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