Four Gallons

I hate needles.

And as anyone who knows me is well aware of, unless I’m really intrigued by or incensed about something, it’s unlikely I will get off my fat, lazy ass. I’m not a joiner of groups. I don’t have any friends I hang out with. I don’t do any civic good works.

I know that makes me a bad person, all around.

What I do to try to make up for it in my own small way, however, is bleed. So — more or less regularly for the past twenty years — I’ve given blood to the American Red Cross, most of the time at the Oregon Trail chapter’s headquarters on North Vancouver.

I say “more or less regularly” because today I donated my 32nd pint of blood, bringing me up to four gallons so far. You can give every eight weeks, and if I’d been really regular I could have hit four gallons in just under five years instead of twenty. But I really hate needles.

My first donation was while I was at Reed, and I was surrounded by petite female students chatting happily with their phlebotomists. I, on the other hand, started sweating profusely and going into shock, so they yanked my rig, laid me flat, and made me wait for thirty minutes before I left. I knew then I’d found my calling.

Apparently, my body really hates to give up its blood. My veins are always hidden somewhere. Rare is the time when I’ve had just a single person trying to mark the sticking point. About a third of the time, the needle has been inserted multiple times to find the vein. One time my blood just decided to stop flowing and it began to clot in the line. But I keep going and marvelling at the people around me whose bags seem to fill almost magically in a couple of minutes, arriving after me and leaving before me, while I sit there trying to beat the timer they use to cut you off, dribbling AB+ into mine.

There have been a couple of stretches of time when I wasn’t able to donate for one reason or another. The year after my pulmonary embolism while I was on blood thinners, I had to keep telling the volunteers who called: “Not yet.” However, years of donating blood by then actually helped during that whole incident, especially the forty-five minutes in the emergency room the doctor and nurses spent trying to find veins for the IVs. Everyone had to get in on that action.

It’s my minor penance for not doing volunteer or any other types of good works. I know it’s not enough. But I really do hate needles.

And they seem to hate me.