They searched in vein

Although it’s now a few days past Halloween, the subject of ghosts, goblins, gore and blood are still relevant.

The blood bank to which I went to make a deposit fittingly had spooky things on the walls of the Santa Fe donation center, and I even received a scary t-shirt for my effort. Recently, on Facebook, I mentioned the visit to the Capital City and received a reply from Rosalie, a former co-English teacher who asked why I hadn’t simply donated blood in Las Vegas.

I don’t know. If there is such a center in this town, I’m not aware of it, and the Santa Fe center remind me of the TV program “Cheers,” “where everybody knows (my) name.” I can joke with the staff there.

As I entered, two phlebotomists greeted me with “Hi, Art.” I told them I was disappointed: “I expected you to greet me with ‘We’ve come to take your blllllooooooodd.” So they corrected themselves and apologized for having forgotten the Bella Lugosi spiel we all remember from Dracula movies.

I’ve been a blood donor since late last century. I even fashioned a bumper sticker that read, “He who looks for blood looks in vein.” But yet my disclosure is that I can’t stand to look at the process. I avert my eyes when the needle is inserted and I can’t bear to look at the bag that collects what used to be part of me.

And, invariably, when I make that quarterly trip to the Santa Fe clinic, visions of my childhood needling experience start to dance in my head.

Several years ago, I was awakened at about 4 a.m. by the ringing of the phone. The call came from what used to be Northeast Regional Hospital, and the caller said my type of blood was needed urgently for a patient there. I dressed quickly, and on my way, fantasized about the event, the fact that they’d asked me for blood. I imagined a battery of TV cameras and even Dan Rather there to applaud my heroics.

None of those things happened. Instead a tired-looking man with scruffy slippers, without speaking a word, hooked up the equipment. There was no fame attached to my volunteering, but there was a rush I felt in realizing that just maybe I’d helped save a life. I never learned whether the recipients benefitted or whether a procession of other donors had also arrived after I left.

I recently Googled “Benefits of Donating Blood” on my laptop and learned that indeed the donor himself/herself benefits. The perk that interested me most was the statement that donating, especially by men “is an excellent way to get rid of excess iron accumulated in our body.”

But I’ll settle for the good feeling I have after a donation.

• • •

When we were younger, and the threat of typhoid and polio loomed, Mom and Dad scheduled us for a yearly trip to the San Miguel County Courthouse for vaccinations. That meant seven of us in a car borrowed from Dad’s place of work, and a promise of an ice cream sundae afterwards.”

Here I include bits of a column I wrote years ago concerning the ordeal:

“The procedure was from oldest to youngest. We entered the front door of the courthouse, and immediately to the left was an office with the unmistakable smell of rubbing alcohol.

Dolores had to set the example, and no matter how much anguish she may have felt, I always felt comforted by her. The second-oldest, Dorothy, usually got through OK, determined to be as brave as Dolores.

The third in line, Severino, made the procedure insufferable. Regardless of how much it may have hurt him, he had to act as if he’d loved it. His attitude — solely for my benefit — was “I could stand 20 shots a day; in fact, I enjoy them.”

By the time the nurse got to the next-oldest, Bingy, the dam had broken. She would start the waterworks and explain to Mom, who was being very unsympathetic, “I’m not crying because I’m afraid; I’m crying because I want to.”

That meant the “baby of the family” at age 7 or 8, was last. I don’t know whether observing four vaccinations before mine filled me with shock and awe or with “shucks” and “ouch.”

In the time it took to perforate the arms of my siblings and get to me, the otherwise sympathetic nurse had transformed into a prop-man for Dante, a henchman for Hitler, a girlfriend of the Gestapo, an instigator of the Inquisition, a colleague of Caligula, a heartthrob of Atilla the Hun and a sweetheart to Sadaam.

Her previously pale, smooth arms somehow grew tattoos that read “Born to raise hell” and “No pain for you, no fun for me.”

She appeared to back up to get a running start, medication squirting out of the hypodermic by the quart. And the needle took on the size of a garden hose. She reached her target with the skill of a medieval jouster.

I steeled my nerves, determined to show my older brother I could take it. Mom kept uttering reassuring phrases like “There’s nothing to worry about, ‘Jito,” “stop being such a baby,” “nobody ever died of a vaccination” and “I’ll give you a reason to cry.”

But the worst part was the in-your-face attitude of my brother, watching my every expression and praying that I would turn out to be less macho than he.

That would give him an excuse, a kind of chit to cash in any time.

That experience was mitigated by the taste of a caramel sundae Dad bought us. Somehow, Dad never took the trouble to ask which flavor of topping each of us wanted.

One of my siblings muttered, “I don’t care for caramel.” She passed it on to me, which I was just too polite to refuse.

And it’s interesting how much bravado little ones develop ­— as long as the bragging was after the fact.

I just knew I’d survive and that the shot didn’t bother me.

Yeah, right!

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