This I Believe

Emily - Chicago, Illinois
Entered on April 22, 2008

I hate giving blood. Really I do. I faint kind of easily, which is embarrassing, and I always look down while they are taking out the needle. Bad move. But I’m an O-, universal donor, and so I keep giving blood, especially because I there are a couple people in my family who have needed transfusions, so I feel like I have a responsibility to keep going.

But I tend to make blood-giving appointments, and then forget about them completely, because I really don’t want to think about it. So last time I gave blood, which was nearly a year ago, they called to remind me the day before. I had forgotten all about it, of course, but I thought, hey, I’m going to be really smart and drink a TON of water before I give blood. So I chugged water like it was going out of style for a full day beforehand.

I went in, answered their questions and made myself comfy in a donation chair watching some Queen Latifah movie. I try to space out when they put the needle in, but I did notice that the tourniquet was very, very tight. I mentioned this to the phlebotomist, and she said that it wasn’t a big deal, but it may take me longer to clot when I was finished giving. And sure enough when I was done and they took the needle out, I pressed the cotton ball to my arm, a little bit of blood squirted around it! I felt instantly woozy, but I leaned back and talked myself out of it, focusing in on Queen Latifah.

A couple of minutes go by and I’m starting to feel human again. I decide that getting my apple juice and animal crackers will greatly improve the situation. I get up and walk over to the fridge no problem, but when I lean down- the dizziness hits me. I feel myself start to black out, so I start moving fast back towards the beds and that is the last thing I remember.

Have you ever fainted? If yes, then you know how it feels, like you are coming up slowly out of water. I could hear Queen Latifiah’s voice, and I open my eyes and the nurse is sitting over me as I’m lying on the floor.

“Did I pass out?” I ask her.

“Yes.”

“Did I fall?”

“No, I caught you. You are all right”

“Did I piss myself?”

Pause. “Yeah, sweetie, you did.”

So it turns out that you lose all muscle control when you pass out, including bladder control. And my light blue linen pants were now teal. And the cute male nurse mopped up my mess, and I had to ride the train home in the ill-fitting sweatpants they loaned me.

I went home and cried on my couch for hours. When I finally worked up the courage to call a friend and confess what had happened, I could hear her stifling laughs on the other side of the line. It clicked. This is pretty funny. Mortifing. But really funny. And so I told a few more people. Not only did they laugh, the kind of laughter that squeezes out tears, but they told me their own mortifingly embarassing stories, and we laughed even harder. What had started off as a dirty shameful thing was suddenly this joyful way to connect further to friends. I realized that it was the storytelling, the willingness to make myself an open book, that made any pain or discomfort easier. I believe that the way to overcome fear and shame is to share it with those who love you. This is not an easy thing to do. Some people will not want to hear your story, and other people will be out and out horrified. But holding it in, keeping this secret to your self gives it power. Let it free, and it’s no longer a part of you, but something you can look objectively at, and hopefully, come to peace with.

Since I learned this, I’m trying to put this into practice. I want to be an open book, and I have shared bigger secrets and fears with those that I love. Secrets can be shocking and painful, but when I come to someone with an open heart, I’m always amazed at how empathetic they are.

And a year and a half after my “incident”, I still haven’t given blood. I’m thinking about it. Wish me luck.