We’ve all seen those creepy sci-fi thrillers where the hero happens upon a dingy human testing facility, with immobile victims laying in neat rows and tubes protruding from their bodies sapping their life force for some evil purpose. Unfortunately this was not unlike the first thing I saw as I stepped inside the huge room that had become the temporary home of the Red Cross for blood donations.
I had decided to donate blood on the spur of the moment. It was something I had always wanted to do in theory, but didn’t know how I would react in practice. I had no desire to go alone, however, so I tagged along with a veteran blood donor coworker to keep myself from abandoning ship at the last second. My first attempt at blood donation was more than six years ago, when I walked in my high school gym, took one look, and walked straight out. I never thought about it since, until one day a few months ago when I had blood drawn at a doctor’s appointment as part of a routine physical. It was easy and painless, and they taped the little cotton-ball to my arm afterward easy as pie. I went from the doctor’s office to the farmer’s market that afternoon, and as I was browsing one of the vendors thanked me just out of the blue. I was confused, what for? Well, donating blood of course, and before I could reply in the negative, he told me a story of a life saved by a blood donor. At that point I was too embarrassed to confess I hadn’t in fact, ever donated blood, and walked away awkwardly just smiling and nodding.
But that put the thought into my head, maybe I should try it. Guilt driven? Perhaps. But so many people donate everyday, I thought it couldn’t be so bad. Since then, there have been several blood drives in my area, and yet I’ve chickened out every time. Finally, earlier this week, I made a split second decision to sign up at the urging of my coworkers, fearing if I thought too long or too hard I might again lose the will. I made the appointment for the next day, and as I arrived late, I walked through the double doors to encounter the disturbing scene recounted above, with person after person lying prone, violated with tubes leading to sacks of blood hanging limply at their sides. There was no friendly chatter, no happy movement or signs of life other than the nurses in white lab coats gliding from one sloshing bag of blood to the other. A beeping noise, sounding like some machine error message or pickup truck in reverse was the only noise to be heard, the signal that the bags of blood were near full. I probably would have walked out right then if I was alone, and I must have turned white because I heard a faraway question of was I okay. I was struck with the intimacy of giving away something so personal, and the process seemed to qualify as deserving of some privacy. That was obviously not the case, and the fact that I would be put on display as such dominated my brain as I waited to be whisked behind a curtain for questioning.
The nurse was stern, admonishing me for drinking coffee that morning . She forced me to chug a bottle of water while she squeezed blood out of my finger with her gloved hands, collecting it in some hematacrit reading device to determine my donor eligibility. I was secretly hoping to be rejected on the basis of anemia, but unfortunately I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been right now. Without much delay I was led to a bed, where a young and pregnant nurse asked me which arm I’d prefer. She clamped the tourniquet on my right arm, without waiting for much reply, feeling for the vein. In no time the strap around my arm felt too tight and I began to swell. The bag which was to hold my blood kept beeping, and I couldn’t help but notice the nurse glancing to a superior for help, unsure why it was malfunctioning. I was pretty sure my fingers were about to fall off while she fiddled, but finally the time came to meet the needle. After a generous slathering of iodine I glanced at the monster, a a bore wide enough I felt sure was about to go in one end of my vein and out the other. I looked away as she pierced, and slowly I felt the warm liquid slide down my arm, as it traveled through the tube outside my body.
I lay there, nervously squeezing a heart shaped pressure ball, and within minutes my arm began to shake. I must have been shaking from nervousness, even though they told me the hard part was over. For me, this was the hard part: thinking about all that blood leaving my body, never to return as I gradually became weaker and weaker. I was done in 15 minutes, and held the cotton ball to my vein with my arm lifted. Except, the hole was so large it would continue bleeding if I removed it, so the nurse had to wrap a bright red bandage round and round, the tape and cotton alone being insufficient to stem the flow. The bandage was too tight and acted like a second tourniquet, my arm swelling again as I pictured my cottonball bursting fourth in a red explosion when the pressure became too much. My fears never materialized however, although I tried several times to remove the cottonball throughout the day, to no avail as it would continue bleeding. I found myself unable to walk up stairs without a near fainting spell, and proceeded to take elevators up and down one floor distances for the rest of the day.
But all that aside, it wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been, and I was happy and proud to have swallowed my fears and done it. I hope it’s put to good use, although I have as yet to determine whether I will be a repeat offender. Am I over my fear, or did I just ignore it long enough to get the job done? We’ll have to find out, but not for a minimum of 59 days.