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Wednesday, March 08, 2006


The gift of life

Thanks to my father, shlit''a, I have very strong feelings about donating blood. He has been donating regularly for decades, and he's on call with Bikur Cholim in case they need type-specific units. Way back in 1979, when I was just a tyke of 5, the Steinhart family spent the whole summer in Israel. We toured Hadassah Hospital and my mother, shlit''a, got in trouble for attempting to photograph the Chagall windows. Then my father decided to donate blood, and he took me along to watch.

This was, in fact, a very smart move. He explained what was going on, and how the blood was drawn, and I was able to watch the whole process without feeling queasy or freaked out. Even the phlebotomist, or technician, or whatever you want to call her, got in on the act, answering my questions with relative patience - at least for an Israeli.

By taking me along and letting me observe, my father was teaching by example, and the lesson has stayed with me ad hayom.

(There are other incidences, throughout my life, of my father teaching by example. I will blog more about them in the future.)

So - since I was old enough to donate, I've participated in blood drives. I've donated in NYU, at corporate drives through the New York Blood Center, at community drives in my neighborhood, and so on. When I was in the Holy Land this past summer, I donated at the Magen David Adom blood bank. And yesterday, I donated at an American Red Cross drive at my office.

Not the best experience, I have to say.

The Red Cross workers were apathetic at best, surly and downright rude at worst. I'm used to phlebotomists and other blood drive staff being overly solicitous and thankful, but maybe I'm spoiled. I've kibitzed with blood drive folks, swapped stories, made jokes about racing other donors to fill my unit bag, and so on. Yesterday, though, things were remarkably subdued and tense.

The technician who surveyed me ahead of the donation seemed a thousand miles away, intoning the questions by rote and avoiding eye contact. When I asked for clarification on some questions, she ignored me.

The phlebotomist who took my blood seemed angry. I asked her to draw from my right arm; she chose my left. She taped the needle in place and then removed the tape sharply and painfully. She criticized the way I was squeezing and releasing the little handgrip. Halfway through, I asked how the fill-up was progressing. I pride myself on having good veins and bleeding relatively quickly. She glanced down and said. "It's fine." But her tone implied, "Why are you bothering me? Can't you just shut your mouth and lie there?"

When I was done, she delivered the post-donation instructions quickly. "No lifting for the rest of the day." I asked her to clarify -- I have little kids and I wanted to know how long "the rest of the day" was. Till 5? Till 9? Till tomorrow? Be specific! So I said, "How long is the rest of the day?"

"The rest of the day," she repeated.

"Can you give me an idea of what time that is?"

"THE REST OF THE DAY," she repeated again, and if looks could kill, I'd have been down a lot more than a pint.

I'm not dumb. I'm not trying to be annoying. NYBC's instructions and procedures are slightly different from those of the Red Cross, so I wanted to get everything clear. But she had no interest in spending any more time on me than was absolutely necessary.

In the end, I was not impressed with the professionalism or bedside manner displayed by these particular Red Cross workers. I don't plan on donating with them again.

Anyone else have inspiring or frightening blood donation stories?

I fainted the first time I gave blood. I was a senior in high school, age 17. I was sitting at the table after donating, feeling kind of faint, and then I just crumpled. Got hot chocolate all over myself. Woke up feeling feeble and craving a steak, but I was a vegetarian at the time. I gave blood a lot during college, until I became totally anemic. I decided not to be a vegetarian, and I kept donating until I got my gallon pin. I hate it, though. I never get used to being stuck with the needle and feeling all drained. But I have O negative blood, so I feel like I really should donate.
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