Saturday, January 19, 2013

Need a Hero?

Even when I read comic books as a kid, I was never obsessed with the Avengers. Their comics were just something to pass the time while I waited for the next issue of Uncanny X-Men. Yet here we are.

About once a week, I curl up on the couch with a mug of hot tea and a cat in my lap and I watch The Avengers. I’m not tired of it yet. I still laugh at the funny bits. I still sniffle when a certain lovable SHIELD agent dies.

Obviously, something is missing from my spiritual diet.

See, nutritionists say we crave the things our bodies are missing. Like, you crave sweets when you’re not getting enough calories, or you crave oranges when you need more vitamin C.

At least, I think that’s right… I’ve never actually craved an orange before. It would be easier if I craved something as healthy as oranges. I crave sweets all the time though. Even if I’ve just eaten. Even if the thing I’ve just eaten is ice cream. Generally, what I crave is more ice cream.

Anyway, the theory is that I keep watching The Avengers because it’s fulfilling a need that is otherwise missing from my life. What is my brain trying to get from this movie, I wondered?

Do I need to stand for truth and old-fashioned values, like Captain America?
Do I need to “strut” and release bottled feelings as Tony Stark advised Bruce Banner to do?
Am I merely suffering from an abhorrent lack of mech-style body armor?
Do I need a hero, like the Bonnie Tyler song says?
Do I need to be more heroic?


That’s how I found myself seriously considering the earnest woman in front of me, soliciting volunteers for the Red Cross Blood Drive.

“You don’t need a cape to be a hero!” the pamphlet said.

“This is where, now?” I asked.

“We’ll be right here at the library. You wouldn’t even have to leave work!” She smiled in that way the puppies at the shelter smile, full of hope and enthusiasm.

“Okay,” I said, taking the offered clipboard and signing my name.


I wasn’t overly concerned in the weeks before my appointment. Sure, I’d never donated blood before, but this was me being brave! I’d be a hero, maybe save a life, and then I’d get a cookie and go home and watch The Avengers again. It was a win-win-win situation.

However, I grew more cowardly as the day of the blood drive approached.

“You’re giving blood, huh?” said a library patron when I mentioned it the day before. “I’ve tried that a few times. I always pass out, though.”

“Really?” I asked, horrified.

“Right to the floor.”

“Have you ever passed out after giving blood?” I asked a friend.

“No,” she said.

I sighed in relief.

“But this one time the guy next to me did.”

My spirits fell.

“Just don’t look,” said Carla, a former nurse. “It doesn’t hurt that bad when they stick you but there’s just something about watching your own blood draining out…” She shuddered, and so did I.

“What if I pass out?” I asked Matt later.

“Just move slowly afterwards and eat the cookie they give you,” he said.

“Yeah, but what if I pass out?”

He sighed and left the room.


I worried about it all day. Was I well rested enough? Had I drunk enough fluids? Did I eat enough iron?

Also, what if I pass out?

When I got off work at five, I walked down the hall to the library’s gallery, where the equipment was already set up. The woman with the happy-puppy smile greeted me at the door. “It’s so great that you could come!” She handed me four laminated sheets of single spaced tiny type. “Just read over these information sheets before we get started.”

The sheets went on at length about the various circumstances that would disqualify one from giving blood. “Does anyone actually qualify as a donor?” I asked.

The woman laughed. “It’s long, isn’t it? I’ll just take those back from you, then. Head on inside.”

A nurse with a lily tattoo led me to a laptop. “I’m going to take your blood pressure, screen your iron levels – that’s just a prick on your finger – and then I’ll have you do a questionnaire before we get started.”

As she spoke, I watched an older nurse assist a woman on a stretcher as a tube from her arm drained red into an exceptionally large pouch. That’s a lot of blood, I thought. Is it too late to leave?

“Your iron levels are great!” said nurse Lily, turning the laptop toward me. “Let me know when you’re done.”

It’s probably too late to leave.

I read through the questions, asking if I’d ever taken medications I’d never heard of, traveled to countries I’d never heard of, or slept with anyone who didn’t have the good sense not to also sleep with livestock.

When I finished, nurse Lily patted the stretcher. “Hop up and have a seat. We’ll get started.”

I tried to keep the trepidation from my face as she strapped a band around my upper left arm and poked thoughtfully at my inner elbow with her fingers. A line of concentration appeared between her eyebrows. “Do you mind if I look at the other arm?” she said.

“Okay?” I said, uncertainly.

The poking commenced on the other side. “Hmm,” said nurse Lily. “I’ll just check the left one again.” She strapped the band in place, waving for the other nurse. “Will you have a look at this?”

The old nurse I’d watched earlier came over and stared at my arm. “Make a fist for me,” she said, poking. “Now let it go.” More poking. “Now pump this stress ball.” Poking.

The nurses looked at each other. “Let’s see the right one,” the old nurse said.

After repeating the whole process, the old nurse patted my shoulder. “Maybe next time,” she said, not unkindly.

“Thanks for trying,” said nurse Lily. 

“Wait, that’s it?” I said.

“We can’t do it if we can’t find a vein.”

“I just had blood drawn for a test a week ago. I know they’re in there!”

She smiled, but her eyes were mischievous. Digging in a box on the table beside her, she said, “When they drew blood for your test, did they use a needle that looked like this?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “That’s the one.”

“Okay,” she said, digging out another. “But when you donate blood, we use this needle.”

I stared at the thick spike in her hand. I could have used it as a coffee straw. “Probably best not to go digging around with that, then,” I said.

“Probably not,” she agreed.


“How’d it go?” Matt asked later.

“I have no veins!” I said. “I’m a zombie! I’ve died and nobody told me!”

“Could you maybe back up and start again?”

I explained the situation to him.

“Okay,” he said, mulling it over. “But at least you didn’t pass out.”

I grumbled.

He pulled me in for a hug. “I think you were very brave for trying,” he said.

And maybe I was, a little. But I’ll probably spend my weekend watching The Avengers again.

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