I donated blood today. It was the first time I’ve ever donated. It was the first time I ever considered donating. There have been many chances in the past to donate and I dismissed each one of them for various reasons, but mostly because I just didn’t feel like doing it. During one blood drive in College, I played ping pong in the same room where everyone waited in line.
The mere thought of losing Margot and my life staying the same is enough to make me lose my mind. For nothing to change, for nothing to be different feels like she died all over again, as if her life came and went without any significance. I find no meaning in her death, no good reason whatsoever. But I desperately want my life, in some way, to be a tribute to her.
I walked in through the door marked “donor entrance.” My pockets contained my photo ID, headphones and my iPhone, which was already cued up to play my Margot June mix. I was ready for the needle and the tears and the reflection.
On first glance, the inside of the center was as I imagined it to be. White walls, florescent lights and floors scrubbed to a glossy finish. Nurses moved around gingerly from donor to desk, looking purposeful and bored all at once. The large open room smelled fresh and seemed to breathe hope, as if the pints of blood were letting off an aroma of life.
As I sat down to fill out my information, a more careful look revealed an unexpected sight. Several old men were wrapped in red cross blankets and watching a television that was suspended in front of them. They too had needles, but their tubes were connected to big machines.
By the time I arrived in the little room where a nurse took my vitals, I had already been thanked four times by various nurses and volunteers. I didn’t know how to reply.
The nurse took my blood pressure, pulse and poked my finger to see if I had enough red blood cells to donate. I found out the old men were donating platelets and that it takes nearly two hours a session. She says most of the platelet donors are older folks. It was all I could do to stop myself from leaving the room to run to the old men. I wanted to kiss their cheeks and hold their hands and thank them for donating the miraculous platelets that help people's blood to clot. I imagine Kari an old soul now, her blood filled with platelets from the elderly.
Following vitals, I had to answer personal questions on a computer screen. Have I lived in the UK for a total of three months between 1980 and 1996? No. Have I had aspirin in the last 48 hours? No. Have I paid for sex anytime since 1972? Nope (but why is 72’ the cut off?).
I wanted the nurse to ask me why I was donating. I wanted to tell her it was because my daughter died on March 24, 2011. And that my wife would have died without the 14 blood and platelet transfusions she received. I wanted to tell her that I want my life to be different now as a tribute to my daughter, that I want to join the beautiful cycle of giving and receiving that happened when Margot donated her heart valves to three babies and strangers donated their blood to Kari. Instead I sat in silence, with a band-aid on my finger and straps around my arm, and thought of my tiny Margot.
The needle goes in on the right side and immediately takes me back fifty-five days to the hospital. As the blood flows out, I remember the blood flowing into Kari, one pint after another, as I desperately waited to see clots form.
Maybe it was better to keep our story to myself. Because for those seven minutes, in the presence of nurses and white walls and televisions and cubicles and red cross blankets, Margot and I shared some time together, just the two of us.