100 pints of blood

Harry Welty

By the time the Reader’s readers are reading this I will have donated my 100th pint of blood. A day ago Duluth’s Memorial Blood bank reminded me of my appointment Thursday, the day the Reader is distributed. I got the willies before every donation up to about my sixtieth pint but the worst for me to give were the first three pints.

I blame Mr. Behrends, my high school Biology teacher, for convincing me that it was my civic duty to give blood. It was bad enough that he expected me to prick my finger to spill a drop of blood under a microscope although that wasn’t too bad.  Like a lot of kids, I was heedless of cuts and scratches although I preferred them to be accidental.

What did bother me were syringes. I saw my first one on television before I started school. Back then television scraped the bottom of the barrel to fill air time and old government films were free. Although the horse in the veterinary program I saw seemed indifferent I was agog watching a foot-long syringe slid into his flank. Not long afterwards I had my first public tantrum in a doctor’s private office. My Mom had taken me there to get a vaccination and we were not alone. We were in a very long line of mothers and their children. When we finally made it to the head of the line we were  ushered into the Doctor’s office. When the good doctor pulled a syringe out from hiding, I raised holy hell. As we departed my Mother averted her eyes from the wide-eyed gaze of a long line of children. I had given all of them fair warning of their imminent torture.

By the time I was in college I had acquired some stoicism.  When the Red Cross put out the word that college kids could get a burger for a pint of blood I steeled myself to meet Mr. Behrend’s directive.
The drive was held in a college ministry building and I fell in line with other hamburger enthusiasts. I held my dred at bay by joking about the donation to the others in line. When it was my turn I looked far away from my arm and counted the hours until my donation was finished a few minutes later. As a nurse sat me up I boldly joked that I was sure I would faint. Although I said this in jest she grew concerned.  I was about to reveal the jest to her when I really swooned. I was mortified when she led me to a cot to lie down. It may have been my embarrassment that drove me to donate two more pints before I graduated. When you belly flop you need to climb out of the pool and take another dive so that fear doesn’t get the better of you. 

I managed to forget my civic duty after marrying and moving to Duluth. That ended when my wife decided I need to check my cholesterol at a health fair. I reluctantly agreed to give up a small blood draw but then the darned cholesterol testers asked me to become blood donor. I shudda known better. For the next decade I reluctantly gave up a stingy pint of blood twice a year. It wasn’t often enough for me to get over the heebie-jeebies, in fact, their infrequency kept my anxiety at full throttle. On many occasions I would drive to the blood bank trying to think of an excuse for turning around. 

Then, thirty years ago, my Dad fell ill and needed copious amounts of blood to sustain him through an operation. From that point on I increased my donations in memory of my father. It took years before my yips began abating. Even now, just before the draw while I am relaxed from the waist up and keep my breath even my feet are prone to dance. I sometimes sing to the nurses to distract myself. 

The blood bank gives out pins after each gallon. That’s eight pints worth and I’ve got twelve pins to my name. I discovered that Duluth Mayor, Gary Doty, was a regular contributor too with a good head start on me. Whenever I go to the blood bank now I check the score board for the running tally of donors of over five gallons. I’m keeping tabs of our former Mayor. Although I’ve redoubled my pints Gary has increased his lead over me to about four gallons.

I have a legacy to fulfill. Over a hundred years ago, during my Grandfather’s student days, he too gave blood. My Mother told me that I have good veins just like he did.  He also shed blood as a doughboy in the Great War. My gift has been more modest but I am grateful to Mr. Behrends for the sermon he gave his biology students fifty years ago. 

Harry Welty is a local eccentric and perennial candidate for office in Duluth who also pontificates on his blog: www.lincolndemocrat.com