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Service members bleed for a cause

6 Sep 2013 | Lance Cpl. Paul S. Martinez

Blood, the fluid of our life. It is a fuel on which our bodies rely, yet some people feel compelled to allow it to be pulled from their limbs. A shiny silver needle is dug into the largest vein in their arm, as they are forced to watch the thick red liquid travel through a previously clear plastic tubing, filling up crimson pouches that pump like a raw, beating heart. You might get cold, you might get nauseated, and if it comes to it, you might fall to the floor, unconcious.  

The first time I donated blood, I was a sophomore in high school. At the age of 16, I was the youngest I could be to donate. My motivation? My belief that it was for a good cause. I also had the same thought as the other students; getting pricked with a needle was worth getting out of class. I’m really not a big fan of needles, with the exception of tattoo enthusiasts, I wouldn’t know anyone who is. But truly, the idea of donating blood to those in need, for me, was worth fighting my fear of needles. That day helped teach me to be selfless.

Recently, Desert Blood Services brought their Bloodmobile (cue the Batman theme song) to the parking lot of Fort Sill National Bank for a blood drive. Having donated multiple times in the past, I opted to volunteer. The fact that I would donate right before a weekend meant I wouldn’t have to worry about passing out during physical training the next day.

I left in the morning, after eating a healthy breakfast and drinking plenty of water. As I approached the doors of the Bloodmobile, I wondered to myself how many volunteers would be donating today, and for what reasons.

I was greeted by two blood-services technicians, with four more present, preparing for unsuspecting donors. One Marine lay motionless at a donation station, wearing boots and utilities, almost as if he were running a combat fitness test, if it included a blood-draw portion. He held a silver needle in his arm and a red stress ball in the shape of a heart in hand. He gave me a faint smile, and the thought of asking if he was okay crossed my mind.
After completing the standard paperwork, I sat down with Kenneth Ellison, a donor services specialist with Desert Blood Services, for my initial assessment.

According to Kenneth, a portion of the blood collected from donors aboard the Combat Center goes to Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital, where it is collectively stored for those on base, should they ever need it.

From Kenneth, I also learned a few physiological facts about giving blood.

“(Donating blood) is healthy because it wakes up bone marrow that may be dormant,” Ellison said. “It has to make new blood cells and rejuvenate the iron that you need. It’s almost like oil to a car.”
It was then time to get right to it. Lying in the donation space, the blood technician began her procedure of finding a good vein, disinfecting my skin with an antibacterial wipe and then penetrating my skin my arm with the long, pointy needle.

I’ve always heard doctors say that the needle entering your skin feels like an ant bite. They must be talking about the safari ants of Africa, because I’ve been bitten by normal ants many times and there is definitely a difference between those and a thin, blood-sucking needle.

I squeezed a stress ball and rolled it around between the fingers of my right hand to keep the blood flowing, simply staring at the ceiling throughout the process. If anything, I was just cold, because I could certainly feel the needle, but not pain. Only the thought that I was a volunteer consciously contributing to helping others.

I listened to the beeps of the small machine that was collecting the blood, not knowing what any of them meant until the last one that signaled my completion. One pint of blood had been drawn from my body. One pint of my life force, leaving me like a World of Warcraft character in need of a health potion. I could still walk straight though, so that was good enough.

With a bandaged arm and multiple requirements concerning recovery for the next 24 hours, I went to sit in the rest area for an advised 15 minutes. There I spoke with Lance Cpl. Isaias Favela, an unmanned aerial vehicle maintainer, VMU-1, about his reason for volunteering.

“I try to give blood once a year,” Favela said. “My mother pushes me to do it.”

Like me, Favela donated for the first time when he was a 16-year-old in high school, and also discovered that it was nothing to be afraid of. He too believes it can make a difference.
Ellison said roughly 28 volunteers had shown up this time, which according to him was a “slow drive.” Previous visits have usually accumulated between 30 and 45 donors, with the highest in one drive being 125.

I was also curious to know what reservations would-be donors have when it comes to signing up and donating, other than the fact that our service members are almost always busy.

“Part of people’s hesitation to donate is usually a fear of needles,” said Ellison. “In addition, they usually don’t have the true knowledge of donating, so they fear taking that chance.”

On the plus side, many donors notice the Desert Blood Services message and don’t think twice about it.

“The point we try to push is that the blood of one donor can save up to three lives,” said Ellison. “Blood is always something that is needed. It lasts for 48 days, so it does have to be replenished if not used so that it is available.”

I then left the Bloodmobile holding two things: a tan t-shirt with the words “Oo-rah! I gave blood.” I figured to myself it just had to be motivating. I also held a piece of paper advising me that the next time I will be allowed to donate will be Oct. 18. It didn’t take me long to decide that despite the fact that my body will be “low on fuel” for a while, Desert Blood Services will see me again. I’ll be sure to mark my calendar.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms