The Selfish, Selfless Gift
You could save a life and you would never even know you did it.
You could save a life!
I gave my first pint of blood when I was 17 and about two weeks into my first college semester at Cortland State. I was on my own. There was not one I needed to go to for permission — to do anything. Now, all decisions were my decisions.
I saw the signs for a bloodmobile. Even by this time I was conscious of guys close to my age dying on a battlefield called Vietnam. I was conscious of that because only about a week before I was to leave for college I still did not have the money to go. I had an appointment with a Navy recruiter — that was my fallback plan. I also paid a lot of attention to what was going on and saw the television stories about the war. So, I saw the signs for a bloodmobile and thought that I could donate and maybe designate that my blood go to help those injured in battle. (Naïve but that was in my thoughts.) Sometime in my growing up years I remember my father had gone to give blood and overheard him having a conversation with my mother about the bad reaction he while he had the needle in his arm. I did know vaguely about giving blood.
And, this was the first chance I had ever had to do something like this. So I joined a number of others in line and waited my turn for the paperwork. Things were moving smoothly until the person said — “you are 18 aren’t you. If not, you have to have a parent’s permission.” Wait, I thought, all decisions are supposed to be my decisions. But there was that line on the form — parents signature needed under 18. The people behind the desk did not bend. I wanted to give — I was psyched that I was going to be able to do something for which there would be no exchange. I could give completely without expectation of anything in return. But, I needed a parent signature.
I took the paper and I left the room., Almost immediately I saw a girl that I had recently met during orientation. “Would you sign my mother’s name on this line so I can give blood,” I asked as I showed her the form. I would not be 18 until January but I did not want to wait that long before my first gift of life. We didn’t really know each other and she probably thought I was a little wacky but as I told her how to spell Eileen and then Puffer, she signed my mother’s name. And I was able to give my first pint of blood.
The procedure went smoothly and I was feeling a little older than my 17 years as this gift drained into the container at my side. As the phlebotomist put the band aid on my arm she reviewed the rules — “no heavy lifting and no extra exertion for 24 hours.” Oops! Football practice was every day and practice started at 3. I was certainly not in position to skip practice. So — only a few hours after giving my first pint of blood I was giving my sweat and oxygen to become a stronger football player. Today, when I am able to give that pint or so of blood I am happy for the excuse not to have to hit the weights at the Y or cover three miles at the Byerly track.
Not lying, I felt pretty smug and pretty selfless after giving that pint of blood. I had done something for which there was no overt reward. And, if I was lucky the rest of my life there would be no pay back. That day’s action became one of the enduring habits of my life. There have been some times over the years when my every eight week schedule was interruped. There was rule that you had to take three or five years off from giving blood if you had taken medication to prevent malaria. I also had some fights with them when I was an active runner and kept my heart rate down in the range of 40 to 50 but they usually relented then. The past couple of years I have not always had enough iron in the hemoglobin so I now take some additional iron pills as I come up on the donation day to help hit the right number. And, because I am taking some blood thinner, I have to modify the intake to meet the rules for giving.
Donating blood is one of the more selfless things you can do. First, you really might save a life. Second, if you are lucky there is no payback — even if you do get a t-shirt for your donation. I am thinking though it is not as selfless as it seems. I have always had pride in my blood donations (and I have achieved the 22 gallon pin) and having had the opportunity to give was a life-long gift that came because of smart people developing unique and interesting ways to help people heal and live,
Until the next researchers come up with easy to manufacture substances that mirror our blood my recommendation is that you overcome the little sting of the needle and give as often as you are able. Like so much other giving, the donation is really a gift to yourself.