By Andy Young
I’d love to say I made my initial donation at a Red Cross blood drive solely out of altruism.
But I can’t.
The actual reason I gave up a pint of red body fluid that first time was because it was the only way I could get my friend Mike to stop calling me a baby who was afraid of needles, an insult I was particularly sensitive to because it was true.
In retrospect, I’m glad I yielded to Mike’s peer pressure. The physical pain involved in blood donation is minimal compared to the indescribably gratifying feeling one derives from helping others and doing so at no financial cost whatsoever. I’ve been donating regularly ever since then, except for a period when some medication I was taking rendered me temporarily ineligible to do so.
Then about 10 years ago someone from the Red Cross contacted me about donating platelets.
It seems that for those of us with type A-positive blood, our platelets are more valuable to the medical community than our whole blood is. There’s also an efficiency factor involved, since healthy donors can contribute platelets 24 times over a 12-month period, whereas the maximum number of times a person can give whole blood in a calendar year is six.
What exactly are platelets? Well, according to hopkinsmedicine.org (and more specifically Dr. Marlene Stephanie Williams, M.D.), “platelets are the cells that circulate within our blood and bind together when they recognize damaged blood vessels. When you get a cut, for example, the platelets bind to the site of the damaged vessel, thereby causing a blood clot. There’s an evolutionary reason why they’re there. It’s to stop us from bleeding.” These tiny protoplasmic bodies are, it seems, of particular value to cancer patients, whose blood often needs help clotting.
All this reflecting takes me back to my youth, when my parents, grandparents, and every other influential adult in my life felt the need (particularly around the holidays) to remind me and my siblings that it was better to give than to receive. I had a hard time grasping that message back then, since the anticipation of all the cool stuff I might be getting for Christmas or my birthday was a good deal more exciting than the prospect of presenting my brother with a plastic truck I spent 59 cents for, or the mini-screwdriver I was going to give Uncle Eddie to put on his keychain.
I figured the whole “tis better to give….” thing was a quip initially uttered by some noted wit like Ben Franklin or Will Rogers, but it turns out its originator was some fellow named Jesus of Nazareth, who the Bible (Acts 20:35) quotes as saying “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
As I’ve aged (I was going to say, “as I’ve matured,” but why lie?) I’ve grown to better understand the inherent rewards of giving, but I still love receiving certain intangible things (affirmation from loved ones and random kindnesses, to name two) today just as much as I treasured the baseball cards, basketballs, and various other material items I was gifted with as a child.
Certain wonderful things in life are impossible to compare. Is apple pie tastier than carrot cake? Was Michael Jordan better at basketball than Bill Russell? Is Paris more beautiful than Bora Bora?
I still can’t say categorically that I prefer giving to getting. But for my birthday this weekend I’m going to make another platelet donation, on the theory that neither bestowing nor receiving can hold a candle to doing both things simultaneously. <