NTKOG #16: The kind of patriotic do-gooder who, on a day of deepest national remembrance, perkily (yet solemnly!) skips off to donate a pintful o’ plasma.
I am: not a big fan of needles, it must be said. I blame the medical field in my native Las Vegas, where half the registered nurses are reformed strippers (“So how’d you get into nursing?” “Well, I already owned the uniform…”) with names like Krystal and Kandi, dead-set on finding my shy veins “from the inside.”
I am not: particularly civic minded, nor am I one of those people who gets misty-eyed when discussing the hallowed subject of September 11. I’d rather you not think me a monster for admitting this, but of course the choice is yours.
The Scene: Boston, a college town filled with young do-gooder blood, is apparently intent on spilling said blood into regulation Red Cross collection bags in their seventh annual 9/11 memorial blood drive. With all the hoopla being beamed at me right and left — get your blood drawn in Fenway while you watch the Sox on the Jumbotron! make your donation at City Hall and wave hello to the mayor! also, some Ted Kennedy references thrown in for extra hometown pride! — I gave into the spirit and took the T down to Government Center to squeeze out my sixteen ounces of civic spirit. “Lasting change, instant gratification,” they promised, and I was feeling proud already.
Instant gratification, however, is apparently a relative term. I followed the stream of Red Cross signs and red balloons, through a metal detector and several staircases to the drive. The man behind the volunteer check-in desk barked without glancing up: “You got an appointment?” I shook my head no. “Well, the next appointment’s in two hours. You can sign up if you want to.” I thought longingly of my beautiful apartment, out away from the drizzly weather, and how desperately it needed me to come home and spend a day unpacking. Then signed up for a 4:30 appointment slot.
After an hour and a half pacing the drizzle of Fanueil Hall, eating a $$$ tourist-trap naan wrap that tasted suspiciously of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, I checked back in with the man (who, in the meantime, had somehow acquired an eyepatch), grabbed a slip of paper labeled #44 and got in line for the pre-screening. Scored a prime seat, free fruit snacks, and a copy of a Halloween Decorating magazine. ‘This isn’t so bad,’ I thought.
“Number 21?” hollered a tired-looking nurse.
Oh. Okay. It was bad.
Spent an hour scanning the magazine and avoiding attempts at socializing from the guy sitting next to me, a college drop-out construction worker with very strong views on immigration. After going through my screening, I was ushered to the waiting area for the blood tables (ten of them, and at least eighty people waiting for their screenings above — there was a distinct waft of the Soviet to the situation), with a different-colored slip of paper labeled #44.
By the time my good friend the construction worker came back, I was desperate to hear his views on Mexico. Which I did for another full hour.
Finally, around 6:30, I get escorted to my table, lay down, and a sweet maternal nurse takes a look at the veins in my right arm. “Squeeze this,” she commands, handing me a bit of PVC pipe then commencing to dial a very long-distance number into my veins with her sharp fingernails. Huh, she mutters, then moves to my other side and chokes my left arm above the elbow with a band of heavy-duty rubber ’til it shakes. Huh.
She pulls over another nurse — a young woman, maybe even a girl, who, were I casting her in a movie, would play a naive British duchess coming into the first wildflower beauty of her youth and destined for gently zany hijinx. “This is my friend TKOG,” the first nurse tells Duchess. “She’s afraid of needles and she’s been here since 2:30. We can’t seem to find a vein.”
Duchess goes through the whole rigmarole with the band, the dialing, the PVC pipe, all the while singing along with the Enya song on the PA system. I tell her she has a beautiful voice and she inexpicably responds: “It’s okay to be nervous. I promise we’ll try to make this work.” She kneads my now-purple elbow, then circles one spot with a pink magic marker and tells me, “We can try this one,” with all the gravity of a B action star telling you that once he cuts the cord, you have ten seconds flat to get out of the building. She really does have a beautiful voice.
One jab. Two jabs. Three jabs, then she hails French Poodle — “This is my friend TKOG…” — two jabs, and they pull over Messy Bun — “This is my friend TKOG…” — three more jabs and finally, after all four women confer in whispers, the Gandalf Nurse is summoned down from the mountain. “This is TKOG. She’s been here since 2:30 and she’s not giving up. Can you please try?”
Gandalf takes one more stab at it, then lowers to a painful looking crouch to bring her face to mine. “I’m sorry, honey. Do you want me to try again?” And all of the other nine tables are filled with other people, giving blood for some better reason than just wanting to write about it on a blog, and yet she looks not at them but at me, kindly and wisely and seriously. And what am I, an idiot? I shake my head.
And as she bandages the ice pack on my rapidly expanding bruise, it all kind of hits me: the long wasted day, the oppressive grey drizzle, the construction worker and the bad Indian food and the fact that everyone else in this room is actually donating out of the goodness of their damn hearts and this perpetual bitter struggle between body and brain, the only thing in which I cannot succeed from sheer brute force of will. It all just hits me at once and — in the idiom of Tarantino — I cry like a little bitch.
Duchess taps Gandalf on the crook of her arm, where they hover a few feet away, and says softly: “Look at that. I wish everyone wanted to help as badly as her.”
The Verdict: No. Absolutely not. Never again. This whole friggin’ city is lousy with able-veined dudes who just can’t get rid of their blood fast enough, and they don’t need me to join their ranks.