November 16, 2020

KEMPFF | Donate Blood During the Pandemic

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I borrowed a car a few days ago and went to a blood drive at the Shops of Ithaca Mall. The Christmas music had already started, and as I wandered around the linoleum tiles of what I assume was once a Gap, I was greeted by the imposing attendant with red frizzy hair and a large, toothy smile.

“First time here?” 

Yes, I’ve never given blood before.

“Really? Well, we can take care of that. You’re a student? We haven’t seen many of those.”

I would think you would see a lot of them. 

“Not so many. We generally see a lot of town people; in Binghamton, where I’m from, we see a good student turnout.”

Blood drives are at the center of the country’s healthcare system. They provide the lifesaving infusions that save thousands each day. Yet, they are in a severe crisis nationwide. A donor downturn may cripple them at a time they’re sorely needed.

The forms are long – filled with dozens of questions about my sexual history and foreign travel. I asked her about the blood. What do they plan to do with it?

“The blood? It doesn’t stay here. We send it away to get cleaned – then they send it to hospitals that need it. You know we’re in the middle of a national blood shortage, and people don’t give blood like they used to. We need more of it. Where are you from?”

Chicago, a city that is nearing a return to our April pandemic hellscape. 

“To be honest, I don’t know much about the national system. But I drive over an hour everyday to come and perform these blood drives in different places around the state. I do all kinds of drives.” 

The COVID regulations are strict — my temperature was taken when I walked in, and again when I sat down at my initial screening. I ask her why she is putting up a plastic guard between me and her. 

“For the finger prick – sometimes it will spurt all over the place. Have you ever pricked your finger before?”

Not that I can remember. A main driver of the current blood conundrum are COVID-19 fears combined with school closures. Schools serve as excellent locations for blood drives, but online instruction has hampered these venues. Tens of thousands of drives have been cancelled since the beginning of the pandemic.

It goes fast, and we get ready for the big reveal. I get a little nervous and ask her a few questions. 

“Is it going to hurt?”

“Only if you’re a chicken.” She then smiles and tells me that it won’t be too bad, but “the needle is bigger than the one at the doctors office.”

I lay down on the table and she examines both my arms. I’m told that the left one looks better — and that I should look away. I tell her I’d rather look. The blood starts coming out quickly, and it looks a lot darker than any cut I’ve ever gotten. I ask if they’ve been busy. 

“No, we haven’t been terribly busy today.” I look at the many makeshift tables around me. The only other occupant is a friendly bald gentleman laying down patiently.

I act surprised when she says we’re done, just a few minutes after I got on. 

“No, it doesn’t take along. Make sure you grab some snacks and drinks on the way out.”

Not only is the drive fast – it is easy to find. Searching redcrossblood.org will display local blood drives you can attend, including three in the Ithaca within the next week. For those of us who are healthy, it’s a quick trip. 

I get handed a coupon book on the way out — five dollars off my next (and very first) Whopper. I exit the former storefront and wander the mall. The Christmas music seems to be playing a little louder, and the storefronts a little brighter. Although Thanksgiving is still around the corner, I can already smell the holidays.

Brendan Kempff is a sophomore in the School of Hotel Administration. He can be reached at bpk43@cornell.edu. Slope Side runs every other Monday this semester.