Monday, March 9, 2009

When Blood is Not Enough

On the privacy screen are colored slips of numbered paper: blue for those with appointments, white for walk-ins. They are up to No. 5 of the blues while No. 1 of the whites has just been posted.

I'm White "3."

It shouldn't be long before my number is up.

"I'm going to be late coming home from tennis Sunday," I told My Love the day before. "I'm going to give blood."

She looked up from her laptop. "Are you going to help that boy who was in the newspaper?"

"Yeah," I said. "I haven't given blood in a while, and he has the same thing that killed David."

The church gym is a sea of portable cots, chairs and medical tubing. A few people are lying down, already squeezing crimson into dangling bags, and a dozen more are seated with me in the waiting area. A classic rock station echoes around the high rafters from a boom box, making the place feel more vacant than it is.

The binder of laminated papers in my lap tells me what sex acts and world travel could make me ineligible for donation. I return it. Now I wait to be called on so a Red Cross employee can bring me behind a gray-green screen and ask me about my sex acts and world travel. She shall be bored.

I open the paperback I brought and read a passage about drunkenness in Minnesota. Then, the boom box starts to play "Casey Jones."

David was my best friend in high school. He was my gateway, as best friends are, to most of the typical "evil" firsts of the underage -- buying alcohol, consuming alcohol, smoking cigarettes, smoking things that aren't cigarettes, the Grateful Dead, etc. (Ugh -- The Dead, man. I need a miracle! Jerry moved!)

During morning announcements, one late fall day during sophomore year, the principal announced we were all supposed to be praying for David. He had just been diagnosed with leukemia.


A woman slides up to me and enthusiastically says hello.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she says and backs up. "From the side, you look just like my friend Frank."

And I'm sorry, Frank.

A man is walking around explaining the option of donating platelets instead of blood. I did this once at a post-9/11 blood drive. My Love -- who was a regular donor for a while -- was pregnant with Thing 2 at the time, so I went to the sports arena across from my office in uptown Dallas and donated on her behalf as part of a birthday present for her. I gave her my free T-shirt, but I ate the Nutter Butters. They always gave out Nutter Butters after giving blood in the DFW area.

"Uncool," the man says, reading my name off the sticker on my chest, "do you know what your blood type is?"

It's O or B. One was what the Carter Blood Center of Dallas/Fort Worth told me. The other was the result of a finger-prick test I did during an eighth-grade biology class. I honestly don't remember which gave me which answer.

"No, sorry," I answer. "I don't."

A overweight teen with a goatee who has just donated is shuffling around through the tables and chairs. He's talking to people and singing along with the boom box. It's "More Than a Feeling."

I turn back to my book.


Most, but not all, of the portable cots having people lying in them. There's about two dozen people waiting with me now. The blues are up to the low 20s. White "2" still has a seat with me. It's been 40 minutes.

A local TV station is interviewing a couple of girls in T-shirts with large blue ribbons printed on them. The ribbons bear the name "Peter." A few minutes later, the reporter is combing through the donors-to-be, looking for a good interview.

He convinces the less-than-excited kid in front of me who said he "kinda knows" the boy with leukemia we're all here for today.

David's leukemia went into remission in high school. He eventually graduated from Boston College, even got married. The cancer didn't care, though. It came back even harder this time, and he went off to Sloan-Kettering to have a bone marrow transplant.

"They're the best," a nurse I met on a TWA flight from St. Louis told me at the time. "He's in good hands."

A few weeks later David called me. I don't remember the conservation other than he was stoned out of his chemo-bald gourd from the pain meds and it made me laugh a lot.

A few days after, his immune-suppressed body he got in the oncoming path of the wrong germ at the wrong time.


The blues are now in the low 30s. I contemplate pretending to go to the bathroom and sneaking out the side exit. There's at least three dozen people waiting with me now and almost all the tables are filled with people lying prone, letting life siphon from them.

I put the unopened Band-Aid I had been using as a bookmarker in place. I head for the front door.

"Thank you so much for giving!" says the girl at the reception table.

"I'm sorry, I didn’t donate." I hand her back my white slip with the big, black "3" on it. "I've been waiting an hour and no one's even called No. 2 to get screened yet. I'll see if I can come back later."

I know I won't. I've got a hoard of soccer players to coach, a dog in need of a long walk and more than a few chores waiting for me.

I peel the green nametag off my chest, folding it in half. For the first time, I notice what it says along with my name: "I Make A Difference."

I slip it into my paperback, next to the Band-Aid, and start the car.

When I get home, I tell My Love about my latest failure. From the other room, the stereo is playing. It's a different radio station than the one I heard in the gym.

However, the song is still "Casey Jones."


I remember David reviewing the Pete Townshend album this song came from for the high school paper, which I was editor of at the time. He hated that album. He was so wrong. One day, we'll pick up the argument.

Video: "Give Blood," Pete Townshend w/ David Gilmour


  1. A great post, even if it does hit close to home. The Hubby, and 3 of his high school buddies took a road trip via air on Thursday to visit the 5th Musketeer. A Musketeer whose body is fighting so hard that it is fighting against the generous bone marrow donation. Sadly, in spite of his mind's determination, the body is winning.

    David was lucky to have you as a friend. (a cyber hug in empathy)

  2. Sorry, I had to run over to iTunes real quick and hit More Than A Feeling right in the middle of the post, before I forgot.

    Sorry you lost your buddy...but I think he may have been right about that Pete Townsend album!

  3. This is a nice little reminder that I - a typically consistent blood donor (Gallon Club, baby!)(couple times), needs to get an appointment made and my sleeves rolled up.

    I always - ALWAYS - take the Nutter Butters.

  4. I actually teared up a bit...sorry for your loss.

    you can still give blood and 'earmark' it for this boy.

    even if he doesn't get yours, some very needy person will.

    'trouble ahead, trouble behind..and you know that notion just crossed my mind'

  5. I've got nothing to add except: really good post.

  6. Beautifully written.

    I can't give blood because I've lived in Europe for over 5 years, but I used to give all the time - before I hit that 5 year mark.

  7. My father gave blood more than anyone I ever heard of. He also was a platelet donor. After he left the Navy it became an obsession of his.

    I, on the other hand, suck. I've only been a donor twice. And usually for silly reasons like work got in the way or something.

    I sometimes tell myself that Dad more than made up for me, and that I GIVE in other ways. But Dad is gone now and I think he would like it if I gave it another try. You know...when something like work doesn't get in the way. Sigh.

    Great post.

  8. Great post brotha!!!!

    I LOVE to give blood. It makes me feel good inside. ...and I love the free cookies!

  9. So you are going to know a bit more about me from this post...You hit very close to home, 'cept the person I lost to Leukemia was a very dear love who I was with for more than 5 years after I moved up here. It was very hard on me and I can't say I have ever fully recovered from it. Up until my latest Adventure, I was donating blood every 6 months or so. I could not do the bone marrow thing. I understand all those feelings, the lab also was part of the national bone marrow registry for a very long time, but we were a bit more organized than what you described. Can talk any more.

  10. You get an A+ for Intentions - don't say you failed. Next time try dropping off food at a food pantry - good stuff on the quick.

    I hope to God you are publishing your writing somewhere! I'm not just schoozing you here either! Damn you're good!

  11. Great post, well written. You had me right there with you waiting and waiting.

    You may have not given blood (this time) but you've remembered a friend. The tribute you could have done...


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