Face Up to It

The first time I donated blood, I passed out.

I was 18, barely weighing the 110 pounds necessary to donate.

I survived the actual blood draw. It was afterwards that did me in.

The nurse with the Red Cross removed the needle and tube from my inner elbow, then bandaged the tiny battle wound. She helped me sit at the table’s edge while a man offered his body as a human walker for transport to the snack table. I shrugged him off. I took a few steps, saw spots, and felt oddly light. The gym floor gave way like a trampoline.

Being passed out brought a wonderful sense of peace. It was better than a calculus class coma. Coming to, I found myself supine on the gym floor. The wrestling coach, kneeling, held my knees in an upward bend. I had no idea why he was demonstrating one of his demonic wrestling holds on me. I wasn’t even on the wrestling team.

Previously, his demeanor always scared me. He hailed from the mean streets of New York City and brandished that fact like the badge of a perpetual badass. It worked on us Southern Indiana boys. It kept us in line in the hallways.

While he held my knees, his usually gruff voice was soft. “You’ll be alright, Saalman,” he said. He hollered over his shoulder, as if a real life and death drama had unfolded, “Get Saalman a cookie.” Then, calm and concerned, he said, “Do you like chocolate chip, Saalman? What’s your favorite cookie?”

Talk about surreal. I never dreamed I would be talking cookies with the wrestling coach. I was still confused as to why we were wrestling.

“You just gave blood, Saalman,” he explained.

“Oreo,” I responded.

When I sat upright, the gym exploded with clapping students, as if I were a football player, who, after a few motionless minutes, miraculously rose from the turf following a nasty, whip-lashing hit. In my case, though, any compassion soon dissolved into comedy.

“Get Saalman a cookie,” a wiseacre shouted from the top bleachers, mimicking the wrestling coach. His followers chanted the same. These hecklers were my closest pals.

I didn’t donate blood again until my mid-30s. I did not faint the second time, nor ever again. A full stomach beforehand helps ensure this.

I frequent blood drives often now. I know many people who donate blood, but I know far more people who don’t. The latter is puzzling. Consider some facts from the American Red Cross:

• Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.
• More than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day.
• More than one million new people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during chemotherapy treatment.
• A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.

So why not donate?

Some people have a morbid fear of needles.

Some people get freaked out imagining an entire pint of blood exiting their body. After all, a body houses only about 10 pints. But guess what? The body recreates the missing blood.

Many people just don’t even think about donating.

There’s a 1963 John Updike short story, called “Giving Blood,” that addresses the worry of Richard Maple as he travels with his wife to Boston to donate blood, a first for him. “Sweetie,” Richard blurted, “will they hurt me?” Adds Updike, “…He had, less through his own determination than through the diffidence of the solicitors, evaded pledging blood. It was one of those tests of courage so trivial that no one had ever thought to make him face up to it.”

So, does it hurt?

For me, the worst part is the quick finger prick — a slight pain — that tests your hemoglobin.

For some, it’s not the blood they don’t want to donate, it’s the time.

According to the Red Cross, “The actual blood donation typically takes less than 10-12 minutes. The entire process, from the time you arrive to the time you leave, takes about an hour and 15 minutes.”

I donate the time and blood because I want to make a difference in someone’s life, just as donors made a difference for my mother in 1963. The baby arrived 10 weeks premature, 2 pounds, 8 ounces, dying six hours later. For four days, my mother hemorrhaged. My father’s co-workers rushed to the hospital to donate blood. Mom lived, giving birth to me the following year. I’m happy to be here.

When I fret over the time it takes and the fear of the pinprick, I simply ask myself, “How can I not donate blood?”

Consider the Red Cross statistics, and ask again, “How can I not donate blood?”

Updike was right. If no one makes you face up to doing it, why do it? It’s a little test of courage that makes a big impact. I’m asking you to face up to it. Remember, there are free cookies in it for you. That’s another reason I do it.

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