Blood oath


Every eight weeks, I hoist a pint. I stop in at the local joint, where they know me and hook me up. With a needle, to an empty bag.

My poison? O positive.

The Red Cross office is in a modern office building on the mountain overlooking the city. This branch seems to enjoy the one constant, change.

In the two dozen times I’ve visited, I’ve guessed wrong a few times on the hours. They seem to change almost seasonally.

The staffers take their time, which means I sometimes spend the better part of an hour catching up on my magazine reading. The TV set in the waiting room usually has game shows on, which I ignore. Today’s group of donors is an interesting cross-section of ages, races and classes.

Sometimes, they want me to read the pamphlets. I assure them that if they haven’t changed the information sheets since my last visit two months ago, I know it by heart. They still want me to read them, though.

Right now, hospitals have put out the mid-summer low blood supply alert. I ignore the alerts, since I’m in like clockwork, and they won’t budge even a single day on the rule.

The nail-biter is the first blood test. I always look away right before they stick my finger. I’m usually borderline on the iron over-under, like today. The nurse on duty had to put it through the spinner, and I though for sure I’d be bounced.

And after I remembered to bring the right donor card (yeah, it’s a big deal to them) and everything. BP is low, as usual, as is pulse and weight.

I made the cut. Barely. After the many questions they ask each time about whether I’ve had a transfusion in Spain or sex with an African (none of your business!), she prints out the form to sign. And the form is different from the ones handed to me on previous visits. They love tinkering with the computers and donor database software. The nurses must hate it.

She reminds me that I can return on Sept. 11, and said I wouldn’t forget that date. No way, though I assured her people would be lined up around the block that day for their once-every-five-year donation. Yeah, it’s been five years since that fateful day.

It’s because of Sept. 11 that I’m here to begin with. So many good-hearted citizens lined up in the weeks after the terrorist attacks of 2001 that hundreds or thousands of pints were tossed after their expiration date. Like shelters at Thanksgiving, too many volunteers makes the problem worse. Charities need help all year long, not just on one day.

(For years, I couldn’t donate because I didn’t weigh enough, and my blood pressure was too low. But then I got fatter.)

So I rushed out to give blood for the first time. Except that I never got around to it until July 2002, 10 months after. At least I knew my blood would go to help one, two, three people.

(I also did apheresis once, where they jam a needle and tube in each arm to circulate your blood through a machine to collect platelets. I did that only to get in the bone marrow donor registry. The process takes hours, and you’re not allowed to sleep.)

blooddonor.jpgThat first visit to donate whole blood was a true test. The nurse forgot to draw a sample before pulling the pint. So she ended up puncturing my arm a second time to fill a test tube. Not pleasant.

I survived. I marked my calendar and returned every eight weeks (or close to it) ever since. Today’s trip marks four years. I turned down the T-shirt and cap offered. I just want the snacks in the canteen.

No special treats today (baklava, fresh cookies), just the regular fare of packaged snacks, bottles of juice and tiny cans of Coke.

I gulp down my cookies and crackers and head outside into the crazy heat. My left arm bears the purple stretchy wrapped bandage covering my sore puncture spot. Plenty of fluids, no alcohol, no exercise, no heavy lifting. And more iron.

If I’m remembered for nothing else, at least I was good for one thing: making extra blood and giving it away for free. No effort whatsoever.

You can do it, too.


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