I have to confess: I don’t really love how donating blood makes me feel. I mean that in the physical sense, although it’s kind of creeping into the emotional realm as well: there was a moment, however brief, yesterday where I wondered what would happen if I told the blood suckers I’d changed my mind and got out of the chair right before the technician started.
I started donating more than four gallons ago. And we could use that to do some math, because you donate a pint at a time, one pint every two months, but I can’t ever remember how many pints are in a gallon, and then there were the times I missed, due to illness or other obligations . . . it’s just easier to say I started donating when Rachelle and Tina worked at Pat’s.
At some point back then all high school seniors were required to do a civics project. Civics not as in a class, but as in a civic service to the community. The most popular thing to do was fund-raisers of various sorts, which almost invariably meant hitting up the downtown businesses for donations. I would have preferred the seniors to have been encouraged to visit folks at the senior care center, or rake someone’s lawn, anything that gave of themselves rather than giving of the downtown merchants.
But one year one of the Roper boys (Josh, perhaps?) arranged for St. Mary’s Hospital out of Grand Junction to bring its bloodmobile. Rachelle and Tina determined to go, and I decided to go with them.
Prior to that, I had always hedged when given any chance to donate blood. (At the time, there were very few chances here in Gunnison, so not a big hedge.) My sister Tia was always looking for opportunities; but the thought of needles creeped me out, and I just said “no,” even though I knew I should be donating. For some reason, I decided to go with Rachelle and Tina.
And it turned out to be a fairly painless process. The worst part is early on, when they poke your finger for a drop of blood to test your hemoglobin level. Lynn, who pokes her own fingers multiple times per day to test her blood sugar, tells me I’m a baby, but when I say something to the blood people, they tell me many people have the same complaint.
The bloodmobile from St. Mary’s didn’t come on any regular basis, but it turned out that the largest blood bank in the state does offer a regular routine. “St. Mary’s” is easy to pronounce; “Bonfils” is harder. It must be French: Bon-fees, although I imagine a true French person wouldn’t pronounce the S. And now that doesn’t matter as much, because Bonfils got folded into a nationwide organization: Vitalant, which comes with more pronunciation options than it should. The correct one is VY-tal-ent, like “vital” and “talent,” I suppose. It comes with a dumb name and a very flimsy donor card, but their company color is a bright purple, so that’s fun.
Rachelle moved on from Pat’s but Ben (Current Ben) replaced her, so Tina, Ben and I became part of the Bonfils’ regulars, giving blood every couple of months on company time. Brandon arrived and joined us; Tina left; Liz came along; Brandon left; then Liz; and now it’s just Ben and me.
Somewhere in the Ben-Brandon era I encountered a novice phlebotomist, and maybe I hadn’t eaten enough, and at the conclusion of my donation I passed out. Bonfils takes good care of you when that happens, but it’s still not fun.
Since then I’ve paid more attention on donation days, making sure to eat well and hydrate. I move my feet around during the donation — and I drink Gatorade and water during the donation. Which may be part of what makes donating feel not great anymore. While I don’t actively dislike the taste of Gatorade, it’s not high on my list, and taking in 32 ounces of fluids in an hour is just not something I do unless giving blood.
But I’m noticing, as I’m working toward my fifth gallon of blood, that I also end up kind of dragged out for the remainder of the day. We usually go around 3:30, and generally not much else is asked of me for the day, and by morning I am back to normal, so really it’s a minor inconvenience.
Until you throw a new tap class with a new teacher into the mix, which I did yesterday. I will spare you the tap details — for now; you could end up hearing about it next week (I will say the teacher, who might be in college, was clearly not expecting me to be part of her class, although she rolled with it well) — other than to say it was a much more strenuous workout than I was expecting, and classmate Erica checked on me several times to make sure I wasn’t going to pass out (so did the teacher; I don’t want you thinking for an entire week that she’s some sort of ogre).
So why do I keep donating? you might be wondering. Maybe you aren’t, but it sometimes crosses my mind, particularly as I’m feeling a bit dragged out on the couch post-donation. And the answer is at least two-fold.
First, while it’s not dramatic like rushing into a burning building, it is something that can help save lives. And if I feel a tad rundown for a few hours, it’s not like it’s a real hardship. It’s a chance to be heroic while leaning back and eating cookies.
And second, I feel a moral obligation. I did not know this for the first several years I was donating, but somewhere along the line I discovered I am in a precious minority: I’m part of the less than 8 percent of the population with O negative blood. That makes me a universal donor. My blood can be given to any patient, no matter their blood type.
After the Las Vegas shooting I learned that O negative is particularly valuable in a mass casualty situation, because doctors don’t have to take time to cross-match blood. They can just start transfusing
At one point I had to exempt myself from donating because I contracted shingles. And when I called Bonfils to tell them I was shingle-free, I noted I didn’t have an appointment scheduled for the next day. “Oh, honey, they’ll take you any time,” the woman at the other end of the phone said. That explained why they kept sending me gifts in the mail that they weren’t sending to my co-workers: they love my blood more. Maybe not much more, because they’re happy to take any qualified donor, but definitely more.
And so I will keep donating, powering down my Gatorade-water mix (which makes it taste even worse, but it’s easier than juggling two bottles of liquid with one hand). But probably I will draw the line at tapping vigorously a few hours later.