Alright, I’ll come clean: I’ve never given blood. I know, I know. I’m interning for the Red Cross and I’ve never donated blood. “That’s pretty pathetic,” someone said to me at the blood drive I attended last Tuesday, sponsored by Tribeca Flashpoint Academy and the Burnham Center in the Loop.
The truth is, I’ve always made excuses: “I’m afraid of needles,” or “My blood type is AB+, I’m a universal receiver, nobody wants my blood,” or even “I didn’t eat a good breakfast.”
Sitting in a chair next to the check-in desk, I chatted with donors waiting their turn. Most of them were students between classes. Nothing out of the ordinary. “Is this your first time giving blood?” I asked, and “Why are you donating today?” I was expecting some extraordinary stories. Someone who almost died because they needed blood. Some life-changing epiphany due to an outstanding circumstance. I was expecting to meet someone and to think, Now THAT’s a reason to donate blood!
I met a man who’d been diagnosed with skin cancer a year or so ago. I’d found it, the inspired person I was looking for, the life-altering experience. Yet, as I talked to him, I found out he’d donated tens of times before the surgery that cut out his misbehaving skin cells, and his only disappointment? For a year afterwards, he couldn’t give blood.
When I asked the other donors their reasons for donating, each and every one gave me a funny look--as if no question were ever more absurd--and shrugged. “I guess I just like to,” they’d say, or “I just heard about it, and figured I’d do something good.” I nodded my head.
I started fidgeting in my seat. I began feeling ashamed for having never donated. These people didn’t need some extraordinary accident to happen for them to give blood--they just did it because they wanted to, because it’s good.
In fact, I met quite a few people who couldn’t even count the number of times they’d donated. It was like asking the number of times they’d stubbed a toe, or bought someone coffee. Many had first donated for a blood drive at their high school, and continued to do so whenever they could afterwards.
I was so concentrated on finding an extraordinary story that I missed the thing right in front of me: the extraordinary part about giving blood is the totally ordinary nature of it.
After a few of these short conversations, I set to convincing myself that at the end of the day, I would climb out from under my shame, take a deep breath, and donate. The fear of a little old needle shouldn’t hinder me from possibly saving someone’s life. I started feeling pretty good about it.
A man in a tie came in, trench-coat draped over his arm. A little voice in the back of my head wondered: What’s the 1% doing here? He looked out of place amid all these students, but he didn’t seem to care. I asked my repertoire of questions, and he told me that he hadn’t been able to donate for the last year. He’d been on a cruise, and his boat stopped temporarily at Port-au-Prince in Haiti. Because of those few hours in a malaria-stricken area, he had to wait a year before donating again to ensure his blood was safe.
And here, my hopes fell.
Three months ago, I returned from West Africa, where malaria is rampant. What a shame, I thought: blood supplies are low this year, and the Red Cross is encouraging people to donate over the holiday season. But I’m marking next August on my calendar--I’ll find a drive nearby, and I’ll happily give up a pint of blood.
Find out your eligibility to donate blood here. To search for a blood drive near you, visit http://www.redcrossblood.org/make-donation. For more information on giving blood, check out http://www.redcrossblood.org/.
When was the last time you gave blood?
Written by: Jonathan Bressler