We Are Not Alone: A Cell-Based Model

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My dad hangs up from our morning conversation to make a necessary business call. We’ve been rambling about the brave and terrifying endeavor of farming, and how Andrew and I will be insulated by our jobs from the raw risks that my dad and mom faced, farming. After he signs off, I forget myself for a minute and keep the phone pressed to my ear, not ready to disconnect. In the silence, I hear my pulse.

Our bodies keep a fine balance between allowing blood to flow and stopping blood from flowing; it’s called hemostasis. I used to think financial stability was linear, like medicine’s older models of hemostasis. In veterinary school, we charted how blood clots as two pathways, separate until they join at the end, neatly. Until recently, I’ve viewed keeping money in our accounts as a similarly straightforward process.

Put in money from our paychecks. Pay sensible bills. Refrain from spending extravagantly. Draw some arrows, add some Roman numerals for effect, and you arrive at the bottom of the chart with a magical balance that prevents uncontrolled hemorrhage of money.

The past year or so, however, blew up my chart. We followed the formula, with paychecks and sensible bills, but unexpected variables appeared. The cat, the car, and I all required surgery. We lost money on a house we owned, then finally sold. We moved for the second time in two years, then planned to move again. Our bank account looked anemic.

This fall, I took a veterinary continuing education seminar on hemostasis, “My Patient is Bleeding and Won’t Stop.” It was a prelude to transfusion medicine. Some patients just won’t survive without transfusion. “The ideal donor,” the critical care specialist said in his British accent, “is healthy with a good temperament—placid and sensible—and very food motivated.” My parents, who kept us from crashing this year, were ideal donors.

Not every bleeding bank account gets the support it needs and survives. We are beyond lucky. I have whole new definitions for stability, humility, and gratitude.

Having a frugal temperament and minimalist tastes, I’ve enjoyed modest financial stability since my first real job at age sixteen. I don’t recognize myself in critical financial condition. New arrows and factors clutter my tidy chart for stable finances. My emerging understanding of managing money as an adult has shifted from, “Why does this seem so hard for some people,” to “This is more complicated than I thought,” to “How does anyone stay afloat in this real, real world?”

Medical experts have recently had more complex insights into our bodies’ processes for hemostasis. Stepping back from tidy, separate cascades, they’ve begun drawing messier pictures with more circles and arrows weaving around each other. It’s called a “cell-based model,” which tells me that its okay to look at things in context, to consider the complications, and that the tangles are just what happens when your heart keeps pushing your blood through your messy body.  It tells me that the processes of living don’t happen neatly, in a void, and that we are not alone in trying to figure them out.

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