Give Until it Hurts

So, I did a thing on December 29th. I donated blood for the first time. While this is not an extraordinary feat for most, most people don’t have my irrational aversion to blood.

I have a long history of being weak-kneed to the vampiric side of medical science. When my oldest daughter was born, my wife and I took out a life insurance policy. We visited with the agent and completed all of the necessary paperwork. It went smoothly until the agent said, “Oh, we will send a nurse by your house to draw some blood. Standard procedure, no big deal.” I didn’t say anything but a chill went down my spine. I knew there was a 50/50 chance I would pass out. Unfortunately, the odds were worse than I could have imagined.

The nurse stopped by on a warm, fall afternoon. I told myself I was sweating because of the heat and not because I was nervous. After we completed the preliminary paperwork, the nurse asked me, “You aren’t squeamish, are you?”

“Me, squeamish? Nah, ” I replied as sweat began to bead on my forehead.

As soon the needle entered my arm, my ears started ringing, I became lightheaded, and my mouth tasted like metal. The nurse, in her sixties, and my postpartum wife helped me to the living room couch. I felt incredibly manly.

For a while, I thought I had conquered my fear of bloodwork. I had to have frequent lab work to ensure a new medication wouldn’t kill me or something. I don’t know the details; I just made an appointment at LabCorp and showed up as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. (But instead of rocking chairs, the room was full of needles.) This time, I was honest with the technicians, and they made it a positive experience. They distracted me through small talk, and the stick was pain-free and quick. I had several follow-up appointments, and they went just as smoothly.

Life was good. I could finally dispense with the phlebotomy theatrics. My doctor’s office called to schedule my yearly physical and lab work. I showed up at the office with newfound confidence. I think I even shot the technician “finger guns” as I strode back to have my blood drawn. The technician went through the pre-game ritual, and I sized him up. He was young, really young, and he stared at both of my arms for a long time. The most glaring concern was that a copy of “An Idiots’ Guide to Phlebotomy” was left open on the counter. Despite all odds, things seemed to be going well until I felt a searing pain in my arm.

“Hey, man. My arm is hurting!” I said.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry, man. I lost your vein, so I’m trying to find it again.” I could see him digging in my arm, rocking the needle back and forth, and I found this off-putting. I could taste the metal, I was in a flop sweat, and my heart was racing.

I vaguely remember whispering, “I’m going to pass out,” as I slumped in the chair. The kid consulted his manual and yelled for help. At this point, I couldn’t see anything, but I was aware of everything. There were footsteps all around me, and there was a whirl of activity. Eventually, I came out of my haze. I was lying on the floor of my doctor’s office, soaked in sweat. It was one of life’s humbling moments.

I was sharing this story with a colleague this fall. I mentioned I had a goal to donate blood this year, but I didn’t think I would after this recent setback. She challenged me to go ahead with it, and I reluctantly agreed. So, with signs everywhere reading “critical blood shortage” and the calendar marching towards the new year, I made an appointment to donate blood.

I was uncomfortable and nervous, but I survived. The entire process took about 40 minutes, and it only took 10 minutes to make the actual donation. Oh, and I got free apple juice and pretzels. Score!

I share this because there is still a critical blood shortage. If you haven’t donated before, or if it’s been a while, consider making an appointment. For years I’ve avoided donating blood because of my discomfort, but there would be nothing more uncomfortable than watching a loved one suffer because of a blood shortage. You could make a real difference for someone by donating 30 minutes of your time and a pint of blood. So I encourage you to give until it hurts, even if just making the appointment, or walking through the door is painful. You will be glad you did.

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