Did you know that every two seconds someone in the United States will require a blood transfusion? According to statistics provided by the American Red Cross, 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, but only about 10% do each year. I came across this information when I had taken a new job a couple of years ago and promptly signed up to become a regular donor. I immediately felt great pride thinking about the prospect that my blood could help to save someone’s life. But, as with most of my well-intentioned activities, there was a slight glitch.
The first time I was called for a donation, I eagerly made an appointment through my local Red Cross center. There was a Blood Mobile set up in a church parking lot not far from the school where I was working. I made arrangements to have my husband pick up our two younger boys from school that afternoon while, after estimating the amount of time it would take for me to donate, I concluded I would be available to pick up the older two boys after their soccer practices. So, I rushed from work straight to the Blood Mobile, trying to maximize my time by ignoring my slightly full bladder. Still excited about the usefulness of my body to others, I’m sure I was quite chipper and friendly when I was filling out my paperwork and answering basic health questions provided by the middle-aged nurse who smelled a little like stale cigarettes. Then I waited…and waited…and started to get concerned that too much time was passing before my arm saw even the tip of a needle. Oh yeah, and I still had to use the bathroom.
Blood Mobiles are like mobile homes, only they’re outfitted with reclining chairs and lots of cabinets for equipment. I thought I’d see a bathroom, but didn’t want to go wandering around while nurses were moving about and donors had needles sticking out of their arms. I could wait, I thought. It can’t be too much longer. Just then, another nurse came to get me from my waiting chair and settled me into a donation chair. Now, for the record, I’ve given birth to four children so I’m not adverse to pain, blood, or needles. I wasn’t nervous about the process, just the fact that it was close to the time that I had to pick my kids up from soccer.
The nurse that was prepping my arm was very sweet and tried to quell any anxiety she thought I might have. I let her know I was only worried about getting out in time to get my kids, and she assured me it wouldn’t be too long. Then she tried to pierce my vein. Apparently, I have very narrow veins in my arm and they move away when prodded. She tried again. Okay, she said, let’s try the other arm. Bingo! She got the needle in and the blood started visibly flowing through the clear tubing and into the receptacle. But then it stopped. Oh, that’s odd, the nurse mumbled as she adjusted the needle and held up the bag. There was a slight pinching sensation in my arm but nothing that was too uncomfortable. For whatever reason, she couldn’t change the angle of the needle or the bag without the flow of my blood coming to a halt, so she resigned herself to sit and make small talk while we waited for my uncooperative red sludge to make its way to the top of the collection bag.
I was surprised when I suddenly felt woozy and short of breath. Not being one to complain about physical discomfort, or wishing to inconvenience anyone, I almost kept it to myself but the feeling was overwhelming. I remember saying, “I’m starting to feel really bad,” before everything went black. When I opened my eyes again, I had three worried nurses staring into my face: one with a fan, one with a Ginger Ale, and the smoker, who might have used her breath as smelling salts. I felt hot and cold at once. The needle was out of my arm and a straw was being pushed toward my lips. “Drink this,” nurse Ginger Ale demanded. I obeyed and began to feel normal sensations return to my body. I was clammy and shaking slightly. What the hell just happened? It completely stunned me to hear that I passed out before I could even finish my blood donation. The nurses wouldn’t let me get up until my blood pressure returned to normal and the color returned to my face. About the time that it did, however, I realized with tremendous embarrassment that I still felt damp and clammy…but only where I was sitting. Why the fuck don’t they have bathrooms on Blood Mobiles?
It was the walk of shame for me to leave that goddamn trailer with the knowledge that everyone was staring at me…not only because I had passed out and caused a scene in very tight quarters, but because I was leaving with a big, wet ring on the back of my stupid, fucking slacks. They wanted to escort me into the church hall so I could continue to “rest” and eat some cookies, but I refused. The mortification that comes from publicly wetting your pants at 38 years old was more than I could bear. I got into my car, wishing I had a towel to sit on, and practically in tears, called on my husband to pick up the boys from soccer. There was a tap on my car window; I rolled it down. Nurse Black Lung handed me a piece of paper and said, “You’re probably not a good candidate for blood donations.” Yeah, no shit.