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Gristmill: Drained

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 17:29
A sailor enjoying refreshments after donating blood at an American Red Cross center in Washington, D.C., in 1943.
Ann Rosener / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

It was a blow. There I was, sitting in my car dutifully checking messages on my phone after having given blood at the Sag Harbor Firehouse, when through the windshield did I spy a four-foot cardboard box unmistakably transporting through a back door the deliciousness of a giant submarine sandwich to parcel out to the freshly pricked and bandaged.

It was 11:30 a.m. I’d mistimed it.

I enjoy a bag of kettle-cooked potato chips washed down with cranberry juice as much as the next guy, but when you’ve just been drained of a pint, the traditional blood drive wedge of hero is one of life’s great pleasures. Preferably Italian, with the sodium-savory of the various luncheon meats cut by the crisp shredded lettuce and leavened by the cool of tomato.

To say nothing of the contemplative downtime spent at one of the tables set up on the linoleum midway between those supine and hooked up to centrifugal bagging contraptions and those patiently waiting their turns. You’re there communally, and yet apart, like a group of natural disaster survivors thrown together by the Red Cross. You’ve been through it.

And being forced to sit and do nothing at all but eat, drink, and stare off into the middle distance is more refreshing than the blood pros might guess — it’s mentally, even spiritually, rejuvenating.

Not to overstate it, but as the civic life of the nation continues to deteriorate, it is humbly submitted that these drives stand as an exception. And if that is an overstatement, then they’re recommended simply for the entertainment value of the New York Blood Center workers, who have the loose bearing and bonhomie of those who know they’re doing some good in the world.

Amid the running gags over checking personal email versus work email while on the job — “It’s all Outlook, what’s the difference?” — or over length of service — “My mother threw me in the back of the blood truck when I was 2!” — this donor did feel bad that his game face in anticipation of the plunged needle prompted his friendly tech to utter, “I have to remind myself that people react that way to the needle, not to me.”

My apologies. Especially because any junkie will tell you of the painlessness. The finger stick of the iron test is oddly worse. 

But we got to talking when the speed with which I’d filled the bag prompted “That’s a good vein.” Having noticed a few years ago that it took me only five minutes flat, I inquired of the fastest she’d seen.

“This food service worker in Greenport. She made the cheeseburgers there.” At the high school, I gathered. “They were good, too, we were happy to have them.”

“Four and a half minutes. She wasn’t young, either.”

All hail the lunch lady.

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