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A Pint Lighter

These days, most news stories are either about COVID-19 or about the impact of the pandemic on something else. In fact, it’s hard to think of anything that hasn’t been impacted in some way.

A few weeks ago, I read a story about how blood banks were running low. Presumably, usual donors were reluctant to go in while everyone was under quarantine. Although I typically would have quickly moved on and filed that tidbit away as trivia, the story caught me in an unusually spirited mood because I started looking up local blood banks to donate for the first time.

Little credit is due since in over 30 years, I had never donated before, and I was probably just feeling cooped up. Regardless, the nearest blood bank was only a few miles away, and they had plenty of appointments available for whole blood donations. I signed up, and four days later, I got out of my car, pulled my mask on, and wandered through an office park confusedly until finding the right entrance to the blood bank.

The receptionist read my confusion immediately and began the process of getting me signed up for a first-time donation, which was made only more cumbersome by safety procedures. Everything I touched from the pen to the counter was immediately sanitized by another man working there, so as a kindness to him, I filled out the iPad questionnaire standing up.

I quickly learned there are a lot of reasons why I wouldn’t be able to give blood, all of which presumably are familiar to other blood donors. No, I didn’t visit England a few decades ago and have traces of mad cow disease. No, I’m not pregnant. Actually, I answered N/A to that one since the previous question was something about my sex, and they had to correct that form later. And I was soon verified as a valid first-time donor.

I have always been vaguely embarrassed about having not donated blood. The topic doesn’t come up directly, but in small talk, I have been asked what my blood type is. When I said I didn’t know, the response was typically, “Oh, so you haven’t donated blood before, have you?”

While I was signing up, I thought about why I hadn’t done it before. I looked at a half-dozen websites explaining how to donate blood, what the consequences were, and what could disqualify someone, and none of it sounded cumbersome. It just never really crossed my mind to go out of my way to do it.

Later when I mentioned it to my mom, though, she said that she had never donated blood because she was under the minimum weight. And that’s where it clicked for me: I hadn’t considered donating because I didn’t witness or discuss it with my parents. She also reminded me that I have tiny veins like her and might need to be handled differently.

Back at the blood bank, I was soon called to do a pre-donation test. Following the instructions, I went into a room where a woman (in a mask, like everyone else) reviewed my file and began checking my vitals. She explained how a machine would work to test my iron level. That previous evening, I read a list of foods high in iron and found out that dried apricots apparently have a lot of iron, so I had those for breakfast. Steak and spinach do, too, but I didn’t think those would be as tasty in my oatmeal.

My iron levels were fine, but my blood pressure was low. She asked if I had eaten any salt that morning (I had not), so she sent me to eat some pretzels before beginning the donation. I did that, went to the bathroom because I had drank a lot of water that morning, and then went over to begin the donation.

The setup was what mostly I had imagined. Big comfy chair and big needle. The nurse explained the roll-and-squeeze on the, uh, squeezy thing in my hand, and we began.

Slowly, apparently. Remember, tiny veins.

The nurse kept apologizing for how long it was taking, but with no point of reference, it didn’t seem like it was taking too long. We chatted while she was using every trick in the book to get more blood out of me, and when we were done, she hefted away a surprisingly big bag of blood.

I hadn’t thought to look up how much blood they take, but it’s a pint. I couldn’t believe that much blood had come out of me, especially with no noticeable effect on my ability to stay conscious.

She escorted me over to the snack area where I felt like royalty as she went over every cookie, cracker, and juice option one-by-one asking if I wanted it, and I ended up with three items set in front of me. I’m not sure if they always pamper donors that much, or maybe it was another COVID-19 precaution so that I wasn’t touching everything in the mini-kitchen myself.

I looked at the clock, and fifteen minutes later, I felt fine: not really proud per se, but just with a small embarrassment lifted. Apparently, I’m not the only one. When I asked the staff about donations, they mentioned that they had many first time donors coming in just to have a reason to get out of the house.

And so I continued about my day, a pint lighter.

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