adhesive tape. There would be no more bleeding.

As I cleaned up the blood, continuing to be amazed at how much there was, I marveled at how quickly the platelets had done their job and plugged the breach. I remembered how, when I give blood, the opening made by the relatively large needle is quickly sealed by applying pressure for a minute with the arm held vertical. Physiology works. Early vertebrates with the capacity to quickly seal their wounds had a selective advantage, bequeathing us this wonderful adaptation.

Later I found the squirts of blood had left a trail all the way from where I first had fallen to the front door.

Ankle 3b

This was a vein, not an artery, so the squirts presumably were caused by muscle contractions in my leg as I walked the bike.

Ankle 2b

I haven’t tried to clean these stains from my sidewalk. In part they will serve as a reminder to be more careful, and perhaps they will add to the Halloween mood when Trick-or-Treaters come to my door for candy in a few weeks.

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