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Jeffrey Shaffer Headshot

Keeping Myself Contained

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During the past few years I've learned not to be alarmed by the sight of my own blood, which is good. What's not so good is how the learning process involves seeing the precious bodily fluid draining out of me more often than I ever expected.

It's another little bump along the road to older-ness, a term I prefer to use instead of "old age." Older-ness applies to everybody; we're all getting older day by day, even babies. And health issues caused by older-ness can pop up at any point on your personal timeline.

I was put on blood-thinning medications when stents were inserted into one of my major coronary arteries and my doctors warned me to avoid situations that might cause serious open wounds or major bruising. Simply put, if I get into a bar fight or tumble down a flight of stairs there's a good chance I might bleed to death, internally or externally, before the medics arrive.

Since I've never been a thrill seeker (no interest in mixed martial arts, cliff diving, bungy jumping on horseback, etc.) it wasn't terribly hard to make lifestyle adjustments that minimize the chances of a severe impact to any part of my anatomy. What I haven't been able to control are sudden outpourings that use my nasal passages as convenient exits from the circulatory system.

It's amazing to consider that at any given moment, a significant amount of blood is traversing through your head (or, as I like to call it, the "containment vessel"). The first time I truly appreciated this fact was about a year after my heart procedure when I felt a tickle in my nose and followed the recommended procedure of raising my right elbow up to cover my face during the ensuing, massive sneeze. When I opened my eyes the entire length of my shirt sleeve looked like a crime scene.

It may take four or five minutes to get the "breach" resolved and as I said earlier, these incidents are unpredictable. It's like having a neighbor who shows up at the back door asking for a few tablespoons of hemoglobin when you're in the middle of unloading the dishwasher or some other routine task. Not a horrendous surprise, but annoying and time-consuming to deal with.

Any aspirations I may have had to run for president someday are now dead and buried. With my luck a gusher would erupt in the middle of a nationally televised debate, and I'm pretty sure the image of a guy looking totally mortified while shoving tissues into one of his cranial openings isn't what voters associate with the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth.

I used to think it might be nice if the liquid flowing through our bodies was clear or some bland color like beige, so that unexpected leaks could be stopped and cleaned up without provoking stares and concern from passers-by. But over time I've come to realize that any type of unplanned bleeding isn't something to be treated casually and nothing screams, "Hey! We got trouble!" better than a splash of shiny bright crimson. Nature knows best.

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm complaining. Life happens, and sometimes adversity can open doors to new opportunities. Recently I've been thinking about how my thin-blood status has put me in a fairly good position to pursue acting opportunities.

Fact: Because serious contusions or bruising are high on my '"Don't Ever Let This Happen" list, one talent I've developed when strolling about in my house, or anywhere out in the world, is avoiding collisions with heavy, solid objects like coffee tables, bookshelves and large appliances.

Fact: Spencer Tracy said the keys to success for any actor are to "show up on time, know your lines, and don't bump into the furniture." Since I've already mastered number three my drama skills are 33 percent complete right from the get-go. As to potential roles I could play, I'm leaning toward semi-retired secret agent. Think of Jason Bourne supervising a mission from the comfort of his La-Z-Boy recliner.

As portrayed by Matt Damon, Bourne is constantly observing his surroundings, always looking for potential escape routes or everyday objects that can be used to fend off an attacker. I've developed similar precautionary habits. Whenever I'm invited to someone's house my first priority upon entering is a complete visual sweep of the area in order to locate the nearest box of Kleenex. And like any good covert operative, I know the importance of maintaining a demeanor of cool self-assurance. It's a skill that often comes in handy whether you're dealing with enemy agents or health complications.

Being an easy bleeder means regardless of how calm and relaxed I may seem on the outside, the inside of me is always on Red Alert.