They tracked our whereabouts like hypersensitive cadaver dogs, onto our every change of address, name or job. It was as though they knew our day-to-day whereabouts better than most of our friends, and could appeal to our guilt better than most of our family. American Red Cross workers are bloodhounds.
But then...nothing. It's been a few years since our last donation, and we've dodged their phone calls with the elusiveness of a wanted felon. The Red Cross had finally stopped calling, like a scorned ex-lover who finally moved on. At first, we thought the freedom was liberating; then it became a little lonely. There are plenty of other A-positive fish in the sea — a good 38 percent of the population, it turns out — and we imagined the Red Cross had tossed our file into an industrial-size trash bin labeled UNFEELING.
And so it is that we're clicking through a string of no's at the Red Cross clinic in Crestwood, the questionnaire revealing the intimacies of a boring yet ideal blood donor: no recent tattoos, international travel, jail time, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or money or drugs for sex. We've got to pick up some new hobbies, we think, and soon a nurse has identified a ripe vein with a purple marker and is swirling iodine in the crook of our elbow.
Like the rest of the Red Cross office, the donation area smells of gauze and latex gloves. Lab workers in scrubs cart around boxes marked "Human Blood: Avoid Extreme Temperature" as casually as a stock boy would cans of creamed corn. We spot the needle. The nurse tells us to look away. A bee sting of pain. It's in. Every few seconds we squeeze a spongy state of Texas to encourage blood flow. This is a good thing you're doing for humanity, we tell ourselves, but it's shouted down by A piece of metal is under your skin and poked in a vein! We can feel the warmth of the blood as it travels through the tube that rests atop our arm, but our teeth won't stop chattering. Meanwhile, the woman next to us looks as comfortable as if her lounger's on the Promenade Deck of the Queen Mary 2.
Several minutes pass and it's over. We get bandaged and walk to the canteen, where we pick a complementary Ocean Spray 100% Orange Juice from the fridge. The juice comes in a four-ounce container with a peel-back foil lid, like that of yogurt. We can't imagine the benefit of this packaging, unless you happen to be an astronaut and the shuttle's tight on cooler space. Even though it's from concentrate and a pulpy mass has congealed like silt at the bottom of the cup, it's not half bad.
And, truly, neither was this. Whereas we've been putting off giving for years now, for many of the people here, it seems to be part of their routine: Drop the kids off at school, go to the grocery store, donate blood. It's still not our favorite pastime, and, for a while at least, we'll probably let calls from the Red Cross go unanswered. That is, until the phone goes silent and humanity gives us an unmistakable poke in the arm.
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