, Gloucester, MA

July 26, 2013

Journal Pages: Giving the gift of blood, one pint at a time

Journal Pages
Susan Emerson

---- — “Where are you going?” my 6-year-old granddaughter asked as we passed in the driveway.

“I’m going to give blood,” I said. “I’ll be back in a little while.”

Her eyes widened as her jaw dropped in disbelief.

“You’re giving your blood away? Who are you giving it to? Don’t you need it yourself?”

What silly things we sometimes say to kids, assuming their experience equals ours. I stopped briefly to clarify my mission. We concluded with her declaring emphatically, “I’m never going to do that.” I said that someday, when she was older, she might change her mind. But she confirmed, “No.”

Few experiences illustrate more clearly and emphatically the bond that exists among fellow human beings than the donation of blood. Quite plain and simple, it’s the stuff that courses throughout all of our bodies, and it’s a commodity for which, to date, there is no manufactured substitute.

I recall the first time I was “invited” to donate blood. It was at a drive sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, where I’d landed my first job in New York City the summer we were married. The offices were located in the Time-Life building by Rockefeller Plaza.

Just when I’d mastered the route walking to my job, and finally quelled my terror of the elevator that swooped me up to the 42nd floor every morning and down again at the workday’s end, there came a memo that all employees were invited (they meant “expected”) to support a blood drive.

The perk was that, if you participated, you got the rest of the day off from work. It didn’t seem compensation enough for me. I began sweating at the mere thought of having any of my lifeblood drained away.

Under pressure from my newfound city friends in the office, though, I dragged myself to the appointment, where I was rejected for having low blood pressure. Whew!

In the years that followed, I was busy, a working mother of three, and the notion of giving blood was nowhere on my radar.

But then, when one of my sons was a senior in high school, I was again cornered by circumstance. His school was sponsoring a student/parent blood drive, and he wanted us to go. I suspect the likelihood of heroism in the eyes of some 17-year-old girl crossed his mind. For the second time, my chutzpah was challenged. And this time, there was no turning back; my blood pressure was normal.

As we lay prostrate, mother and son side by side, we succumbed to the ordeal together, surprised that it was no big deal. After that I began to donate blood more often, and then, regularly.

In a recent phone call requesting that I make an appointment to donate blood, the man on the other end of the line greeted me with, “Thank you for donating 27 pints of blood to the American Red Cross.” I had no idea!

The Red Cross runs the show, and the opportunity for giving comes often, and everywhere. The teams of nurses and aids are good at what they do; they’re smooth operators. They welcome you, educate and re-educate you every time. They boost your morale. They quell your nervousness with small talk. They make you feel somewhat the hero.

It’s easy. It’s a half hour well spent. And never mind that you yourself might need a pint of blood back some time.

I gave the American Red Cross my 28th pint of blood this week. They thanked me, pressed a paper badge on my shirt that read: “I make a difference.”

If you are eligible, you can, too. Or maybe you already have?

Susan S. Emerson is a Rockport resident and a regular Times columnist.