That's what the letter I got today said. A gallon of blood. Siphoned from my body.
It wasn't lost all at once. It took place over eight separate sessions at the very least. All of it was donated to the American Red Cross, traded for juice, cookies, chips, sandwiches, the occasional shirt and, one time, a bag of homegrown carrots. I might have donated more over my lifetime. I've donated in other regions, and to other organizations, such as the Mississippi Valley Blood Center (funfact: setting up your blood donation center in a mall is a great idea for people in my age group and younger, especially since it equals "free snacks"), but now I officially have lost enough blood to earn myself a pin...
...Despite the fact I am deathly afraid of needles.
My first time attempting to donate didn't go well. I've long admired my father for his continuous donations (my mother has a false positive for a blood-borne disease, and has thus been blacklisted) and when I came of age to donate, I psyched myself up to endure the needle to help others, like those in the hospital where my mother worked. When I was aware someone was about to stab me with metal, I could endure the idea of the ensuing pain well. The actual needle stick never hurts as much as my imagination shares, I convinced myself beforehand rather than witnessing the fact after insertion, and entered the establishment ready to donate.
Then I learned there'd be a fingerstick to ensure my iron levels were high enough for a safe donation.
My mental preparations for a needlestick did not prepare me for a fingerstick, a procedure that my childhood memories told me were unbearably painful, beyond even the eventual inner elbow stab. I refused, wandered outside a bit as my father went through the procedure, convinced myself to go through with it, and returned. That's when I learned that, if I refused, they wouldn't accept me again later that day.
Now, at least, I knew I needed to prepare for two invasive procedures: the blood draw and the needlestick to the finger. The second attempt was a success and taught me a valuable lesson: donate when the location is a church. Instead of just juice and cookies, you can get a full meal and, on one occasion, a bag of carrots from one church member who apparently planted a bumpercrop of the things.
I still have a deathly fear of needles, but only until the insertion. I'm now studying to be a phlebotomist, and I fear the point where we draw each other for practice, even as I've developed track marks from my donations to the Red Cross. I always tell the phlebotomist drawing my blood that I am scared of needles, yet I go through with it anyway, especially with voluntary donations.
To be honest, it's party because I'm attempting to overcome my fear. It's been partly successful. Another part is my experience working in a hospital gives me a new perspective, one different than the tiny child that freaked out at seeing the bags of blood at her mother's workplace, worried she'd be recruited to have her blood taken for those bags.
But I know one of the women working there: the aunt willing to wed the uncle we've nicknamed Uncle Bent. I know the people who test the blood, such as my mother before her retirement. I know the people that transported the blood to the hospital and, as I did, to the people who needed it. Those bags of blood became personal to me and, as a result, they become something to donate towards. I know the care and reverence firsthand, since I was one of those people in the chain between donor and recipient. I don't have a lot of money to help those in need. I don't have a lot of time, with my combination of work, class, and depression.
However, I do have a lot of blood. And maybe, with my gallon of blood, I've helped at least a few people out there.
At the very least, I get a nifty pin.
UPDATE: I have no idea how this ended up in the Community Spotlight, but thank you!