My dad would have been 73 today.
This is a challenging time of year for me — too many anniversaries. Mom’s birthday was 20 April; Dad’s is today. The last time I spoke to them was on their 46th anniversary, 8 June 2009. They were dead four days later. But I’ve gotten a bit better over the last almost seven years at emphasizing the pleasures of having known them, and the benefit I received from being their son.
And that brings me to this past weekend — yesterday afternoon in particular. My Dad liked to donate blood. He was a Golden Gallon donor — I still remember the gold window sticker the Red Cross gave him after his eighth pint. Unfortunately, when he was 41, his first go-around with cancer put him on the permanently ineligible list. Mom had heart surgery in 1961, when she was seventeen, and so was never eligible.
I, on the other hand, am terrified of needles. Don’t like to look at them, dread the blood work at my checkups. The worst scene for me in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead isn’t any of the flesh-eating, eviscerations, or exploding heads — it’s when Roger gets a morphine shot. I have to turn away for that.
But last semester, the Spawn donated a pint during a blood drive at Flagship. And this Saturday, while I was out buying dog food, I saw the bloodmobile parked in front of the farm supply store where I buy the Hound’s victuals. And I thought about my dad, as I do many times each day. So I bought the dog food, came home, and said to the Spawn, “If I were to donate blood, would you go with me and donate too?” She said yes, and we drove back over, to find…
Nothing. The red-and-white bus was gone; it had left about 15 minutes earlier. This made the Spawn somewhat cranky (“I got dressed for nothing!”), but when I got home, I got online and saw that it would be back yesterday, in front of the Mondoville WalMart. So yesterday, after lunch, we headed back over, to find…
Nothing. Check my phone. We were 45 minutes early — I really should pay more attention sometimes. But I had a prescription to pick up, and the Spawn could browse the cosmetics and book aisles, so we did those things. I got my meds, looked over a couple of college football preview magazines, and then we went back into the parking lot, just as the bus pulled in.
The Spawn and I were first in line — in fact, a bit early, and had to wait while they were getting set up. We used that time to fill out a form, and four or five other people had queued up by the time we boarded the bus.
Next came the screening questions, a blood pressure check, and a quick blood test. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Spawn’s day; although she isn’t anemic, her iron content was just under the lower limit for donation, and she was deferred, and very disappointed. That wasn’t a problem for me — I eat so much red meat that I probably clank when I walk. We went through the list of questions, and I made it through that hurdle just fine. (As an aside, my colleague David Rachels had mentioned one of the questions from a time he had donated blood. So when the lady asked, “Have you ever been paid for sexual activity?”, I just said, “I’m not that attractive.” Made her laugh.)
So then it was off to one of the chaises, with the Spawn sitting nearby as my cheering section. I turned my head as the nurse hooked me up. The needle stung a bit, but was actually less painful than the thumb stick for the iron test. As I lay there, I amused myself by asking the Spawn things like, “Am I supposed to be seeing dead relatives at this point? Is that you, Grandpa? Go towards the light?”
Really, though, the worst part of the business was the 80s music on the vehicle’s sound system. Still, the Huey Lewis and Madonna were insufficient to freeze the blood in my veins, so about 15 minutes later, they had drawn a pint, plus a few vials for additional screenings, typing, and such. The Spawn said the pint was about the size of a loaf of banana bread. “Yep,” I said. “‘A pint’s a pound/ the world around.'”
The nurse then told me to keep the bandage on for at least an hour, and the underlying bandaid for four or five more. “Avoid strenuous exercise this evening,” she added.
While ordinarily those are five of my favorite words, I had a band practice scheduled for last night — we have a gig in less than two weeks. “What about drumming?”
This was apparently not a typical question, but after a moment’s thought, she advised against it, but added, “If you really have to, then try not to do it too hard.” (As it turned out, we wound up bagging the rehearsal anyway, but at least my head was in the game.)
I was then asked to sit on the “recovery couch” for about 10 minutes, and to eat and drink something. Because I had read that eating salty snacks were a good idea after donation, I went for a small bag of pretzels and some water. I was given a $10 gift card to WalMart, which I gave to the Spawn — the spirit had been willing, even if the iron was a little low, and it was good to have someone to joke with while I was there.I also was asked to pick out a T-shirt, but since they didn’t have any in my size, I let the Spawn get one in her size instead. She had earned one last fall, after all.
So I’m now 1/8 of the way to my own Golden Gallon, and I think I’ll have another go in eight weeks or so. I’m my father’s son, after all.
Happy birthday, Dad.