Giving until it bleeds

There was a lot of negative talk out there after my Friday posting claiming that gift-receiving was so much better than gift-giving The Internet was absolutely abuzz, if you count the guy who said I was a “seflish idoit” and the email I got from my mom asking if that’s the way she raised me.

To prove the point that I can also be a very caring individual who feels deeply the importance of giving back to his community, I’ll be hauling a load of stuff over to Goodwill at the end of the tax year on Wednesday. I also went to the bloodmobile Saturday to give the gift of life.

Talk about giving of yourself, this is the most selfless contribution one can make short of a lung. My wife and I have been giving this annual donation right around Christmas for the past five years or so. She’s actually way ahead of me in the quantity given, having started in college. I was only introduced to the concept when the local Starbucks began sponsoring the event with the incentives of free coffee and a baked good for all donors. I also wanted to see if it was true that you’d get drunker on a couple of beers after your body had been sapped of almost a quarter of its life-force.

We arrived early enough to be first on the list of those signing up. While the rest of the nearly overflowing coffee shop was lounging around concerned only about number one (that coffee goes right through you), Beth and I read through the pre-donation materials to be sure we were still eligible. Easily clearing the requirement that I was at least 17, weighed at least 110 pounds and had at least one arm, I signed where they told me and soon was called out to the parking lot where the bloodmobile was parked.

I was directed to the tiny interview room by a middle-aged South Asian woman. This was a good start: my past experience with the workers who staff these events was that they tended to be either young Hispanic- or African-American women who were fast on the take but still required several jabs to hit the right spot, or else they were older Southern white women who were equally jab-happy but much slower about it. I’ve seen enough cardiologist ads in the paper to recognize that Indians make great healthcare professionals. In addition, when it was discovered the scanner connection to the laptop wasn’t working properly, she was able to troubleshoot that without calling home.

We huddled together in a space about the size of an airliner bathroom while she ran through the extremely personal health history questions she kept assuring me she was required to ask. Was I a hemophiliac? No. Have I had an organ transplant in the last 60 days? I don’t recall one. Have I ever had sex with another man? No. Have I ever had sex with a hemophiliac or transplant recipient who was a man? Have I ever been in prison? Have I ever been to Africa? Have I ever killed and consumed the flesh of another person? If so, did that person have hepatitis? Was I bitten by a crazy cow in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996? No, no, no, no, and no, that unfortunate cow encounter was in 1997.

 Finally cleared to proceed, I walked out to the main aisle of the mobile. My interviewer asked which arm I wanted to use, and here’s where I must admit I puffed up a little with pride. If you read my previous posting about selling my body to a company that was doing shingles research, you might remember how exceptional the main vein in my right arm is. The inside of that elbow has been widely admired for the way in which the blue vessel protrudes in a come-hither fashion just below the thinnest layer of skin. Since the right-armed donation loungers were all full, I was asked if I wanted to offer my left arm instead. But when I showed the admiring circle of blood ladies my right vein, they all agreed I should wait. One of them marked the vein with a pen, then posed next to it for a photo to show her family. I took a seat to wait my turn.


Check out the vein

Check out the vein

After about ten minutes, Beth finished her session and I was able to take her spot. The needle went in effortlessly and soon the blood was flowing. I sat back and relaxed as much as I could while workers scurried perilously close to my connection and the intercom played Christmas songs. And, wouldn’t you know it, two of them were from my “Worst Christmas Songs of All Time” list and a third was Bob Seger’s boozy rendition of “Little Drummer Boy.” (I don’t know if I was starting to get a little light-headed or what, but the line “the ox and lamb kept time” struck me as absolutely hilarious.)

My languor was soon interrupted when one of the workers reported that an “overflow situation” was developing somewhere in my vicinity. I tried to look behind me where my bag hung to see if the room was starting to look like a Quentin Tarantino film and I was preparing to bleed out. Apparently it was only a minor overflow so I was able to avoid infecting the whole bus with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or whatever it was that wacky British cow gave me.

I was disconnected from the tubing, had a gauze bandage affixed to my magnificent vein and was told to raise my arm high in the air. After a minute or so, a role of colored tape was brought out and a length was cut off and wrapped around my arm. Everyone else who’d been through this step in the process was asked what color tape they wanted, so I already had my eye on a nice pale green that would contrast nicely with my hazel eyes. But I was assigned the blue with no questions asked in what would turn out to be the only disappointment of the experience.

As Beth and I headed back into Starbucks to collect our premiums, I began thinking what kind of bakery item I’d be selecting for my freebie. When I placed my order at the counter for a tall-low-fat-mocha-no-whip and a slice of coffee cake, I flashed my bandaged arm at the barista and told her I’d just given blood. The point was to communicate that I shouldn’t be charged for my order but apparently the counter people hadn’t been told how this worked so she rang me up for $5.57. I got the confusion straightened out easily enough, but the embarrassment I endured for those few seconds when she thought I was just showing off my bandage to impress her lingered longer than it should have.

Now if I could’ve shown her my vein, that would’ve been a different story.


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