Thursday, July 17, 2014

We All Bleed Red

I will be out of pocket for the next day or two, for work, but have some posts saved to come up over the weekend.  For tonight, just sit back and read this, and take it to heart.  None of us know when illness or disaster will strike, or how.  But we do know, there are ways we can ease the burden for others.

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

They were in the kitchen, Pepper, my dog from childhood, 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 and I regularly work up close and personal with the empty forms of those who have departed this mortal plane, often with violence.

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, 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 you 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 on the days that 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, just because I've done this a hundred times doesn't mean I won't die doing it today."

You may one day be that person in that hospital that needs blood.  So think about it and make that call, bloodmobiles can visit even the smallest of communities and a quick search engine query can find your nearest donation facility.

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.

Be safe out there.

 - Brigid


  1. I've been donating for years, but lately they've started a policy of letting walk-ins wait until all the appointments are bled.
    I can't schedule an appointment.
    I don't mind a while, but an hour tells me they don't need it.

  2. Started giving in college, but had to quit 25+ years later, due to some health concerns, and now I can't due to other health issues. Managed to give 145 units.

    Hope I never need any of it back though.

  3. I started donating a couple decades past, though the last pin I remember receiving was a 3 gallon pin. I stopped for a number of years, but started again a year or two ago. O+ also, and a thanks to you, for reminding me I missed my last donation date as I had a conflict that cropped up.

    Stay safe on your travels.

  4. The first time I gave was in college. The Red Cross ran it. After I was done I, a 6' 2" 215 pound college student was walked to the cookies-and-juice table by a woman who looked to be about 5-foot zip and maybe 100 pounds soaking wet and about 70 years old. I asked "what are you going to do if I start to fall?" She looked up and said ever so sweetly "I'm going to get out of the way!"

  5. Way back before time began, I lined up to give my first (liquid) pint of blood at the bomber factory. I was escort to the back, and the nurse was loudly informed that it was my first attempt. One of my cell mates, a side o' aircraft mechanic, laughed; "Been doin' it fer years, kid. Watch me." He was inordinately pleased that his pint was done before all of ours. When he was disconnected, he got up, his eyes rolled back, went Clorox white, and drove the poor 4'-nuthin', 95 year old volunteer assisting him into the ground like a tent peg. I finished my juice and donut long before they wheeled him out.

    I gave about a gallon over the years before a Red Cross administrator sided up to me and said; "You're AB+ boy. We don't want your kind 'round here."

  6. Up until relatively recently(11+yrs), I was a regular donor, but health issues have sidelined that part of my life. The needles didn't bother me, and the sugar rush from the juice & cookies lasted long enough for me to drive home.

    I have a relative who's AB- and would cheerfully supply what they could spare, but they aren't really healthy enough to donate, either.

    I think there was something in the water when we were growing that has led to interesting health failures. :)

  7. I first gave for a dying friend, the only thing of value I had to cover a debt of kindness during my hardest days. Then I discovered platelet donation. Every 54 days I am in the chair, literally giving of myself for some child at Driscoll Children's Hospital, who will never know who to thank, who loved them enough. It fits well with the new way of life I have discovered. An unbelievable highlight came when I ran a dedicated platelet donation for a friend who was bleeding out after a botched stint. Apparently my donation was used. None of her friends or family gave. The doc's told her she had received a dedicated donation, and she only knew one donor. The hug was amazing. WifeV2.0 donates whole blood with me now. We continuously challenge our friends, though only one has joined us. From Vasovagal reaction when having a purple top pulled to regular donor, it's been a long trip and so rewarding.

  8. It rankles that I cannot donate: I was a donor in Britain, but now I'm a mad cow apparently- not eligible.

  9. A-positive.

    They always ask for my platelets, instead.
    I'm CMV-negative, so they REALLY like my platelets.

  10. Funny you should talk about this. Yesterday I gave my 61st blood donation. I am O- (the universal donor) and people like me can only receive O-. Like your father, I often get the called from Hema-Quebec (the organisation that handles blood donation here in Quebec). Also, since I didn't get a certain benevolent virus when I was young (a rare thing I am told), my blood is used mostly for infants. Gives me a fuzzy warm feeling every time I give. Love your blog Miss Squirrel.

  11. I'm with you on the needlephobia. As a sickly child, I was stuck many times until just the word 'needle' made me wince.
    Then came the near-fatal accident followed by diabetes.
    And since then non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
    NOW, needles?
    Bring 'em on!


  12. Good on you for giving it a try when you did. I'm O+ but never gave until my 2nd girl was born when I was in my late twenties. She had a rough delivery and was in need of blood and while they gave her someone else's donation before I had a chance to even volunteer, I have given at least 4 times a year ever since, b/c I figure hey, somebody helped my little girl, I need to pay that back.
    Also its hard to forget since the Red Cross calls and signs me up every time I am again able to donate b/c they want my O+ blood.

    She just turned 11 and I just received my 5 gallon pin recently, that's 40 donations, with each donation possibly helping 3 people according to the pamphlets they leave scattered in the waiting area at donation sites. So, someone saved my little girl and I've possibly helped 120 people in return. She's pretty dear to me, so I still have a ways to go on paying back that debt. And to whomever donated that precious fluid to my little girl in the first place; you are always in my prayers.

  13. I am not at all afraid of needles, but do have a strong enough vasovagal response to occasionally co-inhabit the earth and the astral plane for a few seconds during various commonplace events, such as an intense nose-blow. I definitely am well advised to sit or lie down after a mere blood draw for labs, let alone a pint donation. More than once I've tried to get back into action too soon after giving blood, and sat back down immediately.

    I don't know if the reason is improved clinical practice, or greater awareness of legal risks, or just an aging demographic, but blood banks appear to be getting more aware of this as the years go by -- for sure, more people are sitting around longer in the juice-and-donut area than when I first gave blood some 35 years ago.

    As for actually getting stuck, it has always seemed anticlimactic. In the course of giving a lifetime total of a couple gallons of blood, I've gotten only one inept phlebotomist (to the point where the supervisor had to intervene and finish the job herself, after several attempts to find a vein were in vain and the trend was not improving).

    The other occasions were all pretty unremarkable. I have a mediocre record of routine donation because I've so often been either traveling for work or down with a sniffle when my time comes around, but really ought to get back into the habit...

  14. I hate needles, too. It was pretty bad when I had to give my wife B12 shots - at least it was a fine, short needle.

    I donate at least twice a year - and I always have to close my eyes for the insertion. Never fainted donating, but almost did once when they tried to put an IV in the back of my hand.

  15. I have "organ donor" on my driver's license. At least I won't have to deal with fear of scalpels when they are harvested.

    As I've finally relearned how to post cyberlinks, here's a brief video of Abby's brother (or sister) demonstrating his/her courage and smarts on the river: River Rescue

  16. I used to donate when I could, but after a cumulative 9 months in Western Europe in the early 1990s, I'm considered a risk for transmitting Mad Cow disease and can no longer donate. I'm O+ and can't donate blood, organs, or anything. It's frustrating.

  17. Thank you everyone. I just have a minute or two. The bat phone mission has been seriously altered due to "circumstances beyond our control" but I'm beyond busy. Be safe.

  18. Ed Bonderenka - it's a tough call for them to make, I've made an appointment and had to wait for the walk ins and had to leave without donating as the appointment was done as I had to get permissions from work for a specific time for leave to donate. But I'm glad you make the effort.

    PPPP - that's a LOT. Dad did so as well before medications and health ruled it out.

    Monkeywrangler - the bloodmobile makes a stop every quarter near my workplace, so I can just walk over and donate, that makes it easier.
    I'll give you a shout when I get some free time to catch up.

    RonF - I would have just yelled TIMBER!! and jumped out of the way as well.

    NoMas - I always figured ANY blood type was desirable for them. Their loss.

    Simon Jester - Hope your health holds up. Thanks for stopping and sharing with us.

    Ken O - That's a hug from a saved life. There's no better kind. Bless you.

    Differ - I understand they may be amending some of the mad cow restrictions, you might want to check back with them.

    Once Free Man - I've not done the platelet donation, and should probably look into it. Other than the occasional injury from trying to fly without the invisible jet, I'm really, really healthy.

    Luc - thank you and welcome! (I have extended family from Montreal and love it up there in your neck of the woods, though I don't get to visit near often enough). Be thankful that you can give, and for such a group of innocents that can not ask for it themselves.

    armedlaughing - I'd say after what you've been through, a needle is nothing. You're pretty brave, my friend.

    Sobriant74 - I am so very thankful that your blessed little girl came through OK. Big Bro got a lot of blood after a horrific motorcycle accident years ago. I am forever grateful for those that donated for him, through multiple surgeries.

    Ad absurdum per aspera - there have been some years I couldn't donate because of parts of the world I'd been in, but when I'm clear I make sure I donate again.
    I'm always heartened as well, when I see the occasional very young adult in their making their first donation when coming of age.

    Chuck Kuecker - the back of the hand thing, indeed, bites. Thanks for stopping to share and for your donations.

    Mathew Paust- now that I'm where I can open links up, I watched that. Amazing!

    Alma Boykin - yes, a lot of folks I work with can't donate because of serving overseas in a particular time frame.

  19. AB+ is the Universal Recipient. However, only another AB can receive the blood - and there's damn few of us - only about 3%. (However in Scotland, the percentage is doubled - must be the whisky.)

  20. I did a few donations a number of years ago but stopped because my blood does not like to flow. Started again 18 months ago when my daughter was in a severe car accident and i realized, like sobriant74, that she had lived because others had donated.

    Last time I went they refused to take my blood because my pressure was too low! Oh well, I have a donation scheduled for this coming Saturday so I think I will run around the block before they take my pressure.


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