Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Blood donors are a brave lot, for a good cause

BY WILLIAM HARVEY

King High

The one-way windows of the medical center prevented me from peeking inside, but I knew true evil resided within. It was a blood bank, after all; the tinted windows had to have been installed to prevent the sun from vanquishing the vampires doing their work.

My dad had been visiting their lair for 30 years, hypnotized by the propaganda that his blood was apparently saving their species. Now, he'd decided it was my turn to participate in the gruesome family ritual.

With my legs shaking and my heart pumping as much blood as it could while there was still blood to pump, I opened the door to the Florida Blood Services branch on East Fletcher in Tampa. Cool air surged outward, and I remembered that vampires prefer the cold, which helps keep their undead skin at its best.

The face of the receptionist, however, was far too human to belong to a vampire. She was most likely being held against her will. But when I told her I had come to donate blood, her voice held no panic or fear. The only person nervous was me, because of the needle that would soon be entering my arm.

I was taken into a closet-sized room, presumably because larger rooms were reserved for the withered, bloodless cadavers, where I was asked to fill out a sheet with 54 questions. I bubbled in the answers to each question as slowly as possible, to savor my time on this Earth. Each filled bubble was a step toward my doom, questions about my childhood, general health and allergies. In my distraught state, I accidentally stated that I was not pregnant (a question I was supposed to skip), and received a confused look from the receptionist. Blood rushed to my cheeks in embarrassment, for what I assumed would be the last time. I felt sad that the warmth would soon be a thing of the past.

The receptionist walked me through the process: finger prick for testing my iron, a weight reading and then general fitness test. She told me how desperate the blood bank was for donors; participation has decreased greatly over the past few years, which didn't surprise me. I wouldn't want to be part of their marketing division; there is no positive synonym for vampiric.

But she cited other reasons blood was in short supply: The high standards for blood donation and the long waiting period before a donor can give again. Younger blood is more likely to be healthy and pass the tests, but the increasing use of antibiotics and acne medication rules out a large amount of the sweet human nectar. Out of the U.S. population, only 38 percent are possible donors and fewer than 10 percent are willing to give. Those who can donate blood must wait 56 days to repeat the good deed, compared with the in-less-demand platelets and plasma. I finally understood why Edward Cullen preferred animals over humans; our blood has to be perfect to be palatable.

We proceeded to the health and fitness test which, against everything my gym teacher has told me, indicated I was perfectly healthy. A finger prick later, my only salvation was the weight test. I stepped on the scale and the spinning gauge reminded me of a game show. Only this was more like Wheel of Fortun-ate, with life as the million dollar prize.

A weight under 110 pounds automatically removes you from the donor pool. The spinner stopped at 114. I wearily held up my arm and put down my head, ready for the jab.

But the attendant just apologized. Although I weighed more than 110, I was too tall for my weight. For once, being the nerdy, skinny kid was a saving grace.

I walked into the lobby with more life in each step. Until I saw an elderly woman leave a similar closet, looking sorrowful after being told she, too, was not eligible to donate.

I don't know what her reason was for being rejected, but suddenly I felt despicable. Here I was rejoicing that I escaped the needle, selfishly happy I would not have to let go of a pint of blood to save someone else's life. I was the real vampire. I decided I'd come back again soon, with steel-toed boots and sandbags in my pockets.

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