Donate blood, eat a ham sandwich

If it weren?t for the Red Cross, America would never meet its annual quota for consumed ham sandwiches. And you can help.

While at the Tulsa mall during spring break, I visited the blood drive I saw near the entrance while wife Hanna got a haircut.

It seemed more productive than sitting at the salon flipping through Clinton-era stylebooks.

Donating blood has been a hobby for me since my sophomore year of high school when the FFA kids hosted a drive in the gym. A cotton ball taped to my inner elbow?or ?anicubital space??was my substitute badge of courage since I was the pasty guy who never tried out for football.

Before that, though, the idea of giving blood brought to mind images of Dracula. Maybe it does for you, too. Well, as an experienced victim, er, veteran, let me explain how it really works.

After a Red Cross representative calls you for the fifth time, you will finally set up an appointment to attend your community?s next blood drive.

When you arrive, you will be handed a packet of laminated information that explains that if you have taken any sort of medication including Tums while in Europe with a shared needle??even once??you are not eligible to even be in the same room as people who are giving blood.

After reading the packet, you will wait in line for 20 minutes, occasionally scootching over a chair as the people before you are taken into the Ring of Privacy.

The Ring of Privacy, you will find, is actually a small collection of portable dividers that only offers privacy from certain angles.

There, a Red Cross person will quiz you about your birthday, Social Security number, phone number, ACT number and any lotto numbers you might be holding onto.

If you manage to remember all that, they will prick your finger to test your iron level. I set mine to medium-high for dress shirts.

After this, you will be left alone with a touch-screen laptop to answer questions regarding the laminated information packet.

When cleared for take-out, a Red Cross person will escort you to an elevated beach chair, where he or she will ask you to extend your forearms so that they can thump them good and hard. This irritates the blood vessels, which brings them closer to the surface.

Once a suitable vein is located, its path will be marked with a permanent marker.

It is very important that you do not rotate, bend or otherwise move your arm once marked. Blood vessels move around, and if the location changes the Red Cross person will revert to a whack-a-mole technique when locating your vein with the needle.

The Red Cross person will then sterilize your forearm with a sticky brown gel, during which he or she will casually ask if you are allergic to iodine.

I?m not exactly sure what happens next, because this is the part when I start closing my eyes. Experience tells me that this is when?cue the ?Jaws? theme?the Red Cross person finds the needle. But rest assured, it doesn?t hurt at all.

Then the Red Cross person inserts the needle into your anicubital space. This hurts.

You will spend the next 10 minutes or so squeezing a heart-shaped stress ball, but you are otherwise free to relax and enjoy the kaleidoscope patterns created by the floating sparks and spinning ceiling tiles above your head. You might also take this opportunity to commence nausea and feel your extremities grow numb. But whatever you do, do not close your eyes. This is the international signal for unconsciousness and will instantly promote you to being the most popular person in the room.

Don?t worry. This experience of discomfort is only caused by the fact that the important red fluid that you work so hard to keep inside your body is now flowing out of your body and into a transparent plastic baggy because you volunteered for it to.

The reward, however, is knowing that your generosity and general lightheadedness gives somebody somewhere the lifesaving gift of your blood. Really, it?s a small sacrifice of time and?occasionally?comfort that gives me the satisfaction of knowing I?ve helped a stranger in a unique and personal way.

If you?ve given before, keep it up. My conversations with Red Cross personnel confirm that they value our contributions.

And if you haven?t, I?d encourage to you try it out. The worst that can happen is getting to the ham sandwich table a little quicker than expected.

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