Years ago, a friend of mine, after a few beers, talked me into going with her to one of the last days of a local Red Cross blood drive. The day before I was supposed to go to the drive, I started to have second thoughts about my commitment. Either I was going to do it, or, for the umpteenth consecutive time, I was going to chicken out. All the smart money was on chicken out.
I am a champion weenie when it comes to letting someone stick needles into me. My subconscious mind firmly believes that if god had wanted us to have direct access to our blood streams, he would have equipped our skin with small, clearly marked outlets.
I guess it all started when I was a small innocent child of two years and had a serious injury to my eye and they went wild with multiple penicillin shots to ward off possible infection.
This fear continued, as I remember, into my early schooling and Miss Feldman’s first grade class at Asbury Elementary School in the late 1950s. (Notice I didn’t give you an exact date, I know how you people are with math). There I was, enjoying life and drawing unrecognizable pictures for my mom to put on the refrigerator, when suddenly – you never know when tragedy if going to strike – Mrs. Feldman announced in a cheerful voice that somebody named “Dr. Salk had discovered a “vaccine” for “polio.”
I had no idea what any of this meant. All I knew was that one minute I was having a happy childhood and the next minute they were lining us all up, marching us to the cafeteria, where we encountered a man – I assumed this was Dr. Salk – holding a needle that appeared to be the size of a harpoon. “You’ll never feel it!” said Mrs. Feldman, this being the last time I ever trusted a grown-up.
Of course, I am no longer a little boy. I’m a grown-up myself now and I’m aware of the medical benefits of inoculation, blood tests, etc. I’m also aware that the actual physical discomfort caused by these procedures is fairly minor. I no longer shriek and cry and run away and have to be captured and held down by two or more burly nurses. What I do now is faint. Yes, even if it’s one of those procedures where they prick your finger just a teensy bit and take barely enough blood for a mosquito hors d’oeuvre.
“I’m going to faint,” I always tell them. “Ha ha!” they always say. “You humor columnists are certainly . . .” “Thud,” can’t say I didn’t warn them.
One time – this is true – I had to sit down in a shopping mall and put my head between my knees because I had walked too close to the ear-piercing booth.
So, to get back to my story, there I was sitting down with my friend in these medical beach chairs, and a Red Cross Lady is coming over with . . . with this bag, which I realize she intended to fill with my blood. I wondered if, since it was my first time, I should ask for a smaller bag. I also wondered:
What if after she punctures me, she forgets I’m here? What if she goes out for lunch, and meanwhile my bag overflows? What if . . .
Too late, she had my arm and she was, oh no, she was oh nooooooo. Next thing I knew, I was looking up into the sky seeing Red Cross ladies! Several of them! They were reaching down! Their arms were hundreds of feet long!
They were putting cold things on my head. “It’s over,” one of the said. “You did fine.”
Even though it was many years ago, I still remember a feeling of relief and accomplishment. I had a Band-Aid on my arm, a Beige Badge of Courage.
And somewhere out there was a bag of my blood, ready to help a sick or injured person become his or her old self again, except that he or she might develop a strong, sudden, unexplained fondness for beer.
Give blood! It’s the right thing to do!