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The Gift of Giving Blood

I just donated for the first time...

The Gift of Blood
The Gift of Blood

I’ve thought about giving blood many times, but always found an excuse. This past Wednesday, I finally donated. It was one small thing I could do to help, something totally in my “zone of control.” After weeks of feeling useless and helpless as coronavirus surged, it was relief to help in this very practical way.

Over the last few months, coronavirus caused the cancellation of many regularly scheduled blood drives. The resulting shortage of blood generated concern. Now, as clinics and operating rooms are starting to ramp back up, is a great time to donate.

In the process I got to face a long-standing fear–that giving blood would exhaust me. I thought it might take days for me to “bounce back” to my normal energy level. For years I leaned on this as an excuse and stayed away.

Wednesday, my appointment day, came with some sad news. Shortly before my appointment, I got a text that Priscilla, a dear family friend, had died. Just two weeks prior she had received a cancer diagnosis. A jovial soul, typically full of friendliness and generosity, is no longer with us. Memories of her smile and contagious laugh began to flow, and multitude of feelings, too.

Growing up, she was the one that took my sister, me, and her daughter to our orthodontist appointments. Imagine a car full of teenagers, mouths full of metal—and her cheerful face, making the round trip every month for 3 straight years. After our orthodontist appointments she’d take us to McDonald’s for a treat. She was that kind of mom, that kind of family friend.

At the blood donation site, during the few minutes of wait time during the check in process, I found myself silently praying for her. Giving blood saves lives and helps people heal. And sometimes death comes too soon.

Happily, I discovered that giving blood is a relatively easy process. Just schedule an appointment. It might be in a week or two. Show up. Answer some questions. If you’ve given before, or answered the questions on-line ahead of time, it’s even faster.

Humor is a favorite coping strategy, so I quizzed the nurse, “Any chance I can get a haircut while I’m here?” Wouldn’t that give a boost to donations? “Give a pint & get a cut.” Could be the new Red Cross slogan.

No such luck—at least not yet. The nurse smiled, and shared a funny story in return. Overdue for a haircut when the coronavirus closed down all the barbershops, I’ve been hiding under a hat for most of the last 8 weeks. But as unruly as my hair now looks, they still let me give blood. They’ll take you with whatever extra hair you bring along.

Actually, donating was a nice break from my day. I got to lay down, and gravity and my heart did the easy work.  Once the blood started flowing it only took about 20 minutes. And I felt fine afterward. Nothing of that feared fatigue. Actually the opposite. I noticed a calm kind of confidence from conquering that old fear. And I enjoyed the chips ahoy cookies—a tasty treat after mustering a bit of courage.

Later in day I saw CT scans and MRIs of dozens of cancer patients as part of my work at the hospital.  Each one was someone’s mom or dad, son or daughter, friend or partner. The blood donated today will help people like them—maybe even one of them. The fleetingness of life, and health, landed a little deeper. I’ve taken them for granted. These feelings and images, the stuff of life, pulse through my mind and heart.

Memorial Day is approaching. What better way to remember those who’ve given in so many ways. I think I’ll make it a reminder to give blood at least once a year. By donating, and writing about it, I’ve discovered some unexpected gifts—connections, memories, growth, and gratitude. It’s a tender place; one I don’t want to forget.

So please do consider giving blood. It’s the gift of life, and a gentle invitation to notice whatever comes up for you…memories, feelings, and reflections. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to express what flows from your experience.

To schedule an appointment:

A.A.B.B. (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks)

Red Cross website, or (800) RED-CROSS

America’s Blood Centers 

Enjoy the good feelings that come from donating. With just a few minutes of your time you could be saving a life. Go ahead—schedule it now. Keep the good flowing strong. Do it for others, and do it for yourself. And I thank you in advance for donating.

photo credit: Istock/Gabriele Maltinti

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