May 20, 2011

Old Blood, Young Body

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. 


Anonymous said...

My daughter was born with three severe heart defects and has already been in for two open heart surgeries and one pending. What a beautiful gift you gave by being willing to donate something that was from your precious daughter. I always admire people that are so selflessly willing to give. May God richly bless you both and be near you during this time. Blessings! Erin (Inman) Weber

Unknown said...

Thanks, Josh, for allowing us to share in the moment with you and Margot...
I think of you and your family a lot. You are not forgotten
and either is Margot.

Gwen Jackson said...

Dad and I love you Josh.

Gwen Jackson said...

Josh, this precious piece is absolutely beautiful. Love you!

buckles10 said...

Beautiful :)

Anonymous said...

Great stuff son.


Jen said...

Sigh. Beautiful. Thanks for donating. I have three boys with a bleeding disorder and the life-giving liquid is an amazing gift. What a precious time with your angel, too. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I want to hug my kids for ever each time I read your blog.Thanks for keeping me grounded. prayers always, Amber O.

Marcia Gunnett Woodard said...

What a lovely, loving tribute to Margot. As a transfusion recipient, and a heart valve patient, I truly feel the beauty in the gifts that were once parts of your bodies, but now bless others with life.

There's something almost sacramental about your decisions--"This is my body, broken...." "This is my blood, poured out...."


::athada:: said...

55 days. Almost exactly the minimum time, if I remember right, needed between any blood donations. Or one year, generally, if you travel anywhere like Latin America. Just don't exchange drugs for sex, even once, and you're good to go.

Thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

i just love to read what you write, josh. i rarely know what to say after I read them (i keep telling jes this) but your thoughts and stories and day to day experiences stay with me. I think on them often. Your observations and and the thoughts that go through your mind are so beautiful. i'm happy that you write and that you continue to share. love kate.

Josh Jackson said...

Thank-you for all of the kind comments, each one seems to always mean something to us.

Adam - it's 56 days here in CA and I'll be there again the first day I can go back.

Kate - thanks a million pal. I have gotten so many emails saying nearly exactly what you did.

kelly said...

Josh, again, I don't know you, but let me offer you a few words from my heart.
You are a powerful writer. You probably don't realize it when you write things like how the blood is giving off an aroma of life. dude.
and the image of you kissing old men's plays out like a movie.
2 months ago you did not have any of these words. you did not have the desire to donate blood. you did not have this story. The number 14 meant nothing to you other than maybe it was the year you started shaving or something. Platelets meant nothing to you. If you'd heard a PSA on the TV for blood donation, you would have not flinched.
2 months ago your heart was mostly whole, other than the chips and dings of normal life. normal. life was normal 2 months ago. what is normal? its what you do not feel NOW. why? because you've changed. your life is changed. your heart is changed. your heart is in a billion pieces all with sharp edges cutting into each other. All floating around in your chest and jabbing, poking, cutting, irritating you all day every day. Every hour of the day you are keenly and acutely aware of how much pain you are in. Every breath you take you are aware of the hole in your chest where your daughter who died exploded out of your own heart and floated into heaven, leaving you with just the shrapnel.
You are not the same. your life is not the same. you will never be the person you were before march 24, 2011.
You have been skinned and dipped in salt. and that pain is shaping you. the agony you feel every time you fill up your own lungs and every time a neuron fires in your own brain are forming the words that you are thinking and saying and writing.
And in writing and sharing your pain, you are touching us, your readers. We are here, many of us complete strangers to you, reading your words. We sit on buses and read you on our portable devices and smart phones. We sit behind marble desks and read you at our jobs. We sit behind our laptops and read you while our daily life swishes and whirs in the washer and dryer half a room away. And you are changing us. In those moments that we read you, you are affecting us. Precious Margot's death was a little pebble dropped in a lake. You were right there...poised to catch that pebble and it went right through you. It sank you. You are still under the water so you can't see the ripples that are forming on the surface. And you don't know where the ripples will stop. Or what they will move. Leaves, frogs, fish, countless little things will be affected by those ripples. We are all connected.

You are still under the water. Its heavy. Its hard to move. All the movements blur together. You can't scream. You can't cry. But even now, you are making your way to the surface. Your head will crest the surface of that water some day. You will see sunlight and feel warmth and breath. It may be a long time before the ripples are revealed to you. I still can not see mine. But I have gotten a sense of them from time to time, so I know they are real.
Your pain is real. The ripples are real. Margot is real. She was here. She is still with you...every single minute.

None of it makes sense to you. It may not ever. But as you press through this agonizing period of time, you will start to see how sharing your pain so honestly is affecting other people. When you do that, the shards of glass floating around in other people's chest get softened just the slightest bit, and so do yours. And then they do it for someone else. We are all bound together in the pain of human experience, and together we will file down the edges. Every kind and brave and painful thing you do is helping the gaping wound in your chest.

Don't stop. I am so moved by your story, by your honesty. You have made a footprint on the path of MY LIFE. and how many others?

the 3rd month. the 24th day. 14 transfusions. a thousand prayers. a million tears. countless hearts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Josh...

david owen said...

beautiful Josh

david owen said...

beautiful Josh

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