I surrendered my blood-giving virginity last Monday at the Courthouse Athletic Club here in Salem. Somehow I’d managed to get well into my fifth decade without donating blood. And I would have kept my record going if it weren’t for a misunderstanding that made me appear to be more selfless than I really am.
I was lifting weights on a Nautilus machine when a youthful, attractive, perky female athletic club employee (is there any other kind?) approached me with a clipboard in hand. “Would you be interested in donating to support the Courthouse blood drive?” she asked.
My mind zeroed in on the word “donating.” I pictured myself handing over a ten dollar bill at the front desk on my way out to help pay for cookies and juice that would be given to the poor souls who were getting their life-blood drained.
“Sure,” I replied. “I’d be glad to help.” “Great!” said the Perky One, placing the clipboard on my lap. “Here are the times that are available. Which one would be best for you?”
I now realized that I was going to be one of those poor souls, but it was too late to back out without looking like a total wimp. “2:00 pm should work for me.” “Great, you’ll get a reminder call Sunday evening.” Which I did, foreclosing the possibility of pretending that I’d forgotten about the appointment.
The blood-drawing was in a glassed exercise room on the main floor. I was pleased that passers-by would be able to look in and admire my compassion in action. But before I got to lie down on one of the reclining chairs I had to pass through the double gauntlet of first reading a binder full of material about who should and shouldn’t give blood, replete with admonishments such as “if this applies to you, get up and leave the room right now,” then going over the same sorts of questions with a nurse.
After repetitively uttering the mantra of “No,” “No,” “No,” to a seemingly endless series of queries about my lifestyle, health, global travel, and so on, I began to feel almost embarrassed at how staid and boring my life was. I hadn’t spent a lot of time in Africa or England. I’d never injected myself with illegal drugs. I’d never gotten a tattoo. I’d never paid anyone for sex.
As the questions continued, I began to wonder how many prospective donors were turned away for one reason or another. There were just two of us in the room; I’d been there for over half an hour; and the clipboard schedule had a name written in every ten minutes. I proudly walked out with this sticker. Maybe if a guy admits to having been with a prostitute and has to go home to his wife without giving blood, they let him wear a sticker also as a cover story.
I had no problem with the blood-letting once I got past the inquisitive nurse. I dutifully squeezed a rubber ball every few seconds, helping to speed the blood out of my artery. The needle nurse did all she could to make the process as pleasantly disguised as possible, telling me to look away when the needle was inserted and placing the collection bottle outside of donor view.
So I had no firm conception of how much blood I was giving. For some reason that detail wasn’t prominently featured in the pages and pages of documents I’d just read over. After I was done and had been given an outrageously large cookie to munch on, the needle nurse said that I should take it easy for 24 hours or so.
“I usually walk the dog for about a mile every evening,” I said. “Do you think it’s okay if I do that tonight?” “Well, I’d make it half a mile,” she answered. “After all, you’ve lost a tenth of your blood.”
A tenth! What the hell! I thought. That sure seemed like an awful damn lot.
However, it turned out that I felt fine and only reduced my physical activity a tad. After all, I had to go out and show off my “Be nice to me. I gave blood today” sticker to as many people as possible. I wore it for several days, in fact, wanting to suck as much sympathy out of the experience as I could.
I should have picked up a few extra for when I need to return something and have lost the receipt.