I try to set a good example for my kids, often in the form of committing random acts of kindness. Sometimes, however, these acts are less random but certainly one of a kind!
As we drove home from one of our many sporting events, we noticed a sign, inviting people to donate blood. “I’ve always thought of doing that,” I said, more to myself than to the three kids in the minivan with me, who, apparently, are always listening. “Then why haven’t you?” said my youngest. Hmmm, why haven’t I? Well, probably because I am terrified of having blood drained from my body, which is something I couldn’t tell my kids. Instead, in the interest of setting that good example, I heard myself saying, “You’re right. I guess I will.” I made note of the date on the sign and tried to forget it about it for a while.
On the day of the event, I admit I was very nervous.“Don’t worry Mom. It will be okay. They give you a juice box at the end,” said my youngest, as if that would quell any of my obvious angst. I said a final farewell to my family and drove to the community centre, where the blood donor clinic was set up for the day.
Once inside the centre, I was directed to a seat and waited to be ushered through a series of stations, on my way to giving up precious platelets for the greater good.
The first station was easy: I.D. check and sign in. I was not shy about letting people know I was a first time donor. Losing impulse control is what happens to me when I’m nervous, and I often say the first thing that comes into my head. So if nervous, meaningless chatter didn’t alert my blood brothers and sisters of my inexperience, the sticker on my shirt, which said, “First time donor” was a give away.
The second station was where my anxiety level increased significantly–a finger prick (ouch!) to draw enough blood to test my iron level. I found myself thinking, please have low iron. Please have low iron. Alas, my iron level was fine, and I moved into the next chair.
In a civilized fashion, each time we changed to a different station, we moved along the chair line, and when the music stopped, we all sat down. Throughout this process, I could see donors sitting back in recliners, hooked up to blood bags, positioned in a circle in the center of the room. I was getting closer and closer to that circle, and my apprehension increased. Next, however, was the blood pressure and personal question station. As the nurse fastened the rubber strip around my arm, I found myself thinking, please have low blood pressure. Please have low blood pressure.
I knew already that I had low blood pressure but was it low enough? The nurse checked her instruments and said. “You have low blood pressure.”
“But within a normal range.”
This nurse then proceeded to ask me a series of questions, the likes of which made me blush. For instance, “In the last twelve months, have you given money or drugs to anyone in exchange for sex?” Or, “In the past twelve months, have you had sex with a male who has had sex, even once, since 1977 with another male?”
That’s pretty specific, intimate knowledge. I was eleven in 1977. WTF? Apparently my conservative lifestyle answers gave me another pass and I moved into the final chair line, the one that directly preceded the recliners.
Just before my turn, a woman standing next to me, who had just finished donating, starting squirting blood from her arm. I sharply elbowed the woman on my other side, “Look! Look!” I stammered.
The drops on the floor had turned into a puddle, as a nurse hurried to find a sterile pad to cover the steady stream. I felt a little queasy from the drama and from the smell of bleach used to clean up the floor. The woman sitting next to me said, “Wow, I’ve never seen that happen before.”
Of course not.
Finally, I was in my easy chair. A nurse was checking the veins in my arm, when a woman across from me, got up from her chair, having just finished the process. All of a sudden, blood started squirting from her arm and all over the floor. “She’s bleeding!” I exclaimed, trying to avert my eyes.
Out came the nurse, the pad and the bleach. A man beside me tried to reassure me by saying, “This is my 46th time donating, and I’ve never seen that before.”
Of course not.
“This is the time when you might want to look away if you’re so inclined, “ said my nurse, as she was about to insert the needle into my arm. I was absolutely so inclined. While she attached the collection bag and the needle did its thing, I interrogated the nurse, asking her all kinds of unfiltered questions.
“How many people are you expecting to see here today, and how does that compare to other locations?” Because I like to be on a winning team.
“We’ll see about 120 here today, judging from past attendance. Probably the best turn out is in Elmira. It’s a small town, but the Amish come out in droves,” she replied.
This compelled me to ask, “How old do you have to be to donate?”
“You gotta think that those seventeen year-old Amish kids must be pretty embarrassed, answering those personal questions. That must be the closest they’ve ever gotten to porn,” I said. Out loud. Unfortunately. This time it was the nurse’s turn to blush.
So, things went swimmingly for the next few minutes, until a woman in our circle got up from her chair and, you guessed it, started bleeding out of her arm. “Another bleeder!” I declared, as if making this announcement had become my designated role on behalf of the group. My sisters and brothers looked briefly at the woman in distress, then back at me, concerned, as the blood drained from my face, and they expected me to finally faint or bolt.
“Wow,” said my nurse. “I’ve never seen that happen twice in one day.”
“Three times. In twenty minutes,” I corrected.
“It usually happens to men, “she continued. “They don’t think it’s necessary to put three-fingered pressure on the opening.”
Eventually my needle was removed, and you can bet I put three-fingered pressure on my arm until my three fingers turned blue. Then I bellied up to the bar with my fellow donors, all of whom were repeat customers. “You did great. See you in fifty-six days?” said one fellow.
Fifty-six days seemed a little near, and I was feeling weak, not from my blood loss, but from thinking about all that unexpected hemorrhaging. As you can imagine, I’ve never seen a horror movie in my entire life. But I would do it again. I would recover, and my youngest, as usual, was right. It was okay, and I got a juice box at the end.