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. 
 ~Confucius

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