For a worthy cause, choose fight not flight

No matter how many times I donate blood, I can’t shake the anxiety that accompanies the experience. You know, that “palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, vomit on her sweater already, mom’s spaghetti” feeling.

Oh, wait. That’s the feeling I get when forced into public speaking – an experience, by my estimation, 50 times more traumatic.

No, donating blood is a much simpler and more comfortable process than I ever anticipate it to be. I don’t particularly care for needles or blood, but I’m not exactly afraid of them. My fear has more to do with the possibility of a negative reaction, even though I’ve donated before and never had one. I like to share my own experiences with others because – as is the case in many situations – the horror stories are the only ones you hear about.

For my most recent donation, I arrived at the site jittery as usual. Sipping a bottle of water, I skimmed the reading material given to me. A lot of the information didn’t apply to me, since I’ve never traveled outside the country or been diagnosed with a serious, transmittable disease.

By the time I was called for my mini-physical, I had to use the bathroom for the hundredth time that day. (The Red Cross recommends that donors drink plenty of water prior to donation, advice I take a little too seriously.)

A nurse checked my temperature, blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin levels. Because I was nervous, my heart was beating faster than a hummingbird’s.

“Are you OK, hon?” she asked.

“If you have to ask,” I thought, “the answer is probably no.”

I laughed it off, telling her that I always get anxious before donating. Meanwhile my hypothalamus screamed at me. That part of the brain activates two systems – the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system – during stressful situations. The result: the fight or flight response.

I did inform her that I spent the entire day chugging Aquafina, making me pee like Seabiscuit.  She let me run to the bathroom.

While the nurse went to assist someone else, I returned and answered a series of questions regarding my health history on a computer. She then led me over to something I can only describe as a gurney.

The needle’s pinch is painful. So do bee stings, piercings, tattoos, contact sports and, of course, childbirth – things people continue to bite down and bear every day. You either have an incredibly low threshold for pain or are dealing with a half-blind health care professional if a needle stick hurts badly enough to avoid doing anything worthwhile.

I didn’t look at the needle or the bag of blood, instead focusing on the ceiling. I reminded myself that sick babies, cancer patients and car accident victims all require blood transfusions. (FYI, a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.)

“I can easily spare three,” I thought.

Mercyhurst University will hold a drive in the school’s Hermann Union from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31. If you see me there, face ashen and biting my nails, say hello. And please remind me that I’ll be perfectly fine.



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