Average Jane

How to Save a Life

They called me. They called me.

The lady on the other line told me that the Red Cross needed me. I said “OK.” Apparently I interrupted her well-rehearsed spiel, the one about how I could save a life. 3 lives, at least. The one where she told me that my platelet donation would help people immediately, within just a few days. That it would go to Leukemia patients and sick kids. I didn’t need to hear it though. It was a no brainer for me.

For two weeks I’ve been mentally preparing for the hour and a half donation. “Out one arm and in the other. No worse than giving blood.” Giving blood I was good at. I dealt with the pain. My 10 uncomfortable minutes meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. I was saving a life.

When I arrived at the donation center, I was greeted by Andre, a guy my age who taught dance, I found out. He gave platelets every 2 weeks and comforted me about the procedure. We talked for about 25 minutes before it was his turn to go into the little booth. Then, within minutes, it was my turn.

Very standard: Pulse, Blood Pressure, Iron Level, Long Invasive Questionnaire About Your Drug Use and Sexual History.

For some reason, I always get nervous at this part of the donation process. Not because I’ve slept with gay men from africa who use IV drugs and have traveled to the UK for more than 6 months between 1979-1995. No, it was for a reason I could never pinpoint, but was there like a pit in my stomach. Everything was going fine. I got my name address and phone number right and didn’t even lie about my weight. After taking my pulse it was time for BP.

The first time she took it, I came up 80/40. Not good. She had never seen a BP that low, so she took it again. 80/60. Still low. Other arm. 80/60. She did about 10 minutes of research to ensure that I was eligible to donate. Then, satisfied that the answer was “yes,” we moved on. Iron. Finger stick. Sample. Centrifuge.

“I’m so sorry.” What? What’s wrong? Don’t tell me… “I’m sorry, your iron’s low. You’ll have to reschedule.” No. Impossible. I’m healthy as a horse. I eat oatmeal every day. “It’s ok. You tried. Help yourself to a t-shirt and a snack on the way out.”

Empty handed, I turned to leave the Red Cross. Tears welled in my eyes. An unexpected reaction. “But I came to help. I came to save a life.” I waved to Andre, who at this point was well into his movie, strapped to the apheresis machine. I gave him the thumbs down. “I’m sorry” he says. “Next time.”

This overwhelming feeling of failure came over me. I hadn’t enough iron. I hadn’t had enough fluids. I hadn’t done something right.

It wasn’t enough that I felt I let myself down, but I had let down people I had never met. I had let down people who needed me, but whose names, faces, ages, illnesses I would never know.

I called my mom with tears running down my cheeks. She answered, laughing. She was with her cousins on the beach and was having a ball. In need of comfort, and yet not wanting to ruin her good time, I said everything was fine and that I’d call her later. So I got in my car and drove onto my next stop, realizing that there was nothing else I could do.

In the car something started to bother me. Why do I feel like I’ve failed? Why did I donate to begin with? I suppose it goes back to the idea that there is no such thing as altruism. That maybe I was donating not to save a life, but so that I would feel good about myself for doing something for someone else.

That I would feel good.

That perhaps the only reason I am so upset is that I have failed me, not the ones I was supposed to help. I go through some days thinking I can’t do anything right. I can’t figure anything out. Then, people ask me for money that I can’t give. I have to worry about me, right? I have to save for my life. But there was always one thing I could do that didn’t cost me a penny. I could give blood. I could give life. And that made me feel good.

How do I reconcile that? How do I know what my intentions truly were, and more importantly, does it matter? If my intentions were selfish or not, someone could have been saved, and I am not the one saving them. I failed them. I failed myself.

I tried to save a life. But I guess not everyone can be a hero.


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  1. There’s no such thing as altruism, and I know that, being one altruistic bastard myself, that’s not me saying it, my friends sometimes even blame me for liking everyone and trying to help everyone. That doesn’t make me unselfish, at all, I just do that because I feel good when I have the impression people are thankful to me, or that they should be anyway. But that’s ok, because no one’s more altruistic than that, in the end, we only do what makes us feel good, even when we “sacrifice ourselves” for someone else, it’s just because we consider the harm we might get doing the sacrifice thing of lesser importance than the gratifying feeling we get when we feel we did something “right”. I’m not saying you should stop being altruistic, keep aiming at perfection, but don’t blame yourself for not reaching the target, you’re probably still one of the best marksmen out there.


    ps: as for the iron thing, eat spoons, and don’t worry about the digestion part, cause there is no spoon… err… >__>… whatever…

    | Reply Posted 11 years ago
  2. * Becca says:

    The same thing happened to me when I tried to get “swabbed” to see if I was a suitable bone marrow donor for a sick child. I also had tears in my eyes when I left.

    The answer for me was making sure my organs would be donated if something happens to me. I have that knowledge with me all the time.

    | Reply Posted 11 years ago
  3. * Hey Pretty says:

    Methinks you’re being a bit hard on yourself, my dear. Sometimes you just have to let go.

    | Reply Posted 11 years ago
  4. * Tasha says:

    Darlin’ you’re digging way to deep into this. People do charity as much for other people as they do for themselves and there’s nothing wrong with that. You didn’t fail anyone because in the end you tried and trying is all any of us can do. Most of the time things don’t come out the way you want it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change it. So your iron is a little low, take some iron pills, or go to the doctor and see if there’s a reason. Find out what the problem is and see if there’s a way to fix it. Then when you’re body is ready, go out there and try again. You didn’t fail. This is just a bump in the road that you have to get over.

    So go out, smile and know that you are one of the people who at least tried, because not everyone can say that.

    | Reply Posted 11 years ago

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