I have given blood on three or four previous occasions; none of them smooth enough to help me establish a regular pattern of giving, but none of them so daunting as to prevent me from trying again.
After Canadian Blood Services got in touch with me to update my address, they asked if I wanted to attend a neighbourhood Blood Clinic the following month. Feeling guilty, I aquiesced, wrote it on the calendar, and then promptly forgot about it. The cryptic "CBS 7:00 StCh" meant nothing to me the next time I saw it, and I don't mean I thought someone else had written it; I looked at it in baffled amazement, asking Audrey if she knew what it meant, which provoked a significant laugh on her part, which I still thought was a better response than pretending she did know and then refusing to tell me. I even checked the tv listings for the date in question, which is ludicrous on the face of it; what network show am I going to watch at 7:00 pm under any circumstances, let alone schedule a month in advance? I mean, if we were talking about the Galactica finale or the season premiere of Lost, maybe, but still, it is not as if we are talking about primetime here.
At any rate, thank goodness that the people at Canadian Blood Services (CBS? D'oh!) called the day before to confirm my attendance. I told them I would be there, and decided to take my daughter Fenya along for the experience. And also because I figured I was probably less likely to cry or scream in front of her.
We rolled into the parking lot about 5 minutes before my scheduled appointment, which meant very little in the way of a line-up. In no time at all they had me typed up and filling out the questionnaire about things that could compromise the integrity of the blood I was about to give.
Completing the questionnnaire, I felt extraordinarily snug about the life-choices I had made along the way, but looking at the long string of "No"s regarding international travel, operations and really sketchy behaviour, I couldn't help but feel a little, I don't know, pedestrian. Thankfully, it only took my consciousness about two seconds to fire up a powerpoint slideshow full of horrible photos and insightful pie charts showing in no small degree of detail a comprehensive risk/benefit analysis between adventurous expectations and life expectancy behind my eyelids. ("No, Mr. Fitzpatrick; while there may be degrees of seriousness, there really is no 'cool' variety of hepatitis.")
My reverie was interrupted by Fenya pointing out that a nurse was waiting for me to come to the privacy area. Here I completed and signed the questionnaire, neither smug nor envious at this point, had my blood pressure checked, and was given a moment alone to put a bar-code sticker on my form telling them that as far as I was concerned, using my blood for someone else was groovy and unlikely to unleash the Andromeda Strain or whatever created all those pseudo-vampires that chased Will Smith last winter.
A nurse led Fenya and I over to a high-rise lawn chair with a tray for holding my arm up whilst they tapped me for a pint. I explained to my daughter that, while I am not truly afraid of needles, I am fearful enough of flinching while they poke me that I have learned to look away while they get things started. The nurse got the line in, which only pinched a little, I began to squeeze the little rubber heart they provided, and the bloodletting began. Fenya had some great questions about how long we would be, how much blood they were going to take, about how much that would leave, why the box that held the collector bag rocked back and forth, et cetera.
When my daughter had finished her interrogation, the nurse took a look at my progress, and frowned. "what's up?" I asked, "Where are we at?"
"We're only at about 140 mL," she replied. "At this rate, we will be a long time getting to 480. I am going to re-adjust the line, it may be resting along the wall of your vein." She undid the gauze and tape around where the needle entered my arm, and gently moved it around. I stress the word 'gently' here, because she seemed a kindly sort who took deliberate care with all of her actions, but it was still incredibly discomforting. I stiffened up a fair bit, thinking it was just an adjustment, but when it started to actually become painful, I had to speak.
Clenching my teeth so as to not upset my ten-year-old companion, I said, "That's a bit pinchy." The nurse nodded, and made an adjustment. "Yep, still pinchy," I smiled, wondering what the tensile strength of the metal tubing I was clutching with my left hand was.
"I have a bad feeling you may be clotting in the line," the nurse said. "Is it possible you're dehydrated?"
I started to shake my head. I sit nice and close to the water cooler at work, and usually fill up my 500 mL bottle 2-3 times a day. Today however had been different, as we had gone off-site for a recognition luncheon at the Matrix Hotel downtown. It was a great lunch, and afterwards I had drank, what, 2 cups of coffee? Huh. And then a diet cola at dinner. Uh oh. Congratulations, dumbass, I thought to myself, you've loaded yourself up with diuretics on a day when you are going to be down a pint!
"Er, yeah, I suppose it is possible..." I admitted. The nurse slowly removed the needle from my arm and nodded insightfully.
"See that?" she gestured. There was a dark blob stretching a full centimetre from the needle to the exit wound in my arm, looking more like mucus than blood. Isn't that supposed to be a liquid? I thought. "We are never going to get a full pint at this rate, but we will still test it for you."
I apologized and moved sheepishly to the counter for my cookie and juice. A little late for that now, isn't it? said the new powerpoint presentation, but I ignored it, more because of a lack of a decent internal rejoinder than any kind of moral high ground.
Fenya finished her Fudgee-Os and the better part of a can of Sprite while I explained why I would not be able to give blood that day, and promised her and myself that I would be a bit more prepared the next time.
As a souvenir, I have (even still), a nice toonie-sized bruise on the inside of my right elbow, mostly brown but with enough purple to keep it interesting. When some of my co-workers pointed at it and demanded to know what I had done to myself, I laughed self-deprecatingly and said, "Man, it has been so long since I've done heroin, I don't have the slightest idea what to do any more!"
The immediate reactions of eyebrows and jaws (up and shut, respectively) prompted me to clarify in short order that I was only joking and had instead caffeinated my way to a wasted evening at the donor clinic. But I am already signed up for another attempt in June, and this time I drew a little doodle of a blood drop on the calendar, so as long as I don't think I've predicted rain at precisely 7:00 that evening, I should do a lot better.