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Is This My Ministry?

April 4, 2011 at 9:45 am

Below, blood donor Amy Zucker Morgenstern writes about why she began giving blood, some struggles she’s experienced along the way, and how she’ll insist on continuing despite these obstacles.

According to the Stanford Blood Center, I’m a gallon donor. But they’re just being nice. They mean I’ve had over eight appointments. I think only about three of them have ended with my giving an actual pint of usable blood. I’m on the verge of giving up, and it has me feeling really sad.

To me, donating blood has always been one of those no-brainer acts of mercy, like giving clothes you don’t need anymore to a clothes closet instead of throwing them in the trash. That pint of blood is the difference between death and life to the recipient, while to the donor it costs nothing but the mildest of pain and a couple of hours (including the time spent getting to and from the center and eating the re-energizing snack of cookies and juice).

Also, when my father was badly injured some years ago, he received about 40 units of blood. He barely survived, but thanks in part to the generosity of many blood donors, he did. He lived to see his three grandchildren born, and he’s watching them grow up. Each time we talk, I think about how close I came to losing him, to never having this conversation, never sharing this laugh. Blood donors gave me my dad, and I’ve felt ever since that I owe the world some blood. I hear from blood center staff that this is a common motivation.

Still, it took me years to start donating even after Dad’s narrow escape, because I’ve always been queasy about needles, and have even been assured by nurses that they would really rather not deal with people who are shaky about the whole thing. However, when I shared my ambivalence with a nurse at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, where I’m the parish minister, she urged me to try at a blood center, as opposed to a blood drive. Not long after that conversation, I got pregnant, and while that ruled out donating for several months, the many blood tests involved made me sanguine (heh) about needles. I figured, how much worse could donating be?

So a couple of years ago, I donated for the first time, and it was true: it isn’t really any tougher than a blood test. And I felt fantastic. I bounced out of there, absurdly pleased with the little bruise on my arm, determined to donate once every eight weeks for the rest of my life.

However, it hasn’t gone so well. More often than not, I leave without having donated much blood, if any. I flunk the hemoglobin test, or no one can find a good vein, or the flow is so slow that I can’t fill a pint in the allotted time, or all of the above. I’m stubborn. I take iron, I drink my eight cups of water a day for three days before giving, I tell them up front that with my veins, they’re going to need a small needle and their best blood-drawer. But I’m getting discouraged. In October, when the very expert nurse said time was up, she said, “Maybe this isn’t your ministry.” Darn the woman. She knew just the language that would reach me, and she said it with such compassion. I barely got out of there without crying.

I decided to give it one last try, so after eight weeks I went in again, having observed a strict regimen of three days’ iron supplements and having drunk enough herbal tea over the same three days to float the QEII. The finger stick turned up a sub-par hemoglobin level. Sometimes you just need to warm up your hands, so the nurse asked if I wanted to do that and try again; I did; the second level was worse. I took a consolation cookie and went to work, reminding myself that I do have other ministries in the world. We all do.

I had said that that was the last try, but I’ve got to give it one more. This time I’ve been taking iron every other day (which, clearly, I ought to be doing for my own health anyway), drinking my eight cups every day (ditto), and I’ll warm my hands before the hemoglobin test, the works. But it still might not be enough. It might be that this is just not one of the ways for me to bless the world. I wish that it bothered me purely because I want to help people, and not because my ego can’t abide my failing at anything I set out to do.

Have any of you experienced obstacles related to blood donation that you were able to overcome? If so, please share your story!

Click here to be taken to Amy’s blog.