Blood drive at church and the nurse who learned to stop fainting

They really got me with that flyer in the church bulletin about a little kid who needed blood transfusions during treatments for leukemia. Gosh.

When I was old enough, I think 16, I remember being excited to give blood. The bloodmobile regularly parked at my high school, and lots of students would give as often as we were allowed to. Once I was sent away for not having enough iron in my blood (ah, those vegetarian and vegan days!), but other than that I had no problems.

When I was 18, I left for the military. The first time I had a reaction to anything was at MEPS, when they took a few vials of blood. It was crappy, but not that big of a deal. A nurse put me in bed in a little room by myself for fifteen minutes or so, and then I went on to all those other tests I had that day.

Once I finished boot camp and all that stuff, I got back to donating when I could. Then two or three times in a row it was just… awful. The last time I donated was on a bloodmobile parked at the naval hospital where I was working at the time. Across from me, a physician was also giving. While the blood technicians (or whatever they are) were elevating my feet and looking worriedly at my pale face, I asked why I was having a problem–I wasn’t afraid of needles or new to the experience or anything. “It’s called a vasovagal response. People just have them sometimes,” the doc told me.

After that, I started feeling fainty pretty much every time I needed a needle stuck in me–which was a lot, since the Navy required me to get a ton of vaccinations. I became avoidant, though I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been afraid, of medical procedures in general.

Finally, a couple of months ago, I had to have a mole cut out of my back. First my doctor took a little shaving biopsy, which was bad enough. And damned if it didn’t turn out to be “abnormal.” Since I, like most people, really don’t want cancer, I made the appointment to have a deeper chunk of flesh cut out. Fortunately for me, the nurse practitioner performing the procedure was totally cool. She knew I was fainty, so she talked to me about all kinds of interesting things. Then it came up that she used to be fainty too–“How’s that? You said you always knew you wanted to be a nurse! And you are one!” I said. Finally she told me how she’d always had the calling, and so when she got to nursing school, she just… fainted. That’s simple. She told me she fainted about a dozen times before she became desensitized, and she hasn’t fainted since (about thirty years). I was amazed.

So when I got the blood drive flyer in the church bulletin a couple of weeks ago, I let myself also be inspired. “Mind over matter,” is a really old mantra, but it’s probably still my favorite. The best part of physical challenges, to me, has been the triumph of my own will. That’s the magic of a marathon. That’s what makes a snack taste really excellent when you eat at the top of a mountain. That’s why it’s bothered me not giving blood and having to ask to sit down whenever I get shots. I don’t think it’s pride, but it’s really just that I want to do what I want to do–so why don’t I? It’s that I don’t want to make decisions based on fear or anxiety or imagination. It’s when Paul talks in the epistles about endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness. It’s just not consistent with me to avoid doing something good because I don’t want something uncomfortable to happen to me. I would rather donate blood and faint, than not even try because I might faint.

I donate blood today. I told the vampires that I had been fainty in the past, but I also wore some red lip gloss so they wouldn’t remark on my lips becoming pale (if they did). It was fine! It was fine! It was fine! I drank a ton of water, I looked at baseball news (sad indeed for my team, but that’s okay), and I talked to people who were around. I felt pretty hot and got tunnel vision for a  minute after the needle was removed, but I didn’t even care at all by then! My will triumphed. I was willing to faint if need be, and I didn’t; my apprehension had been unwarranted. Now maybe I’ve done a good deed, maybe even helped save a life. I am so happy, and I will be going back to donate next time.

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