Guest Commentary | Lessons learned from blood

Guest Commentary | Lessons learned from blood


Blood business used to be conducted at the blood bank.

Now, it's Community Blood Services of Illinois, part of the Mississippi Valley Blood Center. Even though we're nowhere near Mississippi and the closest valley is, well, I couldn't tell you. Doesn't matter, because this Mississippi Valley is in Iowa.

Truth is, the new names lack the pizzaz of blood bank.

Blood, as a force, clarifies the mind. Sitting with my mother, then years later with my father, during their final years, seeing blood bags hanging from poles, convinced me, in 1996, to join the best recycling program of all.

It's almost easy. You walk in, a pint is drained from your arm, you get a cookie and walk out. Eight weeks later, you repeat. Beautifully simple.

You just have to understand: The blood bank doesn't keep an account for you, personally. Blood goes into one of eight accounts with names like O-positive, O-negative, A-positive, A-negative, B-positive, B- negative, AB-positive and AB-negative.

Positive and negative usually mean good and bad. But with blood, the words don't mean that. Positive and negative blood types are both good. It would be incorrect to say people with O-positive, A-positive and B-positive blood are better people than those with O-negative, A-negative and B-negative blood. Ditto with the AB types.

Blood, like people, involves different types. Not good, not bad, just different. Blood is noble and can be shared with others who need it. People needing blood require a match of their own blood type. Some blood can be cross-matched, while other blood cannot.

When donating human blood, only one measure matters. Check the box: Healthy blood yes. Unhealthy blood no.

Healthy blood is the body's gold.

Those who are, unfortunately, unhealthy may need the blood bank's healthy blood. Blood is not hoarded. Withdrawals happen at hospitals if your doctor deems it necessary, even if you've never donated before. Blood recycling happens for one simple reason: blood donors.

So, if you want to do something good, donate blood, understanding you don't get to control who gets yours.

How to donate.

It's slightly complex because separating healthy from unhealthy blood requires information. Don't be squeamish. Every person must answer the same questions, even though some may be irrelevant to you. In 22 years of donating, I've never seen the same questionnaire. The questions perpetually change because society changes and the research behind each question is continually updated.

Answering blood questions requires seeing life eye to eye. And despite questions of sex and health not usually asked in polite company, blood is not polite. Questions get intimate, so blushing is fine.

Remember, the worthy goal is maintaining a healthy blood supply. Blood exists in real time, not in how things should be or used to be. We are all equal in the eyes of blood.

Whether in Urbana or at a mobile site, you walk into the blood bank, sign in with photo identification and are seated in privacy to complete the questionnaire.

Then you speak with a nurse who might be tattooed and might have pink hair. This person will give you a quick health check. If it's your first time, you will likely feel nervous, which is normal. Then you're taken to a donor chair.

You will never be asked who you voted for. The blood supply doesn't care what you think, believe or do.

As blood drains from your arm, you might be next to somebody older or younger, of any gender or ethnicity, perhaps somebody wearing a red hat, white flip-flops or blue jeans. Lessons can be learned from blood.

Donating blood is not painless like a mosquito bite. Unlike a mosquito bite, there is no itching afterward.

Like stubbing your toe in the dark after stumbling into forgotten furniture, the intense seconds of post-stubbing pain is worse than donating. And the post-donation cookie helps.

Once you get the hang of it, donating blood is a race to the top. I am one donation short of 15 gallons, and there are more than 100 names still ahead of me. It's a slow race, and moving ahead doesn't happen quickly. But I'm on the heels of the 20- and 30-gallon crowd.

In this regard, the mandatory eight weeks between donations seems cruel.

If you want to make our seriously flawed world a better place, add your name to the blood bank wall. It's one of the few things in life that is unequivocally upright. As partisan politics divides families and generations, we've lost our balance, common sense and cause. Donating blood resets the balance toward health.

My blood bank deposits are not for me but for anybody to use. You're welcome. Now it's your turn. Some of you may have received my blood. Twisted, perhaps, but still pretty cool.

Robert Silverman has a behavioral health counseling practice in Champaign.