Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Red Blood and Reciprocity

There is one word which may serve as a rule of
 practice for all one's life - reciprocity. 

They were in the kitchen, Pepper, our dog, asleep on a rug in the living room.  Mom was drying the last of the dishes while Dad sipped at a cup of coffee as he helped, talking that talk of parents that for kids is equally without interest and yet comforting.  It's not what they are talking about or who (though our ears are always perked up for words like "inoculation" "liver and onions" and "parent-teacher").  It was  simply that steady hum that is life continuing as we know it.  It was where Big Bro and I could  play on the floor with our small cars and legos under the sheltering shadow of much taller people, listening to their voices without hearing, not knowing that they would give their lives for us, but perhaps sensing it somehow.

Evenings were pretty much always the same, after dinner, we kids would clear the table, Dad would help Mom get things ready to wash and then they'd chat and laugh while the chores were done and we had a little quiet playtime or finished a homework assignment. It was simply an evening at home, the routine of chores, the tick of the clock, the sound of the chime that indicated bedtime, as if the clock cleared its throat like a parent's not so subtle reminder.  All of these simple actions being part of the the  foundation of family that helped us to hold and protect each other.

Then the phone rang. "It's the hospital",  Mom says, but no one looks anxious.  For it is a call for my Dad, who has a fairly rare blood type, of which some is needed.  He washes up, kisses my Mom and leaves.  He doesn't talk much about it, but over a course of a life, there were many such calls, and pins he proudly wore that showed how many gallons of blood from his veins that found their way to someone in need.  Later, when his medications were such he couldn't donate, he volunteered to be a driver for the local blood bank, collecting the blood they packed in special coolers at this rural gathering point and driving it into the city an hour or so away in his own car to be delivered to the hospital.  He got some sort of small stipend for it, enough to cover gas and a meal,  but that was all.  But that's not why he did it.

It was giving up something of himself, something we all have to give.
I'd like to say I took up the cause but I did not. As  kid I thought about being a medical doctor.  I loved science; had no problems dissecting Mr. Toad (though the teacher did NOT buy in on the slightly eaten, glossy lemon drop placed in the abdominal cavity as a "new organ!").  Then came the day I actually had to stick a classmate's finger with a sterilized need in a junior high science class.  Couldn't do it.  I could NOT stick a sharp object into a living thing. I couldn't watch someone else do it. Yet, a lifetime later, I'm reading the barbaric language of injury and affronts, the sights of which would sear the eyeballs of the naive.

But I still hate needles in living flesh of any kind, and adulthood didn't cure my fear of that. I hate shots.  I'd had enough of them to go visit strange places where the local insects might carry me off.  Then I was not able to donate for some time as I'd visited such places.  As for blood, well, I'd seen way too much of it spilled and I sort of wanted to keep all of mine.

It was just something I knew I should do, but couldn't get past my fear.  I recognized that sort of thinking in women I knew that expressed interest in learning to shoot for self defense but said they were "afraid", not afraid of the firearm actually, but the unknown.  Like my fear of needles, they create a sort space around their fear, a "blasted heath" like that in Shakespeare's Macbeth, where nothing lives but toads, hot brass and ghostly warnings.  It takes a life changing event, or perhaps just someone you trust, to get you past that zone to face your fear, where you often find yourself embracing it.
For me it was some folks I trusted with my back, some Marines I worked with.  They'd been stateside long enough they could donate blood again and asked me to go with them.  I thought about it. I could check all the boxes "no" on the form regarding  participating in Naked Twister in Calcutta and it was years since I'd consumed fried Guinea Pig in Peru (OK, probably not disqualifying but it should be).  I've been dissed by a CF700 engine, been shot at, eaten battered rodent, had my underwear stolen out of a tent in Africa (don't ask) and been around sploody things that could turn me into a flesh and bone hula skirt.  But I was afraid of needles.

It didn't help that one of the biggest of my posse, a large wall of muscle on legs with a buzz cut, damn near fainted at the start of the procedure.  He said later it didn't hurt, but when the needle went in he went all Tactical Raggedy Andy on us.

But everyone else was fine and he was right, it didn't really hurt, and after they would give me cookies AND juice.  As always I was treated with the utmost of warmth and care and genuinely thanked.  I've got O positive blood.  Folks like me can only receive O blood, where other blood types have more options.  So if it's in short supply someone is going to have a bad day.  So I go back, three or four times a year.
Not everyone can donate, a few (though not many) healthy individuals like my friend, can have reactions to it that make them briefly very dizzy and sick.  Others have disqualifying conditions, medications or exposure to people and places that have put them at risk to donate for now. The screening you get with your little mini physical prior to donating will make it quite clear if you can donate or not now, and even if you can't, you will be thanked for trying and sent on your way with a smile and some cookies.

But I urge you, if have not donated, consider it.  With the increased numbers of complex treatment such as chemotherapy, organ transplants and heart surgeries, which require large amounts of blood, supplies can get dangerously low.  They may have to fetch 120 units of blood for one liver transplant.
I don't even look away now as the bag fills up with that pint. To my eyes,  it's not blood in the sense of bloodshed, of loss.  It's simply the shape of a need being met, filling the bag with a movement like warm molasses, flowing out of my body into that vessel, til it lays full and motionless, a compelling shape, completely without life, yet profoundly full of it. 

Somewhere soon, there will be another form, a parent, spouse, daughter, brother, laying in the shadow of a hospital room, listening to the comforting talk of their family around them, without hearing the words.  They wait for that gift of healing. Fighting for that chance to receive it.  Even the most egregiously injured fight, veins coursing with the blood that remains, from which they ARE, and without which, emptied of all but dark sleep, they are NOT.
Any of us could, one day, need blood. We think that as we go about our routine lives that we'll be safe.  We take our vitamins, drive cars with air bags, and don't have an attack of selective Tourettes with the guy with 12  skull and dagger tattoos and the chainsaw that decided he wanted one of our trees for firewood.  But we're not.  Safety, viewed as such, is a lie. The things that we think are safe just those things that we've repeated so many times, so many days, over and over again that the sharp margins have worn away and there's nothing in the conduct of them that says "you know, if someone makes the wrong choice here, I could die".

You may one day be that person in that hospital that needs blood.  So think about it, call or visit the Indiana Blood Center link in my comments if you live in the State or the Red Cross website, also provided there.
In my wallet is my Blood Donor Card,  showing my O positive status should I need to be a recipient.  Like my Concealed Carry Card, it's something I bear, not as a burden, but as a way I can protect a life, one small action at a time.

 - Brigid


Brigid said...

As an Indiana resident, Idonate through:


For those of you outside the State, The Red Cross has a wealth of useful information for former and prospective blood donors.


Keads said...

I'm A positive blood type. I donate every time the blood mobile shows up at work. I forget the pints, but I have several gold pins attesting to the fact I do it.

And as usual you speak of so much more than that. Thank you for that.

Brighid said...

I give blood as often as possible...it's such a small thing that I can do. I've been giving for years, and in all the varied places we have lived, I've always been treated with the utmost kindness.

Marty said...

I used to give regularly until I developed a rare blood disorder in my late 30's. At that point, I used up more blood than I could donate in 5 lifetimes, and I'm sure grateful for those who filled the gap. That blood disorder disqualifies me from giving blood any more, but I've done the next best thing - signing my organ donor card, which I'm assured they'll be fine for use when I don't need them any more (well, except maybe the liver ;).

Great message, and greatly needed. Thank you.

mushroom said...

I can second that. I am alive today because people gave blood. One night it was running out as fast as they could run it in for a few hours. Seven or eight units. Some of the boys from down home came up and gave to replace what I'd used.

I gave every few months for many years -- kind of paying back what I owed. I've gotten out out of the habit lately, but I'll see if I can start catching up again. Thanks for the reminder.

Monkeywrangler said...

I've donated somewhere over 3 gallons in my life. I recently restarted donating when I have the time, but with the Monkeys in tow 24/7, it gets tough to find time. I try for at least once a year, and I too carry my donor card. Another O+ here.

It always surprises me how WARM the blood feels, flowing through the tubing, across my arm and down into the bag...

Cindy said...

My daughter is in India on a volunteer project and was in a car accident last week - she is O- which is rare in India. Unfortunately she has 4 cracked ribs and a punctured lung - along with road rash etc.

She donated blood regularly until she went to Mexico on her honeymoon almost 3 years ago and couldn't donate for a period of time.

She also had/didn't have (I don't remember which) something in her blood so hers could be used for high risk infants.

I guess she won't be donating for a while now.

TrueBlueSam said...

I was up to 5 gallons, and went camping down on the Rio Grande in 1993. I got sick after coming home, and I could barely put one foot in front of the other for a couple weeks. I thought I was OK after a month and donated blood, and promptly received a letter from the Red Cross telling me to never donate blood again. That convinced me to go see a doctor, and after blood tests and lots of questions, the diagnosis was hantavirus. I don't think I would survive that one today. No plans to go down to the Rio Grande.

CenTexTim said...

5 gallons and counting ... much of it diluted by Shiners.

45er said...

I certainly hope eating fried Guinea Pig isn't a disqualifier. :) I really need to start again. It always seems like there is something more important at the time, but there really isn't. I used to give all of the time back when I was a youngun (still have scars on both arms from the amount of pokey). Also, get that organ donor put on your license. I'm falling apart, it seems, but just in case there are still some good parts left I think.

ktgm99 said...

...medical form question: allergies? needles...
i've always had small veins... but when i entered the military, the first day after 23 needle punctures and no blood i finally passed out and some ghoul got it from my hand, i have been afraid of needles. 21 years of service never got me over that, grudgingly given up for yearly physicals, though i was able to donate a time or two, when the Red Cross was collecting. don't know if B+ is rare, but your post and commenters made me remember that it's a small thing i can do with great benefits... not to mention juice and cookies. going to find the Red Cross in town today, thanks :)

Monkeywrangler said...


The URL is for the Red Cross donation- finder/scheduler. Just input your own zipcode and a search radius, but leave the dates blank and it will pull up all the upcoming donation sites.

Ruth said...

I don't do needles either.....

Last time I checked the rules, which I'll admit its been a few years, I couldn't donate due to the time I spent in certain areas of the world and the vaccinations I received to spend time there. I probly ought to check again though, cause now that I'm thinking about it there was a time span on the restriction and we ought to be past that now....

dave said...

I've tried, but I pass out just about every time. Worse, when I go, I usually inspire others to do the same. Last time I went, I took three people with me.

I'm grateful to everybody who donates, but given that I cost three pints last time I tried, I avoid it.

Cindy said...

If you are interested in the percentage of blood types in Canada (I assume it will be similar in the States) here is some info.


RonF said...

I donate 2 or 3 times a year at work. The bus pulls up, you fill out the form in the lobby and then go outside to the bus and donate. I've missed a couple recently - bad timing with a flu or cold - but over the years I've done about 5 gallons. B+. Sometimes you get a prize - a small duffle bag, a windbreaker, etc. I started out in college. "O.K., no drinking for a few hours." "O.K." And off we went to the nearest bar (you could drink @ 18 then). One pitcher and all 4 of us were roaring drunk.

Also; I get up off the table. Sweet elderly lady, maybe 5' 0", 98 lbs. says "Let me help you over to the table." No, I don't need any help. "It's procedure". O.K. I'm 6' 2", 225 lbs. at the time. Ma'am - what are you going to do if I start to fall down? Looks up at me with a sweet smile and says "I'm going to get out of the way!"

RonF said...

"I could check all the boxes "no" on the form regarding participating in Naked Twister in Calcutta"

Took me a second. "Twister? Nakec? What's the prob ... ah!"

TheAxe said...

After you donated with the marines, how did you get over the fear of needles? Or do you just suck it up? I have the same strong fear and it's the main reason that has kept me from donating. I barely nanage to not pass out if my Dr. needs to take a sample.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for the reminder. I would if I could. Alas...

J.R.Shirley said...

Um...interesting discussion about blood, and sharps, but...DOG!

LOVED the pics!!!

Dave said...

Great form of anonymous service to others. Trying to get my 17 year old to man up. Been giving 2 or 3 a year for a long time.

Spontaneous pneumothorax at 16 fixed my fear of needles.

Mick said...

Do to a couple of meds, I am unable to donate blood. Back when I could, I would ask the Red Cross to let me call them, as I worked 3 jobs, went to 2 schools and competed PPC as well as other things that a young man does.. and would invariably get a wake-up call. My sleep was precious and rare. I finally told them (truthfully) that I had been exposed to HIV thru work, and that's the last I heard from them. A few years later I found another place, Missippi Valley Blood Center, that would let me set my own schedule until the meds took me out of the picture.
Give what you can of yourself, with your health and conscience (religion) as your guides.

Alma Boykin said...

I used to donate but I'm now under the permanent Mad Cow ban because I spent too much time in Europe (not England) in the early 1990s. It's frustrating because I'm O+ and a potential baby donor.

Ad absurdum per aspera said...

Cindy writes of her daughter, "She also had/didn't have (I don't remember which) something in her blood so hers could be used for high risk infants."

Probably she doesn't have cytomegalovirus (CMV), a virus that is widespread in the adult population in the US and probably elsewhere. CMV is thought to be mostly harmless in most people, but premature infants, and immuno-suppressed patients, are among the exceptions.

The estimates I can readily find of the CMV infection rate have a sizable error bar, but even the most optimistic ones are pretty big, like 50% of Americans 40 and older. Some estimates go as high as 80%. Once you get it, you have it, probably asymptomatically, for life.

Having CMV doesn't exclude you -- it just makes the blood unsuitable for certain patients, so they test the donated blood for it.

So, for a high risk infant, you can multiply a modest sized number (the percentage of CMV negative population) by another (the percentage of people with the requisite blood type and Rh) and get a small number.

And then the number gets even smaller. It is now estimated that perhaps 38% of Americans are eligible to donate (within the
age limits, healthy enough, and able to make it through the ever
longer list of risk criteria). This is a big restatement,
downward, of the longstanding assumption:

But wait, there's less! It is estimated that on a nationwide average, only 5% of the eligible population gives blood at least once a year.

So even somebody like me, a ketchup-common O-positive and, since they never mentioned it, pesumably a CMV carrier, is doing something for the public good by giving blood. If you have a rare blood type AND are free of CMV, you can go ahead and visualize a premature baby somewhere who is alive because of you, which is a warm fuzzy even warmier and fuzzier than other blood donors get.

mikelaforge said...

APOS but riding the European Mad Cow banned bus as well.

Cindy said...

Thanks, Ad Nauseum for that information. I had no idea what to look for and now I know. I will pass that on to my daughter once she is well enough to care. Last word is 11 broken/fractured/cracked ribs and 2 lung punctures but she is complaining about hospital food so is obviously feeling better.

Richard said...

I'm a Baby Brigade donor (O pos CMV neg) as well and am close to 60 units now. I've made a point of donating regularly ever since I was told I was CMV negative.

og said...

The Oglet gives every 59 days. I used to, but my ITP disqualifies me. I am workingh on that, and may have it licked. If I get it licked, you can bet I'll be back. I was up to five gallons at one time. And i pass out every time I give blood. Another Opos here as well.

Once Free Man said...

I've been giving blood since high school, considering it somewhat of a competitive activity, wherein the goal was to be out before some guy 3 chairs ahead of me. (great veins, great blood pressure, etc. etc.) For some odd reason, I always felt invigorated after donating, violating their instructions by going for a killer bike ride later that day.

Once they found out my A+ blood had CMV-negative platelets, they only wanted platelets.
All platelets, all the time platelets.
Call me a couple times a week platelets.

There were times I wanted to give blood at a drive, but they deferred me so I could give platelets. I almost feel like the nature of the "relationship" has turned from voluntary to milk cow, but I keep going, knowing I'm giving back some of the blessings bestowed upon me by my Creator.

Brigid said...

Thank you everyone for all the support to the donation cause, and your support of me spreading the word.

Big Bro is home from round one chemo and I need to check on him so I will be brief and not answer each comment in turn for now, but thank you, very very much. If he needs it he will be much in your debt.

Daddy Hawk said...

I love how everyone is focused on the blood donation, but come on!!' Not one of you asked about the underwear stolen from the tent in Africa. It's right there begging for someone to come along and take the bait.

So, I'll take one for the team here. Brigid, tell us the story. I'd consider my adoption day gift from you.

Brigid said...

Daddy Hawk, since you sent me one of the first photos of your officially new daughter I guess I can. Bras are a hot commodity there, or at least were some years ago. The complex manufacturing required to make bras meant very few developing countries produced their own, making them a hot commodity selling for top dollar in second hand clothing.

So, one dark night, mine were pilfered from my lodging, AND my skivvies. There was no hope in getting another bra beyond the one I was wearing, and the only panties available were fitted for a rhino and were made out of what I believe was burlap. .

I've had better weeks.

Commando Brigid

Desert Cat said...

I tried, years ago. I passed out so hard that I nearly took my friend with me. I woke up in the back room with a nurse taking my BP.

Haven't tried since. Reading this talk of blood and needles is enough to get me woozy again...