Worth the Pain This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
     As I walk into the church, I notice a transformation. The comfortable parish hall, used for wedding receptions and funeral dinners, has been invaded by plastic lounge chairs, table dividers, volunteers and medical professionals. I laugh out loud as I think of the sitcom "M*A*S*H." The room, illuminated by the late-afternoon sun, is split into several sections. On one side people fill out paperwork, then wait to be escorted to the next station. Beyond are cubicles for the examination process. The other section of the room is the recovery area where volunteers hand out water and food. This is the finish line, and I look longingly at the people who are already there.

The atmosphere is not tense, but simultaneously serious and lighthearted. Community members greet each other, commenting on the mild December weather and the high-school basketball team while waiting to donate a pint of blood to people they will never know.

As I look around, I see many of my teachers, as well as classmates. Our high school Junior Red Cross helps with all these blood drives, and it is comforting to see so many familiar faces.

I approach a table with two older women who take my driver's license, ask my name, and confirm I am who I say I am. They begin the paperwork, and since it is my first time, there's quite a bit. I read the material that outlines the process and what will happen to my blood. It includes personal, embarrassing questions about drugs, sex, tattoos and world travel. Since I've never participated in any of these, this is completed quickly. I finish by signing my name with a flourish.

This is it, I think. No turning back now.

I am led to a line of chairs, where I wait for yet another round of questions, and my first needle of the day. After a few minutes of nervous waiting I am met by a smiling RN, who immediately asks if this is my first time. I confirm his suspicions as he prepares me for the next station. He asks my name, and thrusts a thermometer in my mouth. He takes my pulse and blood pressure, and finally cleans my middle finger. The sting is quick but painful. This test, he explains, checks for iron in the blood. If it floats, it is iron deficient, and unsuitable. I cheer as my blood sinks quickly. I've made the second cut.

I'm led to yet another line of chairs. I try to ignore the sight of blood and needles, and take deep breaths to calm myself. I glance at my physics teacher, only to see her grimace, which does little for my butterflies.

As I sit in the reclined chair, another RN takes my paperwork. His round face and curly red hair remind me of a gnome. He confirms I'm here of my own free will, and once again asks my name. He finishes the formalities and prepares my arm. He ties a tourniquet, and compliments me on my uncommonly large veins. As he reaches for the needle, I look away.

I look to my right, but this view offers no comfort: I'm next to the table where the collected blood sits. It looks almost black inside the plastic bags, and my stomach churns. I look straight ahead, only to be disgusted again. Right in front of me is a diagram of the circulatory system, and on another poster, graphic pictures show blood being drawn. For fear of exposing the entire room to my lunch, I close my eyes. The RN notices my discomfort, and assures me that it won't hurt too much.

"Don't worry. The needle is coated with plastic, so it goes in nice and easy."

"Great," I say, then wonder, But doesn't that make the needle even thicker?

The nurse hands me a ball to squeeze to increase the flow of blood. He warns me he is going to insert the needle, and I nod, just wanting the moment to be over. I force myself to relax but forget to breathe. He tapes the needle down.

"You can look now," he says with a laugh.

But I don't trust myself. I take a deep breath as he tells me to squeeze the ball for four counts, then relax for five. It is a surreal sensation, running from my shoulder to my fingertips.

After a few minutes of squeezing my eyes shut, I look at my arm. I can't even see the needle, and the tube drawing my blood disappears over the chair. My curiosity overcomes my nausea, and I look to see where the tubes lead. Attached to the lounge chair is the bag filling with my blood. My RN kneads the bag as though he is making bread.

"This keeps it from clotting," he explains.

He tells me I only have a few minutes left and I nod, finally relaxed. Soon he disconnects everything and laughs as I sigh with relief. I am awed that just ten minutes ago all that blood was inside me. He tells me to hold my arm above my head, asks how I'm feeling, and gives me papers explaining what to do in the next few days. After getting a lecture on how I need to drink lots of water, I thank him, and he hurries off to the next donor. I sit and wait for a volunteer to escort me to the recovery area.

A little elderly man comes and takes my arm. I stand and suppress a laugh when I realize I'm twice his size.

What is he going to do if I fall? I think. I'd only take him down with me.

I sit down beside one of the school custodians. A volunteer gives me a cup of water and orders me to down it. As soon as it is gone, it is magically replaced with another cup, and the volunteer asks if I'd like something to eat. I choose a ham salad sandwich and potato chips that I eat slowly, and chat with the junior-high secretary who joins us. Another volunteer passes around homemade pie and cookies. I take a slice of cherry, and drink my fourth cup of water. As I stand to leave, I am swarmed by volunteers offering me more water, and who make sure I'm not going to collapse. Walking out the door, I'm proud of myself with my cotton ball taped to my arm as a battle scar. I wear the "I gave blood for the first time" sticker with pride.

***

It wasn't until later that I truly understand the importance of what I did that day.

Two weeks after giving blood, my best friend went in to have her gall bladder removed. The surgery went very wrong, and she needed ten pints of blood. Even though we do not have the same blood types, they are compatible, and I like to think she got some of my blood.

The thought of losing her, or anyone else I love, is enough to make me a lifetime blood donor. Just knowing I've saved someone's life will keep me going back every 56 days (the time necessary for the body to replenish its blood supply). No matter how scared or nervous I am before I give blood, or the pain I go through, I'll always believe it's worth it.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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