“Do you want this to go to the 16-year-old who was in a terrible motorcycle accident, or the 89-year-old man who is anemic and struggling?”
“Who has fewer donors?” I asked.
“The 89-year-old. No one has signed up for him. A lot of folks have shown up for the young man,” said Marie, the matronly woman behind the desk.
“Then I’d like my blood to go to the older gentleman,” I said.
It was 1976, I was a freshman at Cal Poly, and was donating blood at the local blood bank. Back in the seventies, you could choose who would receive your blood, though now it’s all undesignated.
About a month after signing my pint of blood over to “the older gentleman,” I received a letter from his wife, Ellie. She thanked me for giving her two extra weeks with her dying husband. She explained that she hadn’t been quite ready to say goodbye…that she had been with her “Precious Gerald” for 67 years, and that those two weeks meant the world to her.
Her letter moved me beyond description.
Everything is anonymous now, blood is tested and retested, people go in, donate and walk away.
But not me.
With every donation, I know there is a Precious Gerald lying in a hospital bed, an Ellie and family gathered around, filled with sorrow and fear.
I know that my pint, coupled with the pints that my peers have donated, will help this individual and their family to have one more hour, five more days…hopefully…many more years.
It truly fills me with an unparalleled joy…there is no greater gift.
I have been a regular donor since 1975, when I was in high school, and a friend was, coincidentally, in a serious motorcycle accident. I wasn’t yet 18, so my mother had to sign for me. It felt so wonderful to know that I was helping Brian live, and I knew then that this was a feeling I wanted to experience again.
I’ve missed many donation opportunities due to low iron, high blood pressure, deferrals due to travel in countries that pose a risk…and then a long deferral after I had melanoma. But at the United Blood Services my total donations, as of today, are at 98 pints.
In 2010, I sat in Sierra Vista Hospital clutching the frail hands of my great aunt, Lena. She had fainted and hit her head in her retirement facility, and had been taken there by ambulance (I always teased her, and her twin Louise, that they would do ANYTHING to get those cute paramedics to come and fuss over them).
When I received the frightening call from the retirement home, I was literally laying on a draw bed at the blood bank, donating whole blood. If it hadn’t been that particular caller, I wouldn’t have struggled to answer my cell phone with one arm out of commission, but any call from them could be serious.
And that one was.
I pumped my fist quicker, willing the blood to flow faster, so I could get to my Lena.
In her bed, she was so tiny and frail, so pale and diminished. Reaching around the saline lines dripping into her, I held her hand, crying, and she slowly looked over at me and said, “Oh, Kiki…those cute paramedics…were so nice…but this is silly…I really don’t want…to be such a bother….” And her eyes closed as she fell back to sleep.
The nurse told me they’d ordered four pints of blood. That Lena was anemic and dehydrated, the saline was currently working on the hydration, and that the enormous lump on her head needed to be observed for a couple of days.
A few hours later the nurse returned with the first pint of blood and got everything hooked up and flowing into Lena’s thirsty vein. It absolutely thrilled me to see the logo of my blood bank on the draining plastic bag, knowing that I had contributed to saving her life.
Of course it wasn’t my actual blood in that bag…mine was probably still at the bank, waiting to be sent off for testing. But just like a bank that holds our money, I put a deposit in, so that she could take a deposit out.
With the third bag almost empty, Lena opened her eyes again. “Kiki…! …You should be at work…” I just smiled down at her. She always worried about everyone else.
“Lena, my love, how do you feel?”
“Oh…I feel much better!….Can you….take me …home now?”
“Not yet…looks like you’ll be in here for a few days.”
I told her that I’d been at the blood bank when I got the call, and she refused to accept the “banking” logic, and decided right then and there that all four pints came directly from me. We rejoiced that I had given her life.
Lena was not remotely senile, though she was 99-years old.
That blood, and her inimitable independence and joy for life kept her grounded and delightful til 100.
I never know where the blood goes. I just know it saves someone like kids on motorcycles, Precious Gerald and my lovely Lena, and that’s good enough for me.