The first time I ever donated blood was on Stevens Avenue in Portland. My high school, Catherine McAuley, organized a blood drive every year. (We really took the service aspect of the Catholic school system seriously.)

Seniors, being 17 or 18, were eligible to donate. I think I must have been scared, but for some reason, I don’t really remember. Turns out doing something scary for the first time with a bunch of friends is the best way to do it.

Last week, I donated blood on Stevens Avenue again – this time at St. Brigid School, right next door, which both my siblings attended. The blood drive was in the same gym where I went to various middle school dances. (I tried to block out the memories.)

I donate blood fairly frequently. You’re eligible to donate every eight weeks, but sometimes I’ve been turned away because of low iron levels, which can be a side effect of menstruation. Now I take iron pills a few days in advance. Boom, problem solved.

It’s hard to explain why I like to donate regularly. It’s not the most fun afternoon activity. (There are free snacks, though.) But it’s necessary.

There is always, always, always a need for blood, and I tend to think that if there’s a need and I can fill it, then I should. Last summer, my sister had major jaw surgery. She lost about a unit of blood, but because blood was in short supply in the hospital, and she was young, they decided not to give her any replacement blood. It took her about a month to fully recover.

I’m not a brave person. I’m scared of pretty much everything, including but not limited to heights, deep water, large trucks, chipmunks, foxes, scary movies, and thunder. But for some reason, I’m not afraid of needles. I can’t say they are my favorite thing, but I can put up with them for a good cause. (And for getting tattoos, which are not as much a good cause as just good fun.)

Whenever my dad drove me to a blood drive, he always kept his winter coat zipped all the way up, even inside, just in case the phlebotomists tried to sneak up on him or something. (Which they never do. Also, he had cancer, so nobody wanted his blood.)

The Red Cross is starting up blood drives again. Donating took me longer than usual last week, because of their coronavirus precautions: Everyone had to wear a mask at all times, donors stayed 6 feet apart from each other while waiting, only five donors were allowed in the gym at one time and my temperature was taken – twice.

They also check your blood pressure, so if you’re curious, it’s a way to get a little free health care information as well! Janet said my blood pressure was the sort of blood pressure that people “take pills to get,” and, yes, I am proud of that.

The worst part of the whole thing, for me, is the finger-prick they do to check your iron levels – I think because of the anticipation and the notable “click” sound it makes. But I just take a deep breath and time the exhale for the prick, and it really helps.

The actual drawing of the blood – one pint – took less than 10 minutes, because I am what they call “a speedy bleeder.” Blood has a shelf life of 42 days. It is a perishable good. There is only one source of human blood for surgery, for trauma patients, and for cancer patients.

That source is people like me, willing to participate in a somewhat physically uncomfortable act, to help save the lives of people they will probably never know – although, blood usually stays pretty local. A few weeks after my April blood donation, I received a note from the Red Cross informing me that my blood was sent to St. Mary’s in Lewiston.

Only 3 percent of Americans are blood donors. Three percent. (Since I’m one of them, and I live in Maine, I think technically I am now a member of the coastal elite.)

If you have never donated before, and you meet the health qualifications, I hope you will consider making an appointment. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about the process or if you just want me to cheer you on.

I cheer on everyone who donates blood, or who supports people who do. Turns out you don’t need to be a superhero to save a life. You just have to be willing to roll up your sleeve. (But you do need to wear a mask.)

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mainemillennial

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