Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Tenth Donation

There is a lesson in each day...
and somedays many...

"Excuse me!"
The woman in the red shirt keeps walking.
"Excuse me," I try a second time.
My eyes dart around the room, hoping to catch somebody's attention. Nobody is looking in my direction. Noses are in clipboards, conversations are being held, but nobody looks over. I feel a knot forming in my throat.
I catch the flutter of a nurse's shirt out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head quickly. "Excuse me," I try once more and the ice pack on my arm falls into my lap. I grimace at the shock.
Finally, I have help and I begin to explain what I need when her supervisor ends her conversation and rushes to my other side. She makes a quick joke with the nurse, and I begin to cry. I can't hold it back any more. I don't know why the tears are there, but the supervisor assumes it's from the joke. She tells me they do this all the time, she doesn't mean anything by it. I try to tell her its not the joke, but I can't. How can I explain to somebody that I'm crying because I just realized my biggest fear?

I donate blood weekly. If you've ever donated blood, you're probably thinking, "How on earth can you do that? Isn't there a 56-day waiting period between donations." You're right, there is. If you donate whole blood. I donate plasma, which your amazing body has the capacity to replenish every six days.

I was explaining this to a coworker this morning, and her reaction made me smile on the inside. "I stopped donating blood for a few years after a nurse in Vancouver told me that I couldn't get iron from anything other than animal flesh," I explained to her...

I finally decided to try it again this fall, after my last grandparent and my best friend's first grandparent died within two weeks of one another. She felt this overwhelming urge to give back to the community of health-care providers who had been there for her family during the last few weeks of her grandfather's life. We were leaving work one day when the Canadian Blood Services blood drive team stopped us and asked if we wanted to make appointments. We made a date two weeks into the future, and it helped both of us recover from our grief.

The evening that we donated, as I went through my first screening in six years, I was almost scared of the outcome after everything that has happened in my life since then. However, the only phrase used in the screening room that will forever stick out in my mind was "Your blood can be used on babies!"

... As a child, I never had a certain strain of a cold, or flu, or some sort of illness. As such, my blood is code "6201" - without the antibodies to that illness - and can be used on babies, who, in my opinion, need it most. They haven't seen the world, taken their first step, or even learned to talk (or complain!). They might know how to smile; they might cry a lot now, but they'll soon learn how to laugh, and how to play. They're still innocent - they haven't made a single mistake. They need my blood! They need the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this world.

And, so, I explained to my coworker, "I try to donate once a week. When I get really busy, I make it every two weeks. It's better if I do it every week, though - keep it consistent."

"My respect for you just jumped," she said. "It used to be about here," she held her hand around nose level, "but now it's way up here," her second hand extended above her head.  With that, I smiled, and thanked her. I don't donate to receive praise from other people. It's always nice to leave people in awe, though. I like to think of those moments as my opportunity to inspire them. My life is lived in such a way as to change the world through example, moreso than preaching about how we all need to be better people. I'm not perfect, and I'm upfront with people about that. My self-deprecating humour is what makes me approachable, I think. Alas, this coworker is inspiring to me, so its nice to know that she feels the same way.

I realized, on my way to the clinic, that this week would be my tenth donation. I had forgotten about it over the last week. It came up, once again, as the first nurse took my iron sample. As the centrifuge worked its magic on my iron-rich red blood, she got up from the table and walked away. At first, I began to feel ignored, but soon realized that she was searching through a box of pins, looking for one to give to me. I took it with pride from her as we talked about how quickly these things add up. Small talk about the weather ensued. Today was turning into a fantastically optimistic day, and it was only noon!

The rest of my screening went smoothly, if somewhat delayed. I settled in nicely to my vegan magazines, and made myself cozy in my favourite bed. As per usual, I tried to lower the arm rest to a comfortable position for myself when my first nurse stopped me and lowered it herself. The second nurse came by and made sure I was the right person - I corrected her pronunciation of my name, telling her that I get "Judy" enough that it's okay - and then began to set up the machine. This was my eighth time donating plasma, and so I no longer felt the urge to watch the set-up as I did on my first visit. I continued to settle into my vegan magazine, thinking about which recipe I might want to try out next...

Then my luck changed. Trying to get comfortable with my arm rest, I shifted my weight further back in the bed. "Oh no," the nurse stopped me. "Now I have to sterilize you again!"

With my cuff on, I had become aware of the fact that the arm rest was still too high. When I moved, the cuff touched the centre of my elbow that she had to rub for a minute before inserting the needle.

"Do you mind, if we lowered this arm rest?" I asked as she tightened the cuff around my bicep and searched for another sterility pad.

"I was actually going to raise it," she said. "If it's too low, your shoulder will be too low. Your elbow needs to be supported by the arm rest."

After eight donations with a lower arm rest, I was pretty sure this was not true. She straightened the arm rest so that it was at a slightly better angle for my arm, but still too high. "I can still work on your arm at this height, too," she continued, trying to be chipper about it all.

I avoid confrontations whenever possible.
Lesson Number One - Stand Up For Yourself

The tension between the two of us was such that I didn't want to talk to her any more than necessary. Sadly, she took my silence as an opportunity to eleviate the tension with questions.

"Are you looking for recipes there?"

"Yeah, kinda," I was trying to figure out which Ayurveda type I was, actually.

"So, what do you do?" she continued to interrupt my reading.

"I have about five jobs." I tried to keep my answers short, so that she would get the hint that I didn't want to talk. "But I'm focusing on getting more into writing."

"Oh." She didn't get the hints. "What do you write about?"

"A bunch of things, really. I have some blogs." This was not the right mood for selling my work. And, of all the staff I have talked to at the clinic, she struck me as one who would probably say something insulting about writing or veganism or even a quarter life crisis rather than being genuinely inquisitive, like everybody else.

Now it came time for the needle, and I could politely look away. There are varying opinions on whether it is better to watch the needle going in or not. ( I can't even watch the first nurse prick my finger for the iron sample.) The best needles are the one I never feel, and I thus always compliment the nurses that do this with ease. It makes donating so much easier!

She hesitated. She was concentrating too much on finding the vein. She hit a nerve almost immediately. A surge of pain shot through my arm. After a few of these, though, I've learned that its best to remain calm.

"It's touching a nerve," I told her as calmly as I could through clenched teeth. A blew out the breathe I had been keeping in.

"Oh, okay." She began to panic. "Just hold still." She adjusted the needle a little bit, then stared at the tube that was supposed to be filling with blood. "How's that?"

It still hurt, but I've been through worse pain this week...

I'm training for a 10km run in June right now, and came into some knee pain after Sunday's run - my longest run, yet. Knowing that I had this donation today, I avoided taking any painkillers for the searing pain I felt most of the day on my feet yesterday. Today, the pain had subsided, but I was still limping.

I could deal with a distraction for the next fifteen minutes. "I can handle it."

"Oh, well, I haven't hit the vein yet..."

Luckily, she went over to her supervisor right away. That needle came out, faster than the pain. The supervisor asked if I still wanted to donate. As soon as I agreed to it, she set up my right arm, my writing arm :-( 

I write with my computer; rarely by pen. 
Lesson Number Two - Donate With My Writing Arm

Within mere minutes, I couldn't feel the needle in my right arm, I had an ice pack numbing the pain in my left arm, and a tube of my blood taped to my chest.  The tube was taped in such a way that it was out of the way of the magazine I was still reading, but it reminded me of convicts strapped into electric chairs.  Had I not been trying to restrain myself from telling the nurse that "I told her" that the arm rest needed to be lower - like the one my right arm was now resting on - I would have made some joke about being crucified for reading vegan magazines in Alberta...

I could anticipate the problems of reading while this was happening.  Since I was reading magazines - articles about recipes - I knew that there would be many pages to flip during the next fifteen minutes.  Luckily, the supervisor flipped the current one I was on before setting the timer to five minutes.  At that time, she said, she would take away the ice pack.

This morning, I had a conversation with a fellow writer about my past blog entries.  Like my blogs, we covered everything from veganism to customer service to relationship issues. 

In regards to veg*nism, she painted this picture of society that I really liked.  (I apologise for the summarizing of the conversation.)  There are people in this world who will always live in a box of "this is how the world is and always will be." And then there are those of us who are unable to live in a box of any kind.  Sadly, the best plan of action for those of us on the outside of the box is to just remain quiet, be respectful of the people in the box, and (this is my addition) slowly keep the box moving into the future we want to see around us. 

In regards to customer service, she said that those people who lack respect for those of us in the industry of service have never been there themselves.

This thought ran through my head as I thought about the nurse's reaction to me needing a lower arm rest.  The thing about being a good customer when you're in the customer service industry is that you're also aware of how hard you try to be a good customer.  Having been in the industry of serving others for the last decade, I had sympathy for the nurse.  I didn't know her story.  She probably had a bad back.  Maybe she was having a hard day.  But, I was the one being served.  I was donating my time to save lives while she was giving her career to the same cause.  We were both in the same boat, but she was being paid to be there.  I selfishly feel like that should count for something...

And this brought me to my general reaction to the complaints of serving bad customers.  Yes, it is easy to just say they have never worked in the industry, and therefore don't understand.  But how do they treat their friends?  Their family?  Their doctor?  If they think it's acceptable to be that rude to a stranger?  It's less about having the empathy from having worked in the industry and more about just being a good person. (Can you tell that I dealt with a difficult customer today?  Does my ranting give it away too quickly?)

I am stubborn.
Lesson Number Three - 
Do you want to be "Right" or do you want to be Happy?

I was contemplating all of these things as I sat there, strapped into the bed.  It was bad enough, I thought, to be struggling with my knee, but now I can't even read to pass the time!

And that's when the panic began. That was the thought that started off a tangent in my mind filled with empathy, pain and fear like I've never contemplated.

At first, I tried to reason with myself: This is only temporary.  Many people in hospital beds have to deal with this for days, weeks, sometimes even the rest of their lives.  You are blessed to only be put through this immobility for a short period of ti-

But, what if this wasn't temporary?  What if my busted up knee was the beginning of the end?  Here I was, twenty-five and Finally able to do some of the things that I had never even conceived of doing before - like running!  What if I had to stop now?  What if my progress stopped and I started to slide backwards?  Maybe the reason I feel so driven to donate blood is because one day I'll need!  And the hypochondriac inside of me went berserk!

My Biggest Fear is the Loss of an Independence I Created Myself.
Lesson Number Four -???

I quit crying, eventually. And I never once let them know why I was really crying.  I let them assume that it was the pain.  And it was a pain I was crying about, but not the physical pain.  As I would later explain to a coworker, my health is weakest in my mind.  This helps, though.  And, like the physical health, every month I get a little bit healthier; a little bit stronger.

Ten minutes later, my pint of plasma had been separated out from my blood and I was finished making my donation.  One more nurse came over to help me.  As she cut the tubing that had laid on my chest, she gave me the usual run-down following a donation:

"So, no physical exercise for the next six to eight hours." Looking down at the tissue in my hand and the makeup smeared under my eyes, she went on, in a lighter tone. "No housework for a week.  Definitely no dishes.  And somebody special cooks supper for you tonight."

I smiled at her attempt to make me feel better.  It had worked - I knew my crying was for nothing - and I laughed at myself while resisting the urge to allow any more tears to fall.  If only, I thought, she had read my last blog entry..."

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