Your friendly, neighborhood phlebotomist

18 Apr

I gave blood today. I don’t say this to garner accolades. Nor do I deserve them. Millions of people donate blood, many, like my friend Katie who let me tag along with her today, do so on a regular basis. But for me this sentence is powerful and meaningful. I gave blood today. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time. Since high school really. It seems like such a simple and selfless way to help your community, to help people in need. Or if you want a slightly more selfish slant, consider that you never know when it might be you or your loved ones who are in the back of an ambulance on the way to the ER, needing the gift of someone else’s blood to save your life. It seems so simple. But for many people it’s not. Even if they have the desire, there is something that holds them back. In my case, even though I have a deep and abiding love for the word “phlebotomist”, it was a deep and abiding hatred of needles that kept me from darkening the doors of the Blood Alliance.

When I was a young teen I had outpatient surgery to remove a ganglion cyst in my left wrist. I was, of course, nervous about the whole affair, but the nurses couldn’t have been more wonderful. As they put in the first IV, the deadened the area, they used gentle tones and sure hands, got their job done efficiently, effectively, and with the least amount of discomfort to me. And then I met the anesthesiologist. He was brusque, cold, and mostly seemed annoyed that he had to be dealing with me. He said he was going to put an IV in the back of my hand, and that it would just feel like a small animal scratch. When I hesitated, he reached across the table, grabbed my hand, pulled it toward him, and roughly shoved the needle in. It hurt. A lot. And I’m sure some of that pain was the shock of it all, how roughly and rudely he treated me. It hurt, but it also scared me. And since that encounter, I have had a very difficult time with needles. But, as you may imagine, with three c-sections under my belt (pun intended), I’ve had quite a few IVs and blood draws in the past 10 years. And, well, 25 years have passed since that fateful encounter with the hateful doctor. Over time it has gotten a little easier for me, but I still hate it. I hate the feeling of the cold steel sliding under my skin. It causes a visceral reaction in me that I struggle to control. And frankly I’ve been worried that I would start the blood donation process, but have to quit partway through due to uncontrollable freaking out! And, hey, I don’t want to go through that, waste that blood, if I’m not actually helping someone. But I decided that enough is enough. I’m a grown-up now, and doing difficult things, things that disturb and upset me, is par for the course.

As I said, my friend Katie donates blood frequently, and I am incredibly grateful that she encouraged me to come along with her. It’s always easier doing something scary with a friend. While there are many places to donate blood, we here in Jacksonville are lucky enough to have the well-respected Mayo Clinic, and its conveniently located blood donation center, right in our backyard. I loved how enthusiastic they were to see Katie when we walked in (told you she donates a lot!) They asked about her husband, who typically goes along to donate with her, but had donated somewhere else this month. They asked about her running. They knew her. And that immediately put me at ease. It was a super easy process to get registered. Though I wish there was just a single box on the extensive questionnaire that said “I haven’t had sex with anyone in the past six months” instead of having to answer 40 different questions yes or no about your recent sexual partners. What? Are they just trying to rub it in? But I digress. As I said, it was an easy process, and I passed the prescreening with good blood pressure, good pulse, and an acceptable iron level (though that finger prick does make me shudder.) My phlebotomist, Stephen, was funny and engaging, and I liked him; perhaps mostly because he laughed at my non-stop stream of nervous-energy-fueled shenanigans. He was efficient, effective, and had that needle in my arm and blood flowing out with absolutely no pain. I’ll call the process vaguely uncomfortable, but certainly not painful. Helps if you don’t watch the insertion – which of course, I did not. But the blood flowing out into a bag that is sitting on a scale? Well, that’s pretty darn cool. As an aside, you may be wondering, why the scale? When I asked how much blood they were intending to take – I’d always heard it was a pint – he confirmed that, indeed, it was a pint, but a pint weighs approximately 1 pound. Cool. Though I rectified that missing pound with pizza for dinner. What? I’m missing a pint of blood, I was way too tired to cook.

Anyway, it’s not the blood part that always freaked me out, it was the needle part. But I didn’t see the needle this time, and I barely felt it. So, to Stephen I say, good job, and thank you. To my fears I say, take a hike. This girl can now donate blood. Something I’ve always wanted to do, something I will do more of going forward. I mean, what’s not to love? Helping people and free drinks & snacks? Awesome.

So, did I donate blood today because of what happened in Boston on the 15th? No. And, yes. No, because donating blood truly is something that I’ve been wanting to do for some time now, and the timing just worked out for me to be able to accompany Katie (I needed someone to hold my hand). But also yes, because, while I realize that my donating blood is not actually helping the victims of that heinous act of terrorism, it helped me feel a bit less impotent. I couldn’t help in that situation, but I can help in this one. The one where countless people in Jacksonville every day need life-saving blood. And I thought about the heroes in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. Not just the trained, professional first responders – though I have nothing but overwhelming, heartfelt, sobbing at the images respect for them – but the regular people. The strangers, who in the aftermath of the blasts, did not run in the opposite direction, but rather fell to their knees in the street, and tore their own clothes into strips to use as tourniquets for the grievously injured. Those were regular people who stepped up in a time of crisis and became heroes. I’d like to believe that I’m that type of person. The one who helps whenever possible. The type who would step up in a time of need. Today I did not become a hero. I’m still just a regular person. But I took a step, a baby step. A step towards helping, a step away from my fear. And you know what? Having that needle in my arm felt pretty damn good.



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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim