The first time I donated blood, I passed out. That was nearly twenty years ago. I remember feeling light-headed before my body began to shiver intensely. The last thing I remember was the nurse rushing to cover me with blankets. I’m pretty sure I reached a full pint, but my day was definitely shot after that, as I found myself exhausted and pale.
Despite my desire to give blood, I was scared to donate after that. Where is the tipping point between self-sacrifice and self-protection?
But when you attend rabbinical school and a blood drive is right in front of you on-campus, clearly, it’s hard to say no. And so I tried again, about ten years later. With the support of a fellow student who kept me company by donating alongside me, I somehow got the courage to do it again for the second time. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it.
Since then, I’m on multiple blood donation registries. I get lots of reminders to donate. I’ve booked a good number of appointments. I answer all of the questions. But every time, my iron is always too low. Always.
After the nurse, Janet, checked my temperature, pulse and blood pressure, then came the true moment – the finger prick.
“My iron is always too low,” I told her.
“Think positive,” she responded.
She put the test strip in the machine. I heard a beep, as I texted someone to tell them I’d meet them in five minutes. I was sure to get rejected again.
And then Janet said to me, “You’re iron’s great!”
“You mean I can donate today?”
I rejoiced and cried. For the first time in ten years, I could move on to the plastic blue donation chair.
There, I met a second nurse, Danny.
I told him I couldn’t believe it – I had finally passed the iron test again. Normally, I told him, I would get rejected, to which he responded: “You are never rejected, only deferred.”
I warned Danny that I’m prone to passing out and getting very cold. He cleaned my arm with alcohol, covered me with a blue, fleece blanket, told me to start pumping my fist and kept me company the whole time. Ten minutes later, I had given the gift of life, one full pint of blood!
As he bandaged me up, he said: “See you in two months.”
Today is 6/13. There are 613 mitzvot, commandments, in the Torah. I can think of no better mitzvah to mark the day.
It has taken me two decades to donate three pints of blood. But I will continue to try, continue to be pricked and continue to register to donate, even if it will be another decade until I can donate a fourth pint.
Danny, I hope to see you in two months. In the meantime, maybe I’ll look into some iron supplements.