Stickin’ it to The Man

I gave blood for the first time this week. Well, that’s not entirely true. I gave blood for the first time this week that wasn’t required to satisfy a medical necessity, or to prove that my wife and I had more than enough cousins between us to guarantee that our kids would probably not be born with tails or scaled feet.

It’s the needle. It’s always been the needle. I don’t know why or where this fear comes from. I can’t recall enough to trace it back to one definitive mentally scarring incident, like a routine trip to the pediatrician’s office for a vaccination that went TOTALLY WRONG…. lawsuit wrong. No, nothing like that. Though, a bottomless trust fund right now would be nice. I do often wonder if it had anything to do with the fact those giant anodized aluminum pig skewers my mother used to knit with were also called needles. “I’m sorry, you want to stick what in my arm?”

Over the intervening years I’ve found myself in and out of the hospital for one reason for another, and so inevitably have had to learn to deal with needles. Whether it’s to get something in you or take something out, the needle is the weapon of choice. On one of my trips they had an IV in me before I could explain that I was just looking for the vending machines, and could I please go find my wife now. In fact, if you can manage to survive a trip to the hospital without getting stuck with some kind of needle, it’s probably only because they ran out.

And that brings me to this past week, when I made the decision to participate in a Red Cross blood drive sponsored by my employer and voluntarily donate a pint of my own blood. (I made it myself. We do the homemade thing a lot around here.) What convinced me to do it? Was it the convenience of the opportunity? Was it the selfless desire to help someone in need? Or was it the free coffee mug and the fact that I was doing it on the company dime? Who knows? Only time, tomorrow’s mocha latte and next week’s paycheck will tell.

The actual bloodletting only took about 10 minutes. I was a little disappointed. Hell, I’d even brought a book. It was the pre-draining ritual that stretched the adventure to $16.33 after taxes. I mean, an hour and a half. First I had to read through a compendium of conditions that would preclude me from being able to give blood and verify that none of them applied to me. Some of these conditions include not feeling well in the past few weeks (this apparently means I have West Nile Virus), ever having spent more than 3 months total outside the U.S., and hailing from any state in Europe. Or Asia. Africa too. India’s not looking too promising either. This was a disappointment to one of my fellow co-workers, Oleg, who was born and raised in Russia. He very much wanted to donate blood and was borderline offended to learn that his blood wasn’t “good enough”. I had to explain to him that it was simply because Russian blood is green and American blood is red, and if you combined them you’d get yellow, and because the human body already has a yellow fluid, things would just get horribly confusing.

Once I was ushered inside their mobile base of operations there were a bevy of forms to fill out, authorizations to grant and stickers with bar codes on them to stick in appropriate boxes on appropriate documents. Then there was a simple test to determine if my blood iron content was acceptable. For that, they pricked my finger, collected a few drops of blood and dropped it into a tube of blue liquid. If the blood sank, I was good. If it floated, then apparently I’m a witch. Now, I probably could have lived with that, had it been the case. What really would have scared me was the prospect of being told by my employer that they couldn’t spare anyone to build my pyre and that I’d have to do it myself… off the clock.

After all that it was off to the big comfy chair, and the needle. Somehow I persevered. The deal was almost soured at the moment when the technician was driving the needle home. Despite my golden rule in these situations, I turned to look and saw not a simple needle and tubing, but what looked to me like a rounded over garden trowel attached to a watering hose. The image of knitting needles flashed through my mind. At the last second I shut my eyes and dug deep to call upon my unbowed method of regaining control. I began laughing uncontrollably. (Hey, it got me through my last attendance committee hearing.) There was some pink lemonade and chocolate chip cookies involved and ten minutes later it was done.

Since then I’ve been considering whether I’ll be doing this again. My wife has made a point of telling my how proud she is of me, considering my needle phobia, as she took sips of light and sweet hazelnut from my new mug. My mother only said, “You’re O Positive. You’re a universal donor. Anyone can use your blood. (something I didn’t even know) You won’t have to go to them. They’ll come to you.” Well, hey, it’s nice to feel wanted and to learn how much my mom knows about me (reminder: change social security number). Sure, I’ll do it again, but I think next time I’m holding out for a Gevalia Kaffe coffee maker and a 3 month supply of gourmet beans.

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