Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on January 16, 2018. It can also be found online here.
Two seconds. One, two. Every second second.
That’s how often blood is needed each day in the United States, according to the American Red Cross.
One car accident victim can require as much as 100 pints, and the American Cancer Society tells us that of the nearly 1.7 million people who’ll receive a cancer diagnosis this year, many will need blood, even daily, during chemotherapy.
But while roughly 40 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood at a given time, less than 10 percent do every year. And since blood can’t be manufactured or created in a lab, it’d be good if we better understood what gets people to give.
The Red Cross tell us the top reason donors say they give a pint (of the 10 pints of blood the average person has in their body) is they “want to help others.”
The top two reasons people don’t give blood: “I don’t like needles” and they “never thought about it.”
I do think about it. Blood, that is. As a military officer, I’m well acquainted with the ugly reality of soldiers bleeding out, and when something cuts that close to the bone, you never forget.
But it goes deeper than that. All the way back to my childhood. My Dad took me when he gave blood.
I don’t remember much, but I recall him rolling up his shirtsleeve and the yellow iodine rub and the post-donation bandage. And the stickers, of course, the ones that said, “Be Nice To Me, I Gave Blood Today.”
So I have a solid personal foundation for blood donation. I’m conditioned, but of course there are other good reasons to give.
There’s the spirit of contributing to society. In 1910, William James wondered whether humanity could find a “moral equivalent of war,” lamenting that “so far, war has been the only force that can discipline a whole community.” He hoped for a society with a strong “civic temper,” independent of conflict, where flourished “an atmosphere of service and cooperation and of infinitely more honorable emulations.”
To donate blood falls into this tradition.
There’s religious inspiration. Pope Francis, in his recent New Year’s Eve message, exhorted the world’s people to be “the artisan of the common good” through day-to-day actions that “express concretely love for the city” they live in.
He described the things we typically overlook, including driving safely and mindfully, as ways we could contribute to a better society, and to spill one’s blood for the good of another certainly falls into the spirit of his remarks.
Whether it was my life’s experiences, civic impulse, or lofty inspiration, I’m not sure precisely what it was that motivated me to do it, but last week I called the local Red Cross. They referred me to the Penrose-St. Francis Blood Bank, just north of downtown Colorado Springs, where I set up an appointment. The whole thing took about 45 minutes, which is likely a bit longer when it’s busier.
I brought my two daughters, who are ages 6 and 3, and explained what was to come. Likely because they understood the importance of the procedure, they settled into slightly better behavior than the norm.
When I was on the table and nearly done, my younger daughter came over to the table and touched my non-needled arm and asked, “Daddy, do you have any blood left?”
I told her I did, and reminded her that’s not necessarily true for other people. That they’d just take a tiny bit from me to give to other people that needed it.
And, young as they are, they understood.
That’s what made every drop worth it.
While there are a number of solid reasons to choose from, the most important being helping another person in need – I think the lesson for my kids stands out most in my mind as a motivation. So they’d know that’s what we do; we help others that need helping. We give of ourselves, whenever we can, sometimes literally. And we do it again and again.
When it was all done, they grasped what happened and felt good about the experience. They enjoyed the after-donation snacks, including the juice boxes. The thing they loved the most? The sticker that said “Future Blood Donor.”