Giving blood

Redcross

I gave blood last week. I try to do this every eight weeks. That’s the minimum amount of time between donations. Your blood has got to re-generate. Someone asked me why I do this so regularly and I said, “It’s the only way I’m going to save a life.” The literature they hand out at the collection centers notes that 3 lives can be saved with one pint. I find that hard to believe but hey, maybe it’s true.

The thing about giving blood is you always have to read this four-page laminated-sheet booklet describing all the conditions and medications that indicate you shouldn’t give blood. The same thing every time. There ought to be a way to skip this. I glance at it and then hold on to it for a while before handing it back to the overly talkative woman who is signing in the donors.

But this is part of the problem: time. Once you finally are hooked up to to a needle it takes less than 10 minutes to collect a pint of blood. But from the time I enter the place until the time I leave, over an hour and a half passes. Why? Reading the literature and then the part of the process that I find the most tedious: the interview.

They ask the same questions every time. Mostly they seem to concern sex with strangers or prostitutes. Coming into contact with someone else’s blood. Couldn’t they keep track of these things from one time to the next and then just ask me if anything had changed? Then you’re always assigned to a recruit so a bored looking regular sits and watches while the newbie goes through all the questions and enters information into an antiquated laptop. If they happen to be humorless, it’s even worse, though I’ve had some interviewers who were quite funny. That helps.

Then they print out the form they’ve just generated and then come back and ask you your name again (for about the 8th time, it seems). Then it’s on to the cot.

As I lie down I tell the guy, “I don’t want to see the needle and I don’t want to see any blood.” He nods at me, probably wondering why I elect to give blood if I’m so uncomfortable with the process. While I’m lying there, with my head turned to the left, away from the arm that is hooked up the apparatus, there’s a guy sitting nearby fiddling with things. I say hi and we begin talking and I tell him how frustrating it is to have to go through such a long process to give blood and he begins to tell me what a screwed up organization the Red Cross is. “Nobody at the top listens to the guys down here (he points around the room) doing the work. We’re the ones who know what’s going on.” I think to myself: how many people working in America feel this way? I say, “Yes, I think that happens a lot. It’s a problem with organizations, with hierarchies, with bureaucracies.” Then he goes on to tell me that he’s been working for the Red Cross for 30 years and his daughters were giving blood when they were in high school and how the current organization won’t go after high school kids. “They target colleges, the military, and businesses,” he says. “But they don’t want to deal with high school kids. Kids who if they had a decent experience, would be giving blood for the rest of their lives.”

He tells me about a woman who came in to give blood and said how she left her daughter at home and how the child thinks that “mommy is going to get hurt.” This guy told her, go home and get that child and bring her in. We’ll show her that this isn’t painful, that it’s a good thing. Here is a guy who clearly understands perception and image. He even says, “Why not bring in high school kids and just show then around. Even if they’re not going to give blood. Let them see the room, the people, give them some cookies, let them have a good experience.” Because, obviously, for so many people this is a bad experience.

He mentions that a lot of WWII guys had a bad feeling about the Red Cross because during the war, apparently, the Red Cross tried to sell stuff to GIs. The Salvation Army was giving away chocolates and cigarettes. But the Red Cross was trying to make money. Is this true? This sounds vaguely familiar to the Red Cross’s current plight in which they’re being sued by Johnson & Johnson for copyright infringement. Basically they’re abusing the goodwill of J&J in order to make a few bucks by licensing the Red Cross logo (which J&J owns) to third parties. (This guy over here has a good summation.)

Anyway, it’s clear that the Red Cross is a troubled organization. You see it in the collection center, and a cursory Google search of Red Cross history brings up a lot of links that are not positive. So. What does it mean for me? I don’t know. My new friend says, “Send a letter, tell them what’s wrong with the way this works.” I say I might. But then as I’m leaving I say, “What’s your name?” Because I’m curious and I want to introduce myself. He states his name, we shake hands, but then he pulls back. “You’re not going to use my name in that letter, are you?” “No,” I assure him, and think to myself: this is part of the problem. These people who have good ideas but then don’t want to actually lay it on the line for what they believe. And here is this guy who intuitively understands that you have to improve the experience to get more people to donate. He didn’t read that in a business book, I’m guessing. What a loss to the organization.

My blood given, I go to the table where snacks are laid out and grab a 6-pack of Oreos and gobble those down with a small bottle of water. And sit there and talk with another guy for a bit. The people there encourage you to wait for 15 minutes before venturing back into the world. Later I find out from someone that when you give blood in Australia, they give you a sandwich and a beer afterwards! Those Aussies, they know how to live.

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