And Life Blood Today at Mem Hall
LOOKING for a new experience? Always check out University Hall first to see if it is being occupied-but then, if the scene there is quiet go to Mem Hall and try giving blood. My blood debut came last week. and it booked me on becoming a regular donor.
Imagine a room full of women trying their hardest to act the way your older sister, mother, or grandmother would act on their best behavior. After I filled out an application, a Harvard faculty wife took my temperature with the slowest thermometer in the world. Every five minutes she checked to see if my temperature had climbed up to 98,6. With an embarrassed smile. she kept putting the thermometer back in my mouth until I finally reached 97,8. The man sitting next to me had been told to "warm up" for 15 minutes when he could not push his first temperature reading above 96.
At the next stage dozens of donors were waiting to be screened by four or five nurses. There was no line. Instead, people just sat spaced out in two long rows until they felt they had really waited their turn. I did some light reading and struck up a conversation with the man who had been warming up. He told me how he missed his blood appointment that morning and had skipped lunch "to get this over with." He said he was an old pro at giving blood, and had once given two pints within three weeks. After he described in detail his career as a Harvard administrator. I felt we had talked long enough: I decided it was my turn.
The nurse who screened me took my blood pressure and then my pulse, which was racing about at 112 beats per minute. She told me that she would complete the screening but would have to "defer" me unless my pulse fell below 100. Meanwhile. a guy with a slow pulse stood up and started doing jumping jacks. My nurse took blood from my car and dropped it into copper sulfate to see whether I was anemic. Then she asked me 30 questions, including "Have you been exposed to malaria?" When I said I was unsure she told me people who go to Vietnam must flirt with this danger. I said I might know more about that in two years because my number is 132.
My second pulse reading fell to 92 and I was all set for the big moment. A nice old lady escorted me to a green medical bed and told me to lie. down. Then a nurse came over and we introduced ourselves. She was Mrs. Gibson and said that as a Red Cross nurse the only work she does is to travel around Eastern Massachusetts drawing blood. Mrs. Gibson took my right arm and painted it with alcohol. some copper-looking stuff, and then some more alcohol. I asked her to "tell me when." She put a wooden cylinder in my hand. said "now," and got to work. My hand clenched into a fist and then relaxed. Mrs. Gibson said, "There now, the pain's all over. You hurt yourself more than that 20 times a day. Right?"
WHILE I was lying there flat on my back there was plenty to keep me busy. I noticed they put white paper cloths over the legs of all the girls, presumably to keep the men of Harvard from looking up their skirts. My mistake was to look at the tubing apparatus. What a nice dark red tube they have going from my arm. I thought. Then I realized that was my blood. As I thought of that red stream flowing out of me. I felt just the slightest bit uneasy. But then I concentrated on the song WRKO was playing in the background. And I heard Mrs. Gibson refer to me as "the boy with the big smile" as she pointed me out to the nurse who was relieving her.
After ten minutes of actual blood giving, the other nurse began closing off valves and unhooking me. She put a wad of cotton and a super-sized bandaid over the puncture. Then the nurse told me to sit up slowly and wait for an escort. A nice old lady wearing a volunteer's blue orderly coat escorted me arm-in-arm over to "the canteen." I was seated at a table and told to stay there at least 15 minutes to rest and eat crackers, cookies, and have something to drink (coffee, Coke, or Seven-Up). The wives of some big Harvard men were in the canteen serving us, including Mrs. Farnsworth, Mrs. Dorfman, and some wives of senior members of the Physics Department.
A girl across the table told me how the nurses gave her "a double arm." The first nurse missed her vein so another nurse tried her luck on the other arm. The guy next to me said he was giving blood to protest the war. I did not have any pat answer explaining my reasons, but part of it was because giving blood is like giving money to charity-except it gets under your skin a lot more.