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Bloodletting

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 by

I wanted to give blood today.

I have never donated blood before, only had it taken from me for the purposes of diagnosis or maintenance. It’s not that I was unwilling; I was forbidden from this particular act of charity for one reason or another. But today, it has been long enough since I have lived in Europe, and enough time has passed since I have had sex with a bisexual man, and I am finally, finally above their minimum weight requirement, so I give.

I am having health problems. They are too close, too imminent for me to talk about them here yet. Just know that they are serious, and they are frightening.

Walking to lab this morning, I saw the yellow sign reading “BLOOD DRIVE TODAY” and I was seized with a fervor, a desire to do something useful with the body that has been letting me down so much as of late.

Trapped in the space between numbness and my feelings, I am not handling the news well. The feelings are inaccessible. It’s like I can see them out of the corner of my eye, but when I turn to look at them, they’re not there. They won’t let me touch them, and yet they slip out when I’m not paying attention; grief threatens to spill out of my eyes when I ride the bus home from work. Loss clutches at my chest and steals my breath. The numbness is easier to reach. It surrounds me like a blanket, stifling, yet comforting. It is all I have, so I cling to it, though I am desperate to feel.

The yellow sign poked me squarely in the heart, and I felt an inkling of hope. My body was failing me. Perhaps it could do some good to someone else.

I sat in the booth and fidgeted as the tech took my temperature, pulse, blood pressure (my claim to fame, it is always perfect). “One more test left,” he told me, and jabbed a tiny needle into my middle finger to squeeze out a fat drop of blood into a high-tech instrument. I tried to stifle my impatience. I wanted to be in the phlebotomy chair with its oversized arm rests and sticky vinyl seat. I wanted to feel the poke of the needle in my vein, to see the blood pouring out of me, to feel the lightheadedness from bloodloss and to know that loss was for another’s gain. To save someone’s life. I cannot save mine.

Meanwhile, the tech was frowning and making frustrated noises. I asked him what was wrong. “Your hematocrit is 37,” he said. “We need it to be 38. There’s nothing wrong–you’re perfectly healthy, it’s just we need it to be at least 38 for us to take a pint of blood from you.” He told me that it can fluctuate sometimes, so we tried another finger. 36. He threw up his hands and told me to eat some spinach to raise my iron levels and try again next time. “Don’t worry about anemia,” he told me. “It’s just that it’s not high enough for you to donate today. You’re perfectly healthy.”

Perfectly healthy. It made me want to laugh. If only he knew.

I left the blood drive and headed back to work, crushed. There was nothing more for me to do. My body had failed again, but it was not just letting me down this time. I silently apologized to the unknown stranger who would no longer be getting my blood, whose life I wanted so badly to save. I could not save them today.

There are times when you can only save yourself. Sometimes you can extend the effort for altruism, and save another. And sometimes, you cannot save anyone at all.

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