Essay: Eric Metcalf on Donating Blood
Interview: Eric Metcalf, Sound Medicine essayist
This essay originally aired June 6, 2010.
I don't do a whole lot to make the world a better place. The thing is, if you pitch in to make the world a better place one time, then the world will have your phone number, and then it starts calling you for more help, and where does it stop?
However, on several occasions, when the guilt over not making the world a better place has bothered me, I've given blood. This type of altruism is more appealing to me. I can send my pint of blood out into the world in my place as an ambassador. It takes very little time, it's easier to do than picking up trash along a river, and it can actually save someone's life.
Unfortunately, the last time I gave blood, I made the mistake of looking at the needle before it went in. I realized that it appeared big enough to look through, like a telescope. And through that telescope, I could see clearly that I'd rather pick up a hammer and build an entire house for Habitat for Humanity than have that thing stuck into my arm.
Giving blood is a type of volunteerism that affects you in a uniquely personal way. It is quick and easy, but really: Someone is sticking a needle into your arm and removing about 10 percent of your blood. It's nowhere near the sacrifice of giving a kidney, or even bone marrow, but losing a pint of blood in any other situation would be a worrisome event.
About 10 million people donate each year, but demand is growing faster than the supply. I've wondered what the future holds for the concept of blood donation, and whether some type of compensation would be helpful in case the public ever loses interest in donating. After all, your blood, when given to someone else, is a pricey medical treatment. And Americans can appreciate the economics of supply and demand. Why shouldn't donors get something more in return than some juice and a sticker?
Obviously, you don't want to give people cash for donating blood: It gives them an incentive to donate even if they have a disease. And people who do it for benevolent purposes might lose their reason to give if money were to taint the relationship.
A few weeks ago, a bloodmobile visited my church, and I was finally coaxed into parting with a pint. Why? Well, I'm trying to be a better citizen of this world. More importantly, the blood center offered to test my cholesterol, which hadn't been checked in years. Now my red blood cells will be zipping around in someone else's veins. And I know that my total cholesterol is 154, and I could maybe stand to eat less corn chips and cheese dip.
Given the rising number of people without health insurance these days, blood centers might boost their donations by offering a few more free screenings. You help improve someone else's health, and you get a chance to improve your own. It's a win-win. That being said, though, I'd recommend that you not look too closely at the needle.
You can find other pieces by Eric Metcalf at our website: soundmedicine.iu.edu.
To make sure you don't miss a show, sign up for the free weekly Sound Medicine podcast.