During one evening of my stint as a premedical assistant at Connaught, a small hospital in London's East Side, my whole view of medicine—and of blood—permanently shifted. That night hospital orderlies wheeled a beautiful young accident victim into my ward. Loss of blood had given her skin an unearthly paleness, and her brownish hair seemed jet-black in contrast. Oxygen starvation had shut down her brain into a state of unconscious.
In the glare of hospital lights she looked like a waxwork Madonna or an alabaster saint from a cathedral. Even her lips were pallid. She did not seem to be breathing. I felt sure she was dead.
The nurse arrived with a bottle of blood and buckled it into a metal stand as the doctor punctured the woman's vein with a large needle. They fastened the bottle high and used an extra-long tube so that the increase in pressure would push the blood into her body faster. The staff told me to keep watch over the emptying bottle while they scurried off for more blood.
Nothing in my memory can compare to the excitement of what happened next. Certainly the details of that scene come to me even now with a start. As the others all left, I nervously held the woman's wrist. Suddenly I could feel the faintest press of a pulse. Or was it my own finger's pulse? I searched again—it was there, a tremor barely
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Illustration: Kurt Mueller/©1984 BGEA
The Miracle Power of Blood
continued from preceding page but regular. The next bottle of blood arrived and was quickly connected. A spot of pink appeared like a drop of watercolor on her cheek. It began to spread into a beautiful flush. Her lips darkened pink, then red, and her body quivered with a kind of sighing breath.
Then her eyelids fluttered lightly and parted. She squinted at first, and her pupils constricted, reacting to the bright lights of the room. At last she looked directly at me. To my enormous surprise she spoke, asking for water.
That young woman entered my life for only an hour or so, but the experience left me utterly changed. I had seen a miracle.
For most of us, the organ of blood, if one can think of this fluid mass as an organ, comes to consciousness mainly when we begin to lose it.
A view through a microscope clarifies the various components of blood but gives no picture of the daily frenzy encountered by each cell. Red cells, for example, never sit motionless. From their first entrance into the bloodstream they are pushed and shoved through rush-hour traffic. Beginning the cycle at the heart, they take a short jaunt to the lungs to pick up a heavy load of oxygen. Immediately they return to the heart, which propels them violently over the Niagara Falls of the aortic arch. From there, highways crowded with billions of red cells branch out to the brain, the limbs and vital internal organs.
Sixty thousand miles of blood vessels link every living cell; even the blood vessels themselves are fed by blood vessels. Highways narrow down to one-lane roads, then bike paths, then footpaths, until finally the red cell must bow sideways and
Paul W. Brand, M.D., is chief of the rehabilitation branch of National Hansen's Disease Center of the U.S. Public Health Service in Carville, Louisiana. Dr. Brand and his wife, Margaret Elizabeth, live in Carville, where they attend Union Protestant Chapel. Philip Yancey is a free-lance author and editor-at-large for Christianity Today, Inc. He is the author of 300 articles and several books. Mr. Yancey and his wife, Janet, live in Chicago, Illinois, where they attend La Salle Street Church. © 1984 Paul Brand and Philip Yancey.
edge through a capillary one-tenth the diameter of a human hair. In such narrow confines the cells are stripped of food and oxygen and loaded down with carbon dioxide and urea. If we were shrunken down to their size, we would see red cells as bloated bags of jelly and iron drifting along in a river until they reach the smallest capillary, where gases fizz and wheeze in and out of surface membranes. From there red cells rush to the kidneys for a thorough scrubbing, then back to the lungs to
eliminate the carbon dioxide and refill with oxygen. And the journey begins anew.
Consider the biblical phrase "washed in the blood." Nothing in modern culture corresponds to the idea of blood as a cleansing agent. We use water, with soap or detergent, to clean. Blood, in contrast, soils or stains. It is something we try to scrub off, not scrub with. What possible meaning could the hymn writer who used that phrase, and Bible writers before him, have intended?
Blood's quality of cleansing appears throughout the Bible, from the earliest books to the latest. In Leviticus 14, for example, we read that a priest sprinkles cleansing blood on a person with an infectious skin disease and on the mildewed walls of a house. New Testament authors often refer to Jesus' blood "cleansing" us,1 and Revelation describes a multitude who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."2
Does this frequent reference to blood indicate primitive Christianity's remoteness from modern culture? To the contrary, modern medical science has shown that the
symbol of cleansing conforms closely to the function of the actual substance. Presumably, biblical writers did not know the physiology behind their metaphor, but the Creator chose a theological symbol with an exact analogue in the medical world. All that we have learned about physiology in recent years confirms the accuracy of the still-j arring linking of blood and cleansing.
If you truly wish to grasp the function of blood as a cleansing agent, here is a simple experiment Find a blood pressure test kit and wrap the cuff around your upper arm. Have a friend pump it up to about 200 mm. of mercury, a sufficient pressure to stop the flow of blood in your arm. Initially your arm will feel an uncomfortable tightness beneath the cuff. Now comes the revealing part of the experiment: Perform any easy task with your cuffed arm. Merely flex your fingers and make a fist about ten times in succession, or cut paper with scissors, or drive a nail into wood with a hammer.
The first few movements seem quite normal at first as the muscles obediently contract and relax. Then you feel a slight weakness. Almost without warning, after perhaps ten movements, a hot flash of pain strikes. Your muscles cramp violently. If you force yourself to continue the simple task, you will likely cry out in absolute agony. Finally, you cannot force yourself to continue; the pain overwhelms you.
When you release the pressure and air escapes from the cuff with a hiss, blood rushes into your aching arm and a wonderfully soothing sense of relief floods your muscles. The pain is worth enduring just to experience that acute relief. Your muscles move freely, soreness vanishes. Physiologically you have just experienced the cleansing power of blood.
The pain came because you forced your muscles to keep working while the blood supply to your arm was shut off. As muscles converted oxygen into energy, they produced certain waste products [metabolites] that normally would have been flushed away instantly in the bloodstream. Because of the constricted
DECISION January 1985
bloodflow, however, these metabolites accumulated in your cells. They were not cleansed by the swirling stream of blood, and therefore in a few minutes you felt the agony of retained toxins.
No cell lies more than a hair's breadth from a blood capillary, lest poisonous by-products pile up and cause the same ill-effects demonstrated in the tourniquet experiment. Through a basic chemical process of gas diffusion and transfer, individual red blood cells drifting along inside narrow capillaries simultaneously release their cargoes of fresh oxygen and absorb waste products (carbon dioxide, urea and uric acid) from these cells. The red cells then deliver the hazardous waste chemicals to organs that can dump them outside the body. Medically, blood sustains life by carrying away the chemical by-products that would interfere with it—in short, by
cleansing. As I reflect on the Body of Christ, the blood metaphor offers a fresh and enlightening perspective on a perpetual problem in that Body: sin.
To some, the word sin has become dusty, timeworn and freighted with unfortunate connotations. And the
What goes on inside our
bodies gives new insights about our souls
metaphors commonly used to describe God's relationship with sinful creatures have faded too. God is the judge, we the accused—although biblically accurate, that metaphor loses force as the modern legal system grows less trustworthy and more capricious. Metaphors age over time; as culture and language change, sometimes the metaphors
crack and the concept inside them leaks away.
In blood, however, we have the perfect analogue to reveal the nature of sin and forgiveness with startling clarity. Medical knowledge has only enhanced our understanding. Just as blood cleanses the body of harmful metabolites, forgiveness through Christ's blood cleanses away the waste products, sin, that impede true health.
On the day Christ died, the thick
Temple veil of separation split from
top to bottom. Now all of us can
enter into direct communion with
God: "We have confidence to enter
the Most Holy Place by the blood of
Jesus, by a new and living way
opened for us through the curtain,
that is, his body."3 <IX
(1) 1 John 1:7. (2) Revelation 7:14, NIV. (3) Hebrews 10:19-20, NIV. Bible verses marked NIV are taken by permission from The Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright ©1978 International Bible Society, East Brunswick, New Jersey
In the following interview Philip Yancey talks about writing "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" and "In His Image"with Dr. Paul Brand.
Decision: How did you and Dr. Brand come to work together?
Yancey: While I was working on "Where Is God When It Hurts?" my wife came across an article by Dr. Brand called "The Gift of Pain." I was fascinated by his approach. Dr. Brand said that if he had one gift to give his leprosy patients, it would be pain. I had never heard pain described so positively, as a gift.
So I called him and asked for an interview. During that initial meeting, he showed me a small manuscript of chapel talks he had given at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India. In it I saw an unusual blend of science, human wisdom and his personal stories. A learned scientist and a skilled surgeon, Dr. Brand has blended science and his faith in an intimate way. If God is author of both, he says, we should see the Creator in the structure of the atom as well as in the soul of man. That approach appealed to me.
Decision: What was it like to work with Dr. Brand?
Yancey: We joke about who had the better deal in the writing process. I say I got the better of the deal because he lived for 18 years in India working among leprosy patients, whereas I merely had to interview him and spend a few years writing his books. He replies that all he had to do was sit in his office and answer questions and suddenly these books appeared.
Decision: How do you hope Christians will respond to "Image"?
Yancey: "Image" is about the human body and the Body of Christ. I want the reader to ask: What role should I take in the Body of Christ? Why am I in the Body of Christ? How should that change the way I live? Those are individual questions, but I think there are corporate ones as well: How can I be a part of a diverse body of believers? How should I react to those with different doctrinal views? How should I respond to people in need or pain?
We present how the human body works, cell by cell, and then ask, Is there anything we can learn from that? The analogy of "the Body of Christ" is used more than 30 times in the Bible, so we assume that there is something we can learn.
Decision: Is the book, in its own way, evangelistic?
Yancey: In "Image" we simply talk about what makes us human—why we are made in God's image. I think some non-Christians can respond to that.
Even if a non-Christian does not come away converted, he may come away with an awe for the human body. I hope that after reading about the complex, amazing body, he will say that it is unlikely that it all happened by chance.
"Decision" magazine asked James H. Brownlee to conduct the above interview. Mr. Brownlee is associate editor of "Modern Railroads" magazine in Park Ridge, Illinois. ©1984 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
DECISION January 1985