"And the white cells?"
"There are different ages for white cells. There are all different kinds of white cells."
"Aren't 'white cells' a garbage-can term for many different white cells?"
"Exactly, yeah. There are different kinds, and they serve different functions. Some white cells last days, and then there's a type of white cell called the 'memory cell,' which is the ally in vaccinations, and that can last indefinitely.
"The 'memory cell' contains the genetic code to recall whether it has met up with a virus before. It will recognize it and then send signals to other white blood cells, other soldiers in the army of the blood, to go and fight it. So it operates as the cell with the collective memory for the body. And the different memory cells may have different recollections of the bacteria and viruses that strike the body."
"So they remember if you had chicken pox?"
"They remember it for the rest of their lives. And when they pass away, then they pass on the memory. Just like in families."
"And then platelets that are necessary for..."
"They also just last a few days. About ten days, I think. They're colorless. As their name would imply, they're shaped like tiny plates."
"There are so many kinds of white blood cells."
"Monocytes and leukocytes and neutrophils are one of the reasons that white blood cells were discovered later than red blood cells, because they are basically transparent. They aren't white. You have to stain them. They're also much smaller than red blood cells; they're harder to see. So it wasn't until stronger microscopes were created that white blood cells were discovered."
"And when was that?" "Well, let's see, one of the discoverers of white blood cells was Paul Ehrlich [1854-1915]. He was one of my favorite characters in the book. I find myself interested not just in the science, but in the scientists themselves. I still remember, early on, the first time I saw a photograph of Paul Ehrlich in a history of hematology. It showed this elderly man with a big, fat cigar in one hand and a book in the other, sitting in his study surrounded by books and papers and dwarfed by these books and papers. He looked so intense on what he was reading. The cutline read, 'Paul Ehrlich in his study.' I said to myself, 'I've got to know this man's story.'
"He was this brilliant scientist, now considered the father of hematology and immunology and chemotherapy. He came up with the notion of using chemicals to combat diseases. He also discovered a cure for syphilis, the sexual plague of the 19th Century. The more I learned about his story, the more I found that he was a great humanist."
"He was the Flaubert of blood cells."
"He was. And a quirky, quirky, wonderful man. And so any personal details I could find about him I just loved."
"Do you and Steve spend a lot of time looking at his blood-test sheets?"
"We do. He has to get blood tests every three months. Steve and I have been together for 15 years, so it's been at least that, if not more often during periods when he was sick. That's been a constant in our lives, not only going to the phlebotomist and getting his blood drawn."
"I understand that they count blood differently than they used to now that they have computers."
"That's right. They used to do it by hand. Or by eye count with a microscope and a counter. In some parts of the world, it's still done that way. But now it's done by staining the blood and with computers."
"Does living with someone who's HIV-positive change the way that you deal with blood?"
"Oh, absolutely. It's always been something that both of us have feared as a source of infection, as a carrier of disease, but also just emotionally as a source of anxiety."
"The anxiety rings all through the book."
"The author is. So that's probably true. As I said earlier, I think that's something that drove me to write the book, this realization that blood had become this substance that I feared. And saw as hazardous and dangerous. So strongly that it even tainted my perceptions of my own blood."
"Murderers must feel horrified by the blood that comes out."
"When I told a friend I was working on this book about blood, he shivered and he said, 'You know, I like blood as long as it's in the body.' I think most people feel that way. You're not used to seeing it, and when you do see it, well, inevitably it's a sign of danger or injury or wounds. Seeing blood is not usually a good sign."
"But we like it in our meat."
"I interviewed a dietician for the section on vampires and put the question to her, 'What would be the risk of someone actually drinking blood, like, say, a vampire?' She paused and said, 'We eat blood all the time, in the meat that we eat.'"
"But beef," I said, "if it's not well-done, blood runs out on the plate."
"Exactly, and some people love that. It's much easier to call it 'juice,' but you know they used to call blood 'juice,' this special 'juice,' 'human juice.'"
"Where did you get the title -- Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood?
"Five quarts is the amount of blood that runs through the average person. The general rule is that for every 30 pounds of you there is one quart of blood. I am 150 pounds average weight. So in me are five quarts of blood."
"How is this book different from the first book?"
"Aside from the subject matter, I made a conscious effort to try to make the book as fluid as possible. That was my goal. Sleep Demons had the fractured, frantic quality of an insomniac's state of mind. I don't even know exactly how deliberate it was, but when I look at it now, even the transitions seem sharp and bright. I made an effort with this book to just make the thing flow, so that one subject led into another. And my goal, what I would think about would be, 'I want to write the book so that even if I didn't have chapter titles and section breaks, I could take all those away, and it will still be 300 pages flowing from one to the other.' Especially knowing that I would be weaving back and forth between memory and history and science and that sort of thing."
"What does blood taste like?"
"Metallic, kind of like change."
"That's iron and the copper."
"Yes, the copper and the iron, which is literally in it. In fact, two-thirds of the body's store of iron is in the blood. It's no surprise that blood has that metallic taste."