Sitting behind cardboard “privacy screens” answering personal questions about my sex life is not exactly comfortable, but this particular volunteer activity – giving blood – is not about comfort. The part I dislike the most, the dreaded finger prick, will happen after I finish this little oral quiz so I’m stretching my answers out. “Have I ever paid anyone for sex? Let me think. Hhhhmmmm. Just one second – I have to think over my entire life.” The nurse’s face indicates she doesn’t appreciate the sarcasm. “No,” I finally squeak.
“Alright. Time to test your hematocrit. Let me see your finger.”
I obediently hold out my hand and she alcohol swabs the needed finger. She picks up the innocuous looking plastic lancet, which will draw the needed blood to test if I’m anemic, or a healthy donor.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. It hurts! Don’t!
“Ma’am are you okay?” The nurse peers at me nervously.
“Did I say that out loud?”
“I’m absolutely fine.” – See how easily I lie to cover cowardice.
“I haven’t pricked your finger yet you can keep your eyes open.”
(In pseudo brave voice) “I know. (Pause) You can’t prick my ear can you?”
“No, we don’t do ears anymore only fingers.”
“Okay. Go ahead.” Ouch. Don’t. Ouch don’t.
“You’re holding your breath.”
The nurse squeezes my finger and snap a tiny drop of blood is suddenly on the end of my finger. It wasn’t that bad. For the record it’s never that bad, but we all have our issues. Why this finger stick worries me more than the 18-gage needle about to be inserted into my arm I can’t tell you.
The reason I am sharing this embarrassing piece of fiction is to make a point - I have given blood over a dozen times and obviously I'm still a wimp. Can't help it. I hate needles. Who likes them though except certain sadists? Not all sadists - just certain ones. But I put all that fear and loathing to the side because as a healthy human being I feel this activity is a necessity. I live almost everyday without pain, weakness, or disease terrorizing my body and so this is the least I can do to say thanks for my good fortune.
While the nurse preps my arm for the needle I try to think of something funny. “Okay,” she says, “You’re going to feel a quick sting.” Crap. I can’t think of anything remotely amusing. I’ll just close my eyes. The pain in my left arm last two seconds and then all I feel is the sticky tape holding the needle in place. I lean back in my chair and look at the other donors around me. All walks of life here today. The only thing that feels awkward is the numbness in my left hand. I squeeze the koosh ball they have given me and think about transfusion facts. Every 2 seconds in America someone needs a blood transfusion. Blood is needed for newborns, premature babies, trauma, patients with sickle cell disease, leukemia, burns, and many many other medical conditions. And I have an extremely rare blood type so…decision made…
The nurse comes back when my blood donor bag is full and gently slides out the needle. “Sit here for a minute and then go get some juice and cookies,” she instructs. The juice and cookies are my favorite part of the experience. It’s something built into us in kindergarten and we now carry it in the fabric of our beings -when someone says juice and cookies you just relax.
I sit down with the other donors who are all comparing blood types and war stories about past donations. A blood drive organizer comes up and offers me a red plastic bracelet and a donor t-shirt. I accept the bracelet, but reject the always too large t-shirt. He then asks me if I feel okay because I look “so pale.” I reassure him that I am always this unnaturally light because of genetics and a troubling addiction to sunscreen. With a crease of worry between his eyes he saunters off. Honestly I feel fine. After sitting for the required few minutes I take my juice box and the new plastic bracelet (to add to my expanding collection) and leave. I helped someone today – maybe three people that I will never meet. I feel better than fine I feel great. And, in a way, they helped me - I now have a decent reason to skip my work out tonight.