I was a member of Student Council in high school. I was never elected. I was an alternate, but I tried not to let anyone remember that. In retaliation to never getting even a write-in vote, I volunteered for everything. Homecoming hall decorations committee? “I’ll be the committee chair!” Class t-shirts? “I’ll design them!” Blood drive? “I’ll be an escort!”
With a vengeance, I decided…
I would be the best escort ever.
(But I did do an alright job.)
For the past three years I had seen my best friend Cate, a lazy-ass elected member of Student Council, work the event and give blood, despite her terrible hypothyroidism and tendencies to faint at the sight of needles. Each year, another Student Council “escort” would wheel Cate back to her classroom in one of those things that looks like a collapsed lawn chair. It was hilarious. Bless her heart.
I guess the real story here isn’t how I came to be at the blood drive, but rather my reaction to it. Still, getting there is good for narrative build-up.
Here is the actual story.
I donated blood for the first time at this Student Council blood drive. Right in the gym of my high school, I did what so many faint-at-the-sight-of-needles-people think is “the impossible”. And I did it well. Really well.
I was amazed. The procedure was quick and almost painless. I didn’t look at the needle, but I felt it and I felt that it didn’t really feel that bad. And for that, I was proud.
I noticed the other students fainting, getting queasy, and just generally freaking out. Guys tried to seem tough and girls tried to seem delicate. I was sitting in my beach chair, soaking it all in. I turned my head and saw my then-boyfriend at the “Double Reds” station, the one where you have to weigh a certain amount since they take out so much blood out of your body. With admiration, I thought, “What a power couple.”
I partook in some decent small talk with Darbney, the “phlebotomist” that took my virgin blood and I found out that she bartended part-time at Donnelly’s Pub. She was a harsh and intense woman, and I got the feeling that she didn’t really love her job. She was not gentle with the needle, which allowed me to realize that I did not need her to be.
Once the bag was filled with all of my O negative goodness, Chris Hawthorne, my favorite escort, led me to my chair at the…
Yes, when you give blood they give you snacks. Lots of them. And it’s glorious.
I spent the rest of the day picking at my awesome red bandage and carefully reading over the instructions about caring for myself after giving blood. I made sure not to lift anything heavy for the next…well…for however long I could get away with it.
From that point on, I was the best blood donor ever, damn it. And I was in love. I had found my true calling. I was not sure how the experience could have been any better.
In the mail, I received my Donor Identification Card:
Region: Heart of America
Units Lifetime: 1
DONOR ID W1815 479285O
I read it in awe. I was official! O negative? I remembered that Darbney told me that meant I was a “universal donor” and I could give my blood to anyone! Anyone!
Before I knew it, I was scouring the American Red Cross website, looking for new chances to give blood.
Pearce Community Center:
Saturday, May 12
I had to work…
St. Jude Church
Saturday, May 19
I could make that happen…
I walked into that Catholic church basement on Saturday, May 19th more excited than I had ever been in my entire life. Much to my surprise, this blood drive was not populated with teenagers like the one at my high school, but rather with seventy-somethings. I was obviously the youngest person there, causing all of the widows in the house (of God) to surround me and praise me for taking time out of my busy Saturday morning to give away my O negative life-giving concoction. I soaked it all in.
I sat in my blood-giving beach chair and Tiffany, my phlebotomist for this session, took my blood pressure and asked if I had an American Red Cross Donor Identification Card. Of course I did! I whipped that thing out and Tiffany pulled a black Bic pen out of her pocket to write:
And then I gave blood.
And then I ate cake.
Yes, when you give blood at churches, the little old ladies that organize the drive bake delicious Texas sheet cakes and then practically force feed you when you’re done. It’s an amazing experience. I knew that I would return to St. Jude Catholic Church again to give blood, as the prizes afterwards still to this day seem too good to be true.
There were a few other less-than-memorable experiences. I mean, I was a pro so it was nothing traumatic and I probably would have forgotten about these experiences if it was not for my American Red Cross Donor Identification Card, which I can admire at any time.
And then I decided I was ready to donate plasma.
I mean, how different could it be?
But I could handle it.
I had to drive to the American Red Cross headquarters in my community, which was about 30 minutes from my hometown. Those 30 minutes allowed me sufficient time to get amped up for my appointment. Vanessa, the adorably shy phlebotomist that took care of me that day was obviously a recent graduate. She was apologetic each time she couldn’t quite get the vein, as if she didn’t know who she was dealing with. I smiled as I told her, “It’s fine.”
Vanessa warned me that this procedure would be drastically different from every other time I gave “regular blood.” I informed her that I was pretty well-versed in phlebotomy and the associated sciences (at least the ones that allowed me to get free cookies). She then told me that I might get cold when, after they extracted the plasma, the machines reinserted the blood into my veins. It sounded fucking cool to me, so I gave Vanessa a nod and let my journey begin.
And then, for the first time in my blood-giving career, I showed weakness.
Thirty minutes had passed and Vanessa had been checking up on me diligently. As she had told me I might, I suddenly became extremely cold and requested a blanket. She came back with one that looked like something my grandma would have and she threw it over me. I was relaxed and ready to nap in my chair, which was definitely a step up from the beach chairs the Red Cross brings to blood drives at other locations. I was experiencing luxury for the first time, and it felt cold.
Suddenly, and without explanation, my machine started to beep uncontrollably. Vanessa rushed over to me and I very causally asked, “What’s up, Vanessa?” She lifted my blanket only to find that the blanket had been tugging on the needle in my left arm. Numb from coldness, I didn’t notice it at all. She adjusted the needle, attempting to slide it back into place.
“Ooook. There we go.”
My girl Vanessa got the needle back into place and I pretended not to be phased by the whole, painful thing. However, four minutes later, the machine was beeping again.
“Ooook. There we go.”
Repeat that about six more times and you will have a pretty good idea of how the rest of my day went. I walked out of the Red Cross with my arms about a foot away from my sides and struggled to drive my manual transmission car home.
Oh, plasma, why did you have to go and ruin the one good thing I had going for me? You took my blood, and what did I get in return? A huge bruise on my left arm from where the needle kept slipping, that’s what.
The experience was so traumatic that I barely remember that I drank a bunch of hot chocolate and ate three packs of Snackwells when it was done.
But I went back.
The thing about the American Red Cross is that they don’t leave you the fuck alone. Once you give them plasma, you are their bitch. They will call you, day and night, reminding you of how precious your blood is. They will send you post cards. They will leave you voicemails. And you will call them back.
I returned to the headquarters two months after I gave plasma the first time. Ready for another day of pain, I wore my comfiest clothes and expected the worst. The thirty minute drive felt like it took hours, but I arrived. I was ready to regain my glory, which was so rudely taken from me.
They pricked my finger.
“You’re at a 10. You need to be at a 12.”
“I don’t understand. I ate raisins. And potatoes! I came prepared. I read the guidelines!”
And just like that. They sent me home, crushed.
But not until they had me reschedule my appointment.
I went back the next week, with my iron up to a 14! I gave my plasma and walked out feeling less defeated, but feeling nothing like the intense feelings of philanthropy that I had felt before.
A year passed before I gave blood again. I couldn’t necessitate the $12 in gas it took me to drive to downtown Peoria and back to donate plasma, nor could I function with only one arm. For the small amount of praise I received for donating plasma, it just was not worth it.
So when I finally decided to make my comeback after my year-long hiatus, the American Red Cross was ready for me and my blood. They welcomed me with open arms at the Illinois Central College blood drive. I sat reading over the educational materials, as if I needed to:
No, I have never been to that region of Mexico.
No, I have not had anal sex with an individual with the AIDS virus.
No, I have not received any piercings and/or tattoos in the last 12 months.
I waited in line for an hour. It was ridiculous. As I was in line, I watched as six people fainted in their beach chairs, amazed by what was happening around me. How was this possible? What was going on?
I reached my beach chair, honestly, a little nervous.
Jill, my phlebotomist wished me luck, and this time I thought I might need it.
“They’re dropping like flies in here today! I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t understand.”
“Yeah. It’s sort of crazy. Don’t worry. I’ve never had any troubles before.”
I continued to be a keen observer from my beach chair, watching as two more donors fainted. Jill didn’t take her eyes off of me. Mostly because she was worried about me fainting, but also because I was her only conscious patient.
Nine minutes passed and Jill said, “You’re…done.”
I looked at the clock.
There was no way.
“Good job. That has to be a new record!”
And I’m back.