Young Blood

I've successfully donated blood about four times now, and was unsuccessful once. My first attempt was back in high school, and it was a horrible experience. Back then, they'd prick your thumb with, in my memory, a big thumb tack. It probably wasn't that bad, but with sensitive nerve endings in the tip of my thumb, that hurt worse than the needle in my arm when they drew blood. I made the mistake of glancing at the tube of red stuff flowing out of me into a bag, and felt a little woozy. About the only good part of the experience was, before leaving the gymnasium, having a veritable feast of cookies and drinks. I can't think of any other situation in life where I'd combine Oreos and apple juice, but that's what they serve to boost sugar. It was a Friday night in my senior year, because at the time I had a job with the student cleaning crew assisting the maintenance staff. I was lightheaded, though some of it was psychological, and cleaning all the windows in the school took a little longer than usual. I remember wondering at the time if that was what it was like to feel drunk. I'd be in college before I'd learn that the sensation was similar.

About a month after my first donation, I came home from school to find my mom fairly upset. There was a letter saying my blood had been rejected, and that I should see my doctor because the blood bank thought I was anemic. It was nice of them to wait so long to tell us. Of course, everything checked out fine with the doctor, so we assumed the technicians had screwed up and wasted perfectly good blood. I'd gone through it all for nothing, and I was done with needles. Flash forward eight years and I'd be in the hospital with severe internal bleeding, within a pint of needing a blood transfusion. An exploratory procedure confirmed the problem to be a birth defect in my intestines known as a Meckel's diverticulum, a long shot but the doctors' best guess. The surgeon resectioned my intestines and removed my appendix while he had me open, and after a few days on morphine with a nasogastric tube siphoning my stomach, I was finally allowed to eat real food again.

One thing the experience got me used to was needles, since they were drawing blood from me three or four times a day to (ironically) test how much I was losing. Subsequent checkups were much easier and I didn't fear blood tests or needles. It really was just a momentary pinch after which I was fine. Still, whenever the blood bank stopped by my office, I wasn't too inclined to go out to those mobile centers out in the parking lot. Something about having my blood drained in a trailer didn't appeal to me. Three years ago when I changed jobs, I finally caved and decided to donate. The office blood captain was very persuasive, and besides it was in the cafeteria, which was more appealing to me than the trailers, even though it was probably less appealing for anyone eating lunch on the other side of the curtains.

According to the stickers I've accumulated in my cubicle, this past Tuesday marks my fourth donation. One of my friends has dubbed me a “blood buddy” since my presence is relaxing or distracting. She probably doesn't realize that the whole experience kind of still makes me nervous. I worry about passing out, which ironically makes me feel more light headed. Usually I close my eyes or simply lift my thoughts up out of my body and detach myself from what's happening. And I never, ever look at the tube or the bag. I tried to convince another office friend to start donating, using the mental detachment argument, but he can't get past the feeling of a needle stuck in there for an extended period of time.

One thing that has greatly improved is the little finger prick they do in the preliminary testing. Instead of a metal tack, there's some little plastic thing with a small metal pin inside that they click, and it only takes a second. I remember the nurse taking forever to push the metal into my thumb back in high school. They also use the ring finger which seems to have less sensitive nerve endings. This year, I braced myself for the pinch, and didn't feel a thing after the click. It was great. “Uh oh,” said the nurse, “Did it...yeah, I think that one broke.” “What do yo--ooohh!” I began as she tried again with a new one. “Felt that one, did you?” she asked. I knew it was too good to be true. When she asked for my blood type, I was somewhat positive that it was O+, the universal donor. When asked to present my card, I whipped out my red CVS card, which apparently didn't count. I cleaned my wallet out a few months ago and I guess I never put my donor card back in. I'd find it later and confirm that I was right about my blood type.

Honestly, the whole procedure of filling out paperwork and having a nurse check my blood, temperature, and blood pressure took longer than the actual donation. Each time seems faster than the last, and the anticipation between sitting in the waiting area and lying on the cot waiting for a vein to be found and pierced is worse than the actual lying there with blood draining out. I felt like I'd just begun when I was told I was almost finished. I didn't even feel all that light headed when I got up, though I still made a pig of myself with the juice and cookies.

Because my type can be given to anyone, the blood telemarketers harass me throughout the year. My company has increased to two drives per year, and I donate any time they come around. But when I get those phone calls, at work no less, I'm sort of a dick about it and hang up. I've learned to recognize the silence at the other end of the line that precedes an operator getting on the phone upon realizing a live person has answered. I know it's wrong, but I figure the once or twice I give each year is still better than not at all. According to my papers, the next time I'd regenerate enough to donate again won't be until January any way. So we'll see if I continue to hang up or start making other contributions throughout the year, if they finally break me down. I never thought I'd ever donate again after my high school experience, and I do hope that each time I donate now my blood is put to good use. Maybe there's someone out there on an operating table as I once was, who won't be so fortunate as to have a problem resolved without the help of a transfusion. I know the stock photo families on the posters aren't real, that I'll never see the people my blood goes to. But it goes somewhere, and that's enough.

Of course, with my luck, some clumsy orderly tripped and dropped mine on the way out. if that happened, I'd rather not know.


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