I organized the first blood drive ever at my high school when I was a senior. I put up flyers, made sure the Bloodmobile made the morning announcements, and badgered seniors into making appointments to give blood.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” I assured nervous female students. “It’s a pinprick, no worse than a shot. You’ll be fine.” I’d never given blood, of course, but I’d read the pamphlets. Also, the American Red Cross refused to hold a blood drive unless they had a guaranteed number of donors. It was a good cause. I had a goal-oriented personality. I would get those donors, even if I glossed — just a little — over the fact that sometimes people don’t feel great after giving blood.
A male student snatched a flyer from my hand as he ran by. “Awesome!” he hollered. “You get out of class and I hear you can get drunk on one beer or less after!”
My remaining flyers were gone in seconds. Our blood drive was so packed that there wasn’t space for me to donate until the end of the day. I was pleased to note, as I hopped on the blood-giving gurney, that not a single student had gotten so much as dizzy due to fear of needles or blood loss. There was a definite party atmosphere at the Keebler snack table, in fact. I had been right.
I was high on being right and my successful blood drive.
Three-quarters of the way through my blood donation, I was no longer high.
I was light-headed.
I reminded myself that giving blood was a piece of cake.
“Think of the snack table,” I lectured myself. “Fudge sticks are waiting. You can do this.”
And I did. I finished giving blood.
Then I threw up.
I felt better.
I joined my friends at the Keebler cookie table.
They were kind enough not to mention that I’d already tossed my cookies.
I felt tired, so I put my head down on the table.
Three Red Cross nurses ran over. “Are you okay?”
I snapped, “I’m fine!” at them as I sat back up. Apparently I sat back up too fast.
Because then I passed out.
We set a record for a blood drive of first-timers. Hundreds of units of blood were donated.
There was only one fainter. There was only one puker. Too bad they were the same person. And REALLY too bad that person was me, the organizer who blithely assured everyone they’d have no problems. Worst of all, a reporter for the school newspaper wrote up the story of the blood drive. Of course she cleverly included my unpleasant incidents.
Her article contained a sentence along the lines of, “After donating a pint of blood AND the contents of her stomach, blood drive coordinator Autumn Ashbough insisted she was fine before promptly collapsing…”
The rest of the school year was ever so fun. Kind jocks repeatedly offered to donate the contents of their stomachs to me. I couldn’t walk into a classroom, an activity, or practice the graduation processional without the person behind me stretching out their arms and yelling, “Don’t worry, baby, I got you!”
I was bigger than most of them. I probably should have fallen on them.
But I didn’t. I was mortified.
I tried to forget about giving blood.
The Red Cross wouldn’t let me. They had discovered that I had O-negative blood. Not only is O-negative relatively rare (5% of the world’s population is O-negative, though only 1% of the Asian population is O-negative), but O-negative blood is also the “universal donor” blood. I could donate blood to anyone. In an emergency, O-negative blood can be given fast, without taking the time to establish a patient’s blood type. (On the other hand, I can only receive O-negative blood. So I’m totally screwed in the case of a natural disaster.)
O-negative blood meant that as soon I was on the Red Cross’s radar, I got letters, emails, and phone calls pleading with me to give blood:
“Our blood supplies for O-negative are at dangerously low levels…”
“Do you know you are a ‘SuperherO!’ Your special blood saves lives!”
And my personal favorite:
“Only your blood can save the babies!”
Well-played, Red Cross, well-played. I mean, who wants to be the asshole who COULD have saved the babies and didn’t because of a little upset stomach?
I did, apparently. I dodged those phone calls and threw away the letters.
I went to college. Three weeks into freshman year, my roommate asked if I’d ever given blood. She was a small town, God-fearing Baptist. Her father was the town doctor. I knew the correct answer to this seemingly innocent question.
“Of course,” I told her. “I’m O-negative. I organized a blood drive at my school.”
“Great! Blood drive tomorrow! We can go together.”
My sweet Baptist roommate undoubtedly thought I was manic the following day, as I cracked rapid-fire, off-color jokes with the nurse to hide my nerves. The nurse put me in the reclining chair and told me to hold out my arm. I tucked my arm into my chest and eyed the door.
The nurse eyed my chart. She did a double take. “Hang on, I’ll get the baby bags!” She bustled over to Tupperware tubs.
She held up a weirdly shaped blood bag like a trophy. “You’re CMV-negative!”
“My friends say I’m just regular negative.”
She returned with the bag and motioned for me to give her my arm. “No, no, it means you don’t have the cytomegalovirus. CMV is pretty common in adults and no big deal, but can be dangerous to newborns. So your blood is perfect for the babies!”
I kept my arm tucked against my chest. “So it’s not just a, um, guilt-trippy marketing ploy by the American Red Cross?”
“Oh, no! Look! We have these special little bags for your donation. For the babies.” She told my roommate, “This young woman can save the lives of as many as four babies.”
My roommate beamed at me. Everyone in the room beamed at me.
“Four babies” rang in my head. I had four baby siblings. One of them, Baby Brother, had required massive, open-chest surgery when he was hours old. Had he not been born at a top-notch university hospital and gotten some blood from a baby bag like the one in front of me, Baby Brother wouldn’t have made it.
I held out my arm to the nurse.
This time, I did not throw up.
This time, I did not pass out. (Though, yeah, I have passed out a few other times after giving blood.)
Since that day, I’ve donated gallons of blood to the American Red Cross. I’ve also donated directly to hospitals in which a particular child needs some extra-special O-negative, CMV-negative, and just plain regular Ashbough-negative blood.
Giving away all that negative blood is undoubtedly the most positive thing I do.