Shows / Stories

The Spleen Story (Guest-starring Helmet)

To preface the following story: Helmet are going to be playing the Sunset House of Blues in October of this year. I just might be able to go. The Sunset House of Blues has given me memories of Miyavi, Glay, MUCC, Hyde, and many others—but Helmet, well. I have a long and sordid history with Page Hamilton’s hardcore outfit. I have yet to see them thrash live. It’s sort of a running joke. And it all started with my spleen.

I have no spleen. I had a friend in high school, Martin, who used to call me ‘anti-spleen’. I’d be strolling down the locker-lined hallways and hear the unmistakable call: “Hey, Anti-Spleen!” I acted as if I hated it, always rolling my eyes in feigned contempt.  Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less. As much fun as the word ‘spleen’ is (I rank it up there with ‘wench’ and ‘chicken’ as one of the most amusing in the English language), spleens are basically useless for anything other than fighting infections. Thus, aside from bottles of antibiotics on hand in case of a fever, being spleenless is quite low on the spectrum of life-challenging misfortunes.

The reason my spleen went missing in the first place was because of a potentially lethal illness. My father, being a doctor, has the privilege of giving prescriptions and ordering blood tests for family members (which really saves on medical bills). He had decided to get a general test on my blood one afternoon because of numerous purple bruises that had begun to pop up all over my legs and arms. I wasn’t thinking much of these small maladies. I was too busy living the book-swamped life of a high school junior in three advanced placement courses. My mind was focused on surviving schoolwork, keeping in touch with a few friends, and rigourously practicing Tetris so that I could retain the high score on every computer in the student lounge.

I believe I was intensely involved in this very activity the Friday night following the test when my dad marched solemnly into the room, followed by my mum wiping at her eyes. I reluctantly paused my Tetris game. My first though was, Okay, who died?

My father proceeded to explain to me that the results from my blood test were not good, specifically on the matter of platelet count. A healthy person was supposed to have around 400,000 platelets, give or take a few. I had 4,000. I had to stop what I was doing and head directly to the nearest emergency room for a blood transfusion.

This was the last thing I wanted to be bothered with. I had an entire lazy night planned out, and my Tetris game wasn’t even finished.

I treated the ride to the hospital as the most petty kind of nuisance. There were more important things to worry about. After wasting roughly two hours reading boring mainstream magazines while shifting uncomfortably in a plastic chair, I was finally called back to a small room, where I rattled off answers to people in white coats with a bored expression.

“Excessive bruising?”

“I guess.”

“Any heavy menstruations?”

“No, but I’m bleeding and it’s not the right time of month.”

My mother looked at me in horror. I tried to supress a yawn. Everything was so distant and unimportant. As the nurses drew my blood again, I meditated on the possibility of missing the Helmet concert on Sunday. Helmet were an indie hardcore band—one of my favorites—who had never been to the city before. (I grew up in Nashville. A far cry from the trendy area it is today, MY Nashville was safe, dull, and completely void of anything resembling hardcore music.)

I was told to lie down on an ER bed with blue curtains around it after untangling one of those annoying hospital gowns and attempting to tie it so my underwear wouldn’t show. This was not how I had planned to spend my evening. My mom was sitting in a plastic chair by the bed.

The nurse who had drawn my blood pulled the curtain aside. “Now, what you probably have is something called idiopathic thrombocytopenic perpura, or ITP,” she explained, very slowly, looking me directly in the eye. It made me uncomfortable. Everyone was taking this too seriously. I wanted to put on a Groucho Marx glasses-nose-moustache ensemble just to make these people crack a smile. “However,” the nurse continued, “there are other diseases also associated with a low platelet count, such as leukemia.”

“Okay,” I repeated endlessly, not sure what else I was expected to say. I can’t believe I might be missing a Helmet concert for this, I thought.

By the weekend’s end, I was sick to death of every somber, beady-eyed stare and hushed voice directed towards me. I was an ill individual, not an ancient deity. I had ITP.  I would have to pop a prednisone pill every morning and get my blood drawn on Mondays. Dr. Lukens, my blood specialist, sat me down in the examination room one day after the fateful weekend of diagnosis. “You’ll have to avoid any physical activity,” the doctor said, with the same grave eyes and quiet voice as everyone else. “That includes contact sports…”

Contact sports? Oh no. My worst fears had been realized. “No MOSHING?” I cried. “You can’t be serious!”

I had to explain very carefully to my doctor about the ‘contact sport’ played in the pit at rock concerts. Sadly, mosh pits were out of the question. Had I failed to visit the ER that weekend, one night in Helmet’s mosh pit might have killed me—literally.

Six months later, my life had still not changed significantly, but the prednisone side effects were unpleasant, and the doctors had a sneaking suspicion that my evil spleen was to blame for all this. My splenectomy was scheduled for the very beginning of spring break. I was officially the Anti-Spleen when I returned to school, after a week of abdominal pain, hypoglycemia, intestinal dysfunction, fainting, pain pills, and pills to counter the side effects of the pain pills.

And I missed the Helmet concert. A month afterward, they disbanded. Damn diseases.

Postscript:

Countless circumstances have somehow kept me from buying a ticket to see Helmet since. MONOCHROME? No joy. SEEING EYE DOG? It came and went. If I see Page Hamilton play (with the Toadies, no less) this October, it will be fifteen years—almost to the day—since I missed Helmet for the first time.

I am watching you, gall bladder.

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