The bloodletting

blooddriveMy original thought, as I was lying there giving blood, was to title this “Profiles in Courage,” because I was, after all, giving blood, which is a big deal, because I do not like giving blood. There is nothing fun about giving blood. Except the delicious post-blood snacks. There is very little fun about giving blood.

But I did it, which was very courageous of me, admit it. But I’m not here to talk about how courageous I was, though true. Instead, this is a bit of a complaint.

Let me back up. I’ve been giving blood for a long time. Not like those people who give every 56 days, like they’ve got something to prove, honestly. But I have been a donor fairly regularly through my life, off and on, if I could, when convenient… sometimes. I am a strong advocate for giving blood even when I have not actually given blood.

In fact, when I owned The Stanstead Journal, the newspaper was the sponsoring organization for our local clinic.  This meant I was allowed to drive around in the town ambulance and announce the clinic over the loudspeaker. I made my announcements in English and in French, but bungled the pronunciation of the French word for “blood,” so for a while there, I was broadcasting to the streets of Stanstead, in French, “There is a breast clinic at Sunnyside School today…”

Yes, those were heady, highly inappropriate days.

But people change. I used to not like olives, now I like olives. I used to wear briefs, then I went to boxers, back to briefs and then boxers again. It’s been an underwear whirlwind, really. But more to the point – the point in this case being a thick, sharp needle jabbing into the vulnerable fleshy part of my elbow pit – I started to suffer anxiety when giving blood.

To be clear, I never passed out. There were times when I started walking down the long subway tunnel of unconsciousness past the homeless man of dizziness, but I never jumped on the fainting train.

Still, it felt terrible enough to keep me for several years from willingly letting strangers siphon precious life fluids from me in a school gymnasium with questionable hygiene.

I’ve learned to overcome my anxiety and do, on occasion, give blood because, like voting, recycling and not leaving the top of the toothpaste all globby, it’s the right thing to do.

And when I say “overcome,” I mean work really hard at not freaking out. This time, I was not freaking out when I was having my iron tested. I was not freaking out as I wondered why they ask questions like, “Have you ever had sexual drug-relations with tattooed West Nile mosquitos?” but never practical questions like, “Will we need to catch you?”

I was not freaking out when I started feeling I should have eaten more. I was not freaking out when I read that I should have drunk at least 500 ml water and realized I had drunk nothing but coffee that day, which is the anti-water. I was not freaking out about the prospect of freaking out. I was not freaking out when my wife looked at me and said, “You don’t have to do this, you know.” “I’m fine,” I said, like a tough guy, and drank another glass of water.

In the end, I did not go queasily into that good night, not even as they pricked and pumped my arm and my fingers began to tingle and the light in the room went slightly pixelated. I hung in there. I distracted myself by chatting with the nurse, in French, hopefully nothing about breasts.

So, no, It wasn’t fun, but I gave my blood. I’m a hero. Profiles In Courage!

Which brings me to my complaint. The blood clinic: no pins. I thought I got a pin. How am I supposed to feel smug and self-righteous — I mean, a hero — if I don’t get a pin?

I hope my puncture wound bruises up real good.


A version of this piece originally aired on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway.” You can find the audio here.

P.S. Happy ending. This was in my newspaper box today with a note. “Thank you, Ross, for your donation. From the Organizing Committee.”



About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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39 Responses to The bloodletting

  1. franhunne4u says:

    Reminds me, I need to go again. What is your blood group, Ross? Mine is Be Positive … and that’s the biggest insult of all.

  2. Paul says:

    Sigh. If only life were so easy Ross. As a dialysis patient I get, at minimum 4 needles ( 2 for freezing and two honking big dialysis needles so they can suck every drop of blood out in 13 seconds – actually a bit longer than that , around 20 minutes cycles through all 8 liters of my blood at 400 ml/hr – which they do for 4 1/4 hours or about 12 complete exchanges) in each of three normal treatments per week. And I hate needles – God is getting even because i gave blood about twice in my life and then only when I was shamed into it by a female partner. Now my blood is emptied out 36 times a week. And that is when it all goes well. When it goes badly, it goes seriously badly. They installed a living vein under the skin (it forms kind of like a rail siding for needling on the main vein returning from my left arm) to needle so that overuse does not damage a vein or artery. This is a living vessel called a fistula, and like all living things it has bad days – if I am sick and dehydrated, the vein will contract and toughen, making needling difficult. And when it was new it was not mature (read “it was skinny”) and hard to needle.On top of that, this particular fistula is “floopy”, a slang word the nurses use for a fistula that sees the needle coming and moves out of the way (I’ve actually watched it do this when they did an ultrasound one day while needling). My record for a bad day was nine freezing needles, nine dialysis needle attempts,none of which went into the fistula, and then a needle to draw blood and check potassium,etc before i left after two hours and 19 needles in one 3 inch section of my arm – and no dialysis. Sob, and i hate needles. 😀

  3. I have a friend with very high iron and he will have to have phlebotomy done every month for the rest of his life….I can’t even imagine!

  4. I donate as well, and like you, sporadically. I hate the needle too and also have to pretend that I’m not freaking out. And yes, I feel virtuous afterwards. But no pin! What’s the world coming to?

  5. Sheila Moss says:

    Thank you for donating. I think they give stickers (no pun.. make that adhesive labels) instead of pins. You sound like my guy. He wears that stretchy colored tape around his arm all day until I tell him to take it off. Once in a while he gets a tee-shirt that I call a blood shirt. I don’t know what he does for that.

  6. “to keep me for several year from”

    Do you think he edited this right after giving blood?

    Shh, he’s waking up.

  7. Karen says:

    Congrats on conquering the fear. I’m with you on the anxiety train–medication helps, but I know all too well that “subway tunnel of unconsciousness past the homeless man of dizziness” which used to seize me in the most innocuous/banal/harmless situations (in the peanut butter aisle at the supermarket, for example).

    My anxious brain still wants to argue the point: shouldn’t we panic when folks come at us with a sharp object to tap our most precious bodily fluid? The opposite response seems crazy, if you ask me (and I’m a blood donor, AB negative. Donating blood inspires no fear in me, but that peanut butter aisle–go figure).

  8. Carrie Rubin says:

    I think it’s very cool you donate blood even though the process gives you so much angst. That’s gotta be worth dozens of karma points for sure, don’t you think?

    My hemoglobin usually runs lower than 12, so unfortunately, I’m not a great candidate for blood donation. But I will give away my organs. When I’m no longer using them…

  9. List of X says:

    I think they got rid of the pins after numerous occasions where a blood donor manage to keep himself (or herself) together during the procedure, but getting accidentally pricked by the pin pushed the donor over the top and down on the floor.

  10. Frankly I’m jealous. The veins in my elbows are fat and easy to find and fill up the bags faster than most people. Needles don’t scare me at all. My blood type is common, so definitely useful. But I can’t donate blood, not ever, because the one time I did, I was almost sent to the hospital so they could give me my blood back. (Instead I just hung out there for two hours while my blood pressure oscillated from freakishly high to sluggish and I almost passed out/threw up several times until I had to pee and somehow that overrode everything and I was fine on the walk to the bathroom.)
    It turns out that, because I am a tiny human being, I only have enough blood for one person. This makes me immeasurably sad.

  11. My step-dad had a very rare blood type. I think it was O something or other. He used to get a lot of money for a donation but at some point he started to feel guilty about it and donated for free. What’s your type?

    Just read about the award. Congrats, brother! I would never poo-poo an award. Nobody should. I’d like an award.

  12. ksbeth says:

    too bad they couldn’t use a special pin to poke you for your blood and then give it to you as your thank you/souvenir?

  13. Ned's Blog says:

    As a society, we tend to get caught up in the big things when it comes to defining a selfless act. We tend to forget that, sometimes, to be a hero, all you need is a little prick. In the arm! A prick in the arm!

    (Well done, my friend)

  14. pinklightsabre says:

    Good work, Ross. Gute gemacht!
    I sense your voice changing some, in a good way. Do you? I mean, it can only get better, which is a positive thing to say and very Pacific Northwest, because it’s only part-true and there’s another figure there in the shadows with the homeless dizzy guy, that’s thinking something else, the passive-aggressive or just passive-passive.
    I used to sell plasma in college, which is the kind of dip-shit thing you do in college for like ten bucks, and then of course turn around and use it for Substances because your body is compromised without the plasma and it takes less Substance to get you off, and it’s a racket because they gang together the liquor shops with the plasma centers right there, off-campus, where they know they’ll catch the dumb fish like me. And I swear for a time, I could still see the outline of the puncture scar like a mouth, because it felt like a Bic pen they were using it was so large, and once I was sitting there for maybe half an hour and they came by and said they had to reset it because it was dry, or wasn’t getting anything out of me. And I think that was my last time. We were reading Burroughs books which doesn’t make sense either, for the dumb fish I think.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I think I’m going through writer puberty, my voice is so unreliable. To change metaphors, it’s like I’m barely keeping the car on the track, seeing what she can do, while under my breath muttering, “Fuck it.” I used to rely on domestic life for material, which is comfortable and broad, but my kids are grown or at the point where I respect their privacy, and my own life is painfully mundane. Into the head we go. I’m sure it must test the patience of readers; people like to know what they’re getting when they come to a place. But this is me right now, so it goes.
      The pay-to-bleed system. What a concept. That doesn’t exist in Canada. Even our blood is socialist, I guess. I remember in high school, when the Grade 12s had the option of going to the clinic, the yahoos were always game because a) they missed class and b) cheap drunk later.

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