Saturday, May 15, 2021

...Given For You.

Over the past month, I've both donated whole blood for the first time in 17 years and donated platelets for the first time ever.

A little background:

The first time I gave blood was at a blood drive in High School. The donation itself was uneventful, but as I stood to make my way to the snack table, my vision began to narrow, and as soon as I sat down, I passed out. It was humiliating and scary, and while I didn't regret donating blood, I wasn't eager to repeat the entire experience.

But when the church I serve hosted a blood drive a month ago, I decided it was time to try again. I knew I'd be surrounded by people who knew me and loved me, and I'd be able to go right back to my office to lie down if necessary. While on the cot, I quickly became lightheaded and nauseated (per tradition), but I let the phlebotomists know and they immediately took measures to alleviate the symptoms. I didn't wind up passing out, and while I wouldn't call the experience comfortable, it was a triumphantly successful return to blood donations. 

About a week later, I got an email from the Red Cross pleading for platelet donors. I'd never considered it before, so I did some research. Apparently, you can donate platelets every 7 days because the process returns the blood cells and plasma to you and isn't as taxing for your body. It requires needles in both arms, and the procedure itself lasts about 2-3 hours, so it's a MUCH bigger inconvenience, but you get warm blankets and Netflix to watch so, you know, pretty much what I'd be doing on my day off anyway.

Yay for juiceboxes!
I decided to give it a shot. Honestly, the whole thing was a lot more nerve-wracking than giving whole blood. First of all, since they needed to use both arms, my veins were subjected to more scrutiny than they'd ever been before in my life. Then, you get hooked up to this huge, whirring machine (which I opted not to look at once I was in the chair). It takes a surprisingly long time to get everything started. In my case, the "return" needle stuck into my arm wasn't playing nice with my vein, causing pressure and a need to remove it (I still have no idea how dire the situation actually was). But they put it in a different vein, and we had no more issues. I settled in to watch Criminal Minds (because nothing takes your mind off of a stressful situation like serial killers).

For the first hour, my anxiety was the worst part: was I feeling pressure in my left arm again? Was the nurse over here because something was wrong? I found myself needing to consciously unclench all my muscles again and again. Then, in the last hour, I began to feel chilly all over (this was expected, because the saline that they inject along with your plasma and blood cells isn't at body temperature). And that, combined with not moving AT ALL for the better part of three hours made standing up and walking afterwards feel like a new skill that I was trying out for the first time. But I made it to the snack table without any trouble, and then I blissfully sat in my car, enjoying the sun like a cat, for 10 minutes. Another successful donation.

Okay, now back to the present.

I've been thinking a lot about whether or not I want to do this again, and I'm pretty sure I do--both for whole blood and plasma. First of all, the Red Cross has created a genius app that tracks how many units you've donated and gives you "badges" when you reach certain tiers, and I'm a sucker for racking up achievements. 

But that's probably the least important reason that I'll be donating in the future. 

A lot of my personal faith journey over the past 10 years or so has been about figuring out how best to live it out, instead of just thinking or talking about it. I hadn't been able to find anything that I really connected with--I'd volunteer on mission trips or donate to a multitude of organizations, and while they felt like good things to do (and I knew they helped others), they didn't feel like an authentic expression of faith to me. 

(Don't misunderstand me: I believe that these are still important things to do, even if they don't "feed me" spiritually. Faith aside, I believe that helping other people is a vital part of the social contract that we all have a responsibility to take part in. But that doesn't change the fact that I was still in search of something that I'd experience as a natural connection between my faith and my actions.)

When I donated blood, though, it felt different. I was in awe of the fact that I could offer a part of my body to help someone else that I didn't know, possibly even saving their life. I wasn't being forced to in any way; it was entirely my choice. It wasn't comfortable by a long-shot--there is ZERO CHANCE I would undergo either donation procedures again if the effect of my donation weren't so profound. And I'm not just talking about the physical discomfort, either. If you don't tend to experience anxiety, let me tell you that the combination of mental AND physical distress is overwhelming and distressing, to say the least. But the fact that I could change another person's life through my choice to surrender my body (albeit, a small, safe portion of it, and only temporarily) was humbling and filled me with awe.

It's no coincidence that these revelations coincide with the Easter season.  

I'm not comparing blood donation to crucifixion by any stretch, but as someone who's generally extremely privileged, I've always felt like the "challenge" part of the gospel was more important for me to internalize than the "comfort" part. And when I donate blood, I feel intimately connected to Jesus' self-giving in a way that's akin to communion. It's a powerful experience. 

The other reason I'll be donating again is, admittedly, far more selfish, but equally important. 

The biggest disappointment of the last year for me (and many others) is observing how many of my fellow human beings are willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of others for their own convenience and comfort, couched in the language of "freedom" (while I'm familiar with the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, I don't recall one about preserving our personal freedom at any and all costs). It's been demoralizing and discouraging, to say the least. 

But at both the church's blood drive and my platelet donation, I realized that I was surrounded, for just a little while, entirely with people acting selflessly. The phlebotomists were focused on collecting blood for those who need it and caring for the donors, the donors were giving up their time and comfort (not to mention their blood!) and getting nothing in return (aside from those sweet achievement badges in the app), and the volunteers were keeping things running smoothly and creating a safe and comforting atmosphere for everyone who walked in the door. Nobody HAD to be there. But they all chose to be. Even those who weren't able to donate for whatever reason had enough of a desire to help others to bring them out of their homes and to the drive. It was reassuring to me that the world ISN'T as full of selfishness and hatred as it sometimes seems, and comforting that God's love can still move even in a time of such division and antagonism in our country.

I can't say whether or not blood donation is right for you, or if it will have the same impact on you as it's had on me. But I will say that I never expected the experience to be as profound as it has been, and I think it's worth it for everyone to consider at least once. Especially if you worship a God who willingly offered his own body for our sake. May we all share in this same selfless love for one another. 

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