Blood and Water
“God money, let’s go dancing on the backs of the bruised.”
—“Head Like a Hole,” Nine Inch Nails
Last week I was immersed in beta-reading a friend’s book that will be coming out in January—Blood Money, by Kathleen McLaughlin, which I highly recommend pre-ordering (and check out the cover!). It’s about class and the international blood plasma industry, which relies on America’s shaky social scaffolding and economic precarity. It reminded me of something that’s lingered in my mind from this interview that Anne Helen Petersen did with Meg Conley last year about multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes:
“America is a pyramid scheme. It relies on people buying into the American Dream and then working hard to get to the top. But of course - almost no one does. Beneath each successful person in America is a downline of unpaid and underpaid labor.”
Blood plasma, I’ve learned from McLaughlin’s book, is an ingredient in incredible, often life-saving medications, including one she herself relies on. But upstream of those treatments is a vast pool made of millions of scantily-compensated people selling their plasma to make ends meet. I knew plenty of people in college who sold plasma for money, but I’d never thought about the industry pipeline they were being bled into.
The same week I was being riveted by Blood Money, my sisters and I were discussing how to set up a GoFundMe to help cover our youngest sister’s upcoming expenses for a major surgery, which is just—it’s insane that this is how we’re meant to think about medical care in a supposedly advanced civilization, which is also saying absolutely nothing new, nothing you don’t already know. Which then brought me back to a recent newsletter from Elizabeth Aquino about her daughter recovering from Covid that really put a fire in my belly. I urge everyone to read it, in particular for the passages she quotes from a friend about what it’s like to care for and try to protect a medically vulnerable person during a still-ongoing pandemic when so much of society just wants it to be over:
“You’re right. It is hard. And one day, you’re going to ‘get your lives back’ and you’re going to forget all about those of us who have to live with the scraps you’re willing to throw us. And, guess what! You all did get your lives back and forgot about us. Disability? We're just inconvenient now and preventing you from having parties and seeing your friends and running errands without masks on or riding Amtrak and hacking and coughing.”
Something that I had to learn repeatedly while researching walking and walkability is at work in all these realities: if society isn’t working for its most vulnerable, then it isn’t working.
The last couple of weeks, aside from reading (and preparing for a research project that I’m kind of excited to share when it’s ready because it’s one you’ll get to actively participate in if you want to), I’ve been doing a lot of what I do this time of year: skinning and freezing peaches, canning and pickling various things, cleaning my rifle and thinking about where to go hunting this season, waiting for wildfire smoke to clear so I can go up the mountain and see if there are enough huckleberries to pick for the freezer.
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