I started donating blood in college. Initially, I was motivated by self interest: I was mortally afraid of needles, and I thought that the blood bank would be a good place to face and overcome my fears. (I’ve subsequently decided that my fears–and I am pretty close to omniphobic—are fine just the way they are, and facing them just leads to continual terror). But once I started donating, I realized that I was probably doing some anonymous good, and I could count it as an act of service that did not require me to actually meet anyone or talk to them. A win-win.
After a few years, I found myself blackballed from donating. I had a liver condition (from being too fat) that caused me to falsely test positive for hepatitis, so I was asked not only not to donate blood, but also to walk on the other side of the street when I passed their facilities, with my eyes averted and a scarlet “H” on my chest. It was frustrating, because I wanted to still be able to do some good, and I didn’t present any actual health risk. But I was a leper. Outcast. Unclean. So I stayed home.
More than a decade later, I learned at a Rotary meeting where they were discussing a blood drive that the ban on folks like me had been lifted. The medical community decided they like fat blood after all. I was thrilled to be able to donate, so I started up again on a more-or-less regular schedule.
I’m not really sure how badly they really wanted me. I’m AB+, which means my blood only can be given to other AB+ people. On the other hand, I can take blood from anyone. I suspect I probably can survive on the blood of several farm animals or, if they aren’t available, I can make do with most brands of motor oil. But I still offered what I had, figuring that it would free up other types of blood for people who needed it.
Then I needed it. When I went down with organ failure, my body was unable to clean my blood effectively, and I ended up needing whole blood product in order to stay alive (especially because a couple of liters of it ended up rotting in my lungs, which is why they had to drain one of my lungs with a giant needle. I forget the exact medical term for this procedure, but I was ready to turn over state secrets before they were done).
I was given some blood during my coma, and then afterwards they had to set me up with a few more pints just to top off the tank. (In one of my hallucinatory moments, I thought they were giving me tomato sauce. The appearance is pretty close. But I wasn’t worried: I’m Italian, so it seemed appropriate. “Two pints of Ragu. STAT!”). I also had to have plasma replacement therapy, since mine was coming out of my veins grey, which apparently is frowned upon by the medical experts. In other words, unless some strangers had roamed into a blood donation joint and stuck out their veins, I would not be here to bore people with these posts.
Later, during my second hospital stay, I started bleeding badly when Doctor Bob tried to drain my cyst. Once again, a stranger’s blood was pumped into me in order to sustain my life. After we discovered the aneurism in my stomach during that same hospital visit, I was up all night with the thought of the aneurism bursting, but I knew that there was a fridge full of donated blood, ready for me if that happened.
You can’t manufacture blood in a lab. If someone needs it, someone else has to offer it up. Somebody, somewhere did that for me, and it felt like karma was coming around to pay me back for the buckets of red stuff that I have donated over the years, and for all of the times I longed to donate but couldn’t. Whoever those anonymous donors are, I owe them my deepest gratitude and, without any hint of overstatement or hyperbole, my life. They gave a bit of their time and endured a modest amount of discomfort in order to provide me something that I could not provide myself. That’s kind of the definition of Christian service, even if my blood came from Muslims, atheists, or libertarians. It is a faceless act of kindness that has a far-reaching impact that you really cannot appreciate until you are on the receiving end.
If you are a blood donor, thank you. You are a hero to me and to others who have been rescued as a result of your efforts. Keep on dripping. If you can’t donate blood but want to, thank you for your willingness. Your heart is in the right place, and I love you for your desire to help. If you are not a blood donor, please consider changing your mind. All that it costs you is about 30 minutes of your time and the brief discomfort of a needle stick. You’ve suffered far more stubbing your toe on the couch. It is a tiny sacrifice with a miraculous impact. And you get cookies.
August 14 of 2016 will be my 50th birthday. I will finally be eligible to give blood once more, and so I will spend a bit of my big day making a donation that will allow someone else to have a birthday themselves. Until then, I need some folks to cover for me.
Please let it be you.
Tomorrow: My Priesthood Brethren