As I recall him, my stepfather was a totally fearless man, the kind of guy who would have confronted Mike Tyson and forced him to bite off his own ear.
Nothing, however, impressed me as much about him as when I saw his name published in our morning newspaper for having donated a gallon of blood. I was 10 years old at the time and suspected I never would be brave enough to do something like that.
But one of the challenges of growing up male is trying to match the image you have of your father. So, when I became old enough, I started donating blood and have since passed the gallon mark. (Which still doesn’t make me as brave as my stepfather was; if I had to confront Mike Tyson, I’d probably cry like a little girl. And then I’d pass out).
But donating blood doesn’t really require much courage, I learned.
The process takes approximately half an hour and most of that time is spent going through a check list of questions that seems to grow longer every year; there were 53 of them when I visited the mobile unit earlier this week.
Most of the questions — such as “Are you pregnant? — were easy enough for me to answer. Others required a bit more thought. I had to stop and think a moment when I got to the ones that asked if I’d ever had certain afflictions, including babesiosis, chagas or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. But I’m almost certain I never had any of them and I don’t think I know anyone who ever had them either. I’m not even sure I know anyone who can pronounce babesiosis.
And a few of the questions might be embarrassing, such as the one that asks if you’ve ever had sex with a prostitute.
“Does anyone ever check ‘yes’ on that one?” I asked the nurse. She declined to answer.
If the answers are satisfactory, a nurse jabs the tip of your finger with a needle, to make sure you HAVE blood, and takes your blood pressure and your pulse. If no pulse is detected, you will be “deferred” and asked to return at another time.
The actual blood donation takes about 10 minutes, after which they force you to eat cookies and drink fruit juice.
And that’s really all there is to it. So if you’ve never given blood, I encourage you to try. As the Red Cross Web site declares, “Blood donors are everyday heroes. They roll up a sleeve to help save the life of someone they will never meet.”
And it might make you feel brave.
Even if you’re not.