Two Thursdays ago, with butterflies in my stomach, I drove to an office in Market Walk on Hodgson Memorial Drive. I sat down at a table and completed one of those "fill in the bubble" forms, as if I were taking a test. Less than an hour later, I was on my way home, upbeat and relieved. It was an "A+" afternoon, with "A+" standing for my blood type, "A-positive."
That day, for the second time in less than a year, I donated a pint of blood.
Until last October, it had been over 30 years since I donated blood, stretched out on a folding cot in my high school gym as part of a blood drive. What I remember the most about that day is the tepid orange Koolaid and the cookie the volunteers gave me afterwards. I am a sucker for free cookies.
For decades I carried in my wallet the plastic blood donor card they issued me, with that lone donation written on it. The purpose of that card was to record each additional donation as the quarts and gallons racked up. I think it was sometime in the late 90's that I stopped kidding myself and tossed the card in the trash.
I had plenty of great reasons for not giving blood. One time I tried in college and was rejected -- my iron count was too low. Later, at a workplace blood drive, my iron was OK, but once the donation began, the pint-sized plastic bag did not fill up within a required time limit, so that attempt was a bust.
Along the way I fainted once when giving a blood sample for a medical procedure.
These episodes allowed me to convince myself that, despite my early success, I was not cut out to be a blood donor, so why keep trying? The rational side of my brain gave me a reason to avoid the truth-even after the one donation of my youth, I was afraid to give blood.
But along came TeamSuzanne, a community-wide effort to support local colon cancer patient Suzanne Fogarty and her family. Shortly after Fogarty's diagnosis last year, TeamSuzanne sponsored a blood drive through The Blood Alliance on her behalf, and all my great excuses for not giving blood went out the window.
The Blood Alliance provides all the blood and blood products (plasma, platelets and red blood cells) used by Memorial Health University Medical Center. Blood drives on behalf of a specific patient, like Fogarty's blood drive, rack up blood pint "credits" that can help defray some medical costs, while providing meaningful emotional support to the patient and much-needed blood for the wider community.
Just at Memorial, the need for blood averages 33 to 35 units per day. "We really need volunteer community donors to come in every day to donate, to meet Memorial's demand," says Odette Struys of The Blood Alliance. "If donors gave at least twice a year, shortages could be prevented."
"First time donors are usually unsure," says Vanessa Whalen of The Blood Alliance's office on Market Walk. "They wonder if it is going to hurt."
There it is. Yes, I was concerned I might faint, but fear of pain was the trump card. Pain from the finger stick to test my blood. Pain from the needle in my arm when the donation started. And I was afraid I would feel the blood coming out of my arm. I didn't feel anything when I gave blood in high school, but why let the truth of my past get in the way of a perfectly sensible fear of the future?
I'm here to report that my fears were unfounded. The finger stick? Not pleasant, but less painful than a paper cut. The needle? More of a pinch than a pain, and that was it. The feeling of the blood? Nonexistent. Really. I would tell you if I could feel it and I couldn't.
On my way to my appointment two weeks ago, I was almost as anxious about donating blood as I had been last fall. Sometimes fears don't want to leave us, despite facts that refute them. But for an hour of my time and a pint of my blood I received a great feeling of helping out, plus a chilled can of Sprite and a packet of Oreos.
Like I said, I'm a sucker for free cookies.
To schedule a donation at The Blood Alliance call toll free (888) 447-1479 or visit www.igiveblood.com.