Well, technically, it’s already the day after Thanksgiving. I’m still up from Thanksgiving Day, having stocked up on sleep with my afternoon, post-turkey nap. I’ve had a great holiday so far. In reverse chronological order, I’ve had: a fine evening watching TV with the cats I’m sitting for this weekend, dinner with my mom and brother, baking and gravy making (both of which I love to do) for said dinner, a Wednesday night jam session with the amazing guitarists (and patient ones, with the bumbling guitar student I still am) who are also some of my best friends, and donating blood on Wednesday afternoon.
Oddly, it was the blood donation that filled me most with the spirit of Thanksgiving. I’d been meaning to donate blood for many, many months—since the high school blood drive when I was first old enough to donate, I’ve always meant to donate blood as often as my local blood center allows me to, (That’s every two months, which is how long it takes to be sure the red blood cells I’ve given away have grown back.) but something always comes up—I may be coming down with the flu, I have a sword fighting test (or some other physical activity) coming up, I’m just too busy—so that, in fact, I give blood once or twice a year. It had been over a year since my last donation. Excuses aside, I don’t give blood more often because it feels scary, even the 24th time I do it, and so I have to stir up my courage before I go. We have a natural aversion to asking someone to poke a hole in us and drain out our blood, and I suppose that’s a good thing. Even though the phlebotomists who take blood donations are very, very good at their jobs (much better, I’ve found, than the lab techs who stab my arm several times whenever my doctor orders a blood test), the chances of infection or other adverse reactions are very slim, and I’m in great health and can certainly spare a pint of blood now and then, on a visceral level, giving blood kinda freaks me out.
In fact, that’s one of the main reasons why I still, eventually, do go give blood. It feels like an extreme sport. There is an adrenaline rush when the needle goes in, and I feel especially tough having volunteered to shed my own blood. Of course, there’s also the feeling of doing something good for society, helping some poor soul (several souls, actually, as each pint will most likely be divided into plasma, platelets (clotting factors), and red cells and sent to multiple patients) who is very sick or badly injured. It’s the quickest easiest way I know of to do something nice for the world around me, and so prove to myself that I’m a good person. In that way, giving blood is fun. I highly recommend the experience: Anyone out there who can give blood, I suggest you drop by your local blood center and give it a try.
If you can’t give blood, though, I don’t fault you for it. In fact, what really hit me this time was how rare I am, and how amazingly fortunate, that I am able to give blood at all. Before donating blood, each volunteer always has to answer a long list of questions and take a few physical tests that determine whether his or her blood is safe to share with other people, and whether he or she is healthy enough to spare a pint. So many things can eliminate you, from the obvious, like “Have you ever tested positive for HIV?” to the very subtle, like, “Are you feeling well today?” The latest edition of the questionnaire asked whether I had Chagas disease (an infection, carried most often by mosquitoes, which slowly destroys one’s heart), whether I had been exposed to malaria, and whether I had ever been treated for cancer. Have I needed a smallpox vaccination? Do I have diabetes? Is there any problem with my heart and lungs? No. I’m not anemic; in fact, I have more hemoglobin in my blood than the average healthy woman does. I’ve never been in such a desperate situation that I’d have sex for money. I’ve never shot up with drugs, recreational or otherwise. I’ve never had and STD (and yes, I get tested regularly, so I know for sure). I’ve never been exposed to Mad Cow Disease, nor have I been infected with the West Nile Virus. I’m not underweight. I don’t have a fever. I’ve never had jaundice, or any type of hepatitis … the list goes on and on.
I’ve filled out similar questionnaires before, of course, but this time it really hit me: None of these situations are unusual, or unlikely to happen to me. Many of my loved ones can’t donate blood: the diabetic, the cancer survivor, the toughest guy I know (who is free and healthy at last, having kicked his heroin addiction), the friend who loses blood regularly when the ulcers in his digestive tract act up, gay men (who are at a frighteningly high risk for AIDS and other dangerous diseases), the Air Force brat who lived on military bases in Europe (and is thus at risk for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human variant of Mad Cow Disease), and probably several who have had STDs that they haven’t told me about. The world is a dangerous place, and the human body is a delicate thing. It’s amazing, actually, that I have managed to live nearly 35 years without falling victim to some serious problem, but I am, with very little effort on my own part, extremely healthy. I’m a lucky, lucky person, and I am thankful for that.
And now that I think of it, I feel lucky and grateful for all of those people in my life who, despite all of the troubles that beset them, are still in this world and in my life. People are fragile. I’m glad to know the ones I do. And finally, I’m thankful that I have such an easy, direct way to share my good fortune.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! May we all be reminded of what’s good in our lives.