Even as a longtime fainter, I can still donate blood

I come from a line of fainters, at least that has been my life-long story. My maternal grandfather was a fainter, according to my mom. I think it was he that convinced my mom of men’s propensity to pass out.

My mom told me more than once growing up that if men were the child-bearers, humans would be extinct. She told me stories about watching men in the military faint when they were given inoculations.

In elementary school during a dodgeball game, I made the mistake of attempting to catch a ball thrown by one of the school’s best athletes. My prize was a jammed thumb. The sight of it, bent and swollen like it was a part of my palm, landed me in the school nurse’s office. Through my state of half consciousness, I heard the nurse telling my mom she’d better come retrieve me while I was still semi-ambulatory. 

Riding my bike down a hill with my hands off the handlebars got me tossed onto the concrete resulting in a bloody mess, but no broken bones. I don’t remember much about the aftermath except my friend’s mom loading me in the back of her car to deliver my sorry self home.

Seeing my own blood usually got me feeling woozy. On more than one occasion while having blood drawn for routine medical tests, I have passed out. The most memorable time was at the old St. Joseph Hospital in downtown Mishawaka. The draw was done with me seated at an old wooden school chair with a built-in desktop.

As the nurse stuck me with the needle, the last words I remember hearing as my forehead went down onto the tabletop were, “Are you OK?” When I came to, I was on a gurney in a dark and empty hospital room with no one else present. It seemed very much like a near-death experience. 

So when a friend of mine started to encourage me to donate blood around ten years ago, I declined. How could a person like me, who couldn’t stay conscious during a small blood draw of blood, endure a pint blood donation? Of course, I was embarrassed to admit I was a fainter, so I attributed my reluctance to my heredity.

My good friend kept gently nudging me to try. And so at age 50, I donated blood for the first time. I have since donated 26 times, without passing out once.

For those of you who have not donated blood before, here are some facts from the Department of Health and Human Services. Thirty-seven percent of the United States population is eligible to donate blood. Only ten percent donate annually. One pint of blood can save up to three lives. Every year, four and a half million Americans need a blood transfusion. Blood donors are volunteers and are not paid for their donations (although sometimes there is a turkey or hoodie giveaway).

The donation process takes about an hour. The draw itself takes about 10 to 15 minutes. The rest of the time is for a pre-screening questionnaire, a blood pressure check, and then a brief wait after the donation to make certain you are fit to go.

I have donated at South Bend Medical Foundation sites in South Bend and Mishawaka and at Grace United Methodist Church, which sponsors five to six blood drives a year. During the worst of the coronavirus, I donated in the bloodmobile. 

Many of the people I encounter at these events are older than I am and have been giving for decades. Some have donated close to 100 times. My friend who strongly encouraged me to try donating died last October. He was a retired physician who donated blood well into his nineties. 

I confess to feeling a little lightheaded sometimes after donating blood. After all, fainting is in my lineage and I am a male. My depleted state gives me a good excuse to take it easy for a day. The lawn mowing can wait.

There are thousands of people who can’t wait for a blood transfusion. I hope my experience will encourage others who haven’t ever tried or haven’t donated in a while to donate blood. I can attest to its life saving power.