Not my blood
There’s going to be a blood drive at work later this month, but I’m not going to participate.
Now, I’m all for giving blood.
Just not my own.
I’m still haunted by the disastrous blood-giving experience I had when I was 17, while attending an academic enrichment program for high school seniors-to-be.
High school seniors-to-be are an idealistic bunch, and when we heard there was going to be a blood drive on campus, we were all eager to participate. Like most of my peers, I had never given blood before. But the idea of letting someone stick a needle in my arm and drain a pint of blood from my body didn’t faze me — I’d been getting allergy shots since the age of 6, and I was used to having sharp objects stuck in my arm. So I was feeling pretty fearless when I entered the gymnasium and announced that I wanted to give blood.
Initially, everything was fine.
But then a nurse observed that my blood was coming out slowly, and wiggled the needle. The next thing I knew, I was lying flat on my back, struggling to remember who or where I was, and gazing up at a half dozen grim-faced medical personnel. I recalled a flash of light, and a loud, guttural roar, which had filled my head like a car crash; someone explained that I had passed out.
I was told to lie flat on my back, which was tolerable at first, but then I began to feel nauseous. “How much longer do I have to lie here?” I asked. “For a long time,” the nurse said. I responded by vomiting all over the place, while all of the other first-time blood givers looked on in horror. The nurse quickly wheeled me behind a partition, handed me juice, cookies and a waste basket, and told me to rest. It took me a full 24 hours to feel like a normal person again.
After that, I swore off giving blood. But I did make an exception after Sept. 11, when, like many people, I wanted to do something helpful and good. And although nothing bad happened to me, my friend Jane ended up passing out, which did nothing to disabuse me of the notion that giving blood is risky business. In any case, I haven’t gone back.
I feel bad about this.
I’ve always believed in confronting my fears, and not giving blood because I’m afraid I’m going to pass out and vomit makes me feel like a wimp.
This was a common occurrence during college, when volunteers from the American Red Cross would stand in the mailroom, accosting students and directing them to the blood drive upstairs. “Interested in giving blood today?” these volunteers would inquire, as I attempted to skulk unnoticed through the corridor. A simple no seemed inadequate; I always tried to explain my lack of volunteerism and civic engagement. “I’d love to,” I would say, as regretfully as possible, “but the last time I did that, I passed out and vomited.”
Now, if the only side effect of refusing to give blood was feeling like a wimp, I wouldn’t dwell on it so much.
But it also makes me feel guilty. After all, giving blood is a good and helpful thing to do, and when my company hosts a blood drive, and I don’t go, it makes me think of all the good and helpful things I should do, but do not. And there are plenty of them — not giving blood is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m not tutoring struggling students, or serving meals at a soup kitchen, or building houses for the poor, either. I’ve done all of these things in the past, but I’m not doing them now. So the blood drive is really just a reminder of all of the unmet needs in my community, and my failure to alleviate any of them.
Perhaps that’s what motivated me to walk down to a neighborhood arts center a few nights ago, and spend an hour sweeping the floor.
This is a project I’ve long been interested in — residents have banded together to transform an unused church into a venue for music and arts classes for kids — and so I decided to swing by a work party organized by some of my neighbors and help out. I asked what was needed; someone told me to sweep up the plaster, paint chips and dust coating the hardwood floor. When the task was complete, I went home.
It was a pretty easy thing to squeeze in, an hour of sweeping.
And, in a small way, perhaps it helped improve the quality of life in my neighborhood.
Who knows. Such things are hard to measure. But the world is full of unmet needs, and opportunities for volunteerism abound.
In other words, giving blood isn’t the only way to help.
Although of course I think people should give blood.
Just not me.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section.