Red Cross Calling for Blood

The summer droughts aren't limited to water. We're also amid the blood shortage of the century. 

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flickr/DerekPurdy

Envision a massive balloon full of blood -- big enough to cover half of the country. Let's say that balloon represents the amount of blood that the American Red Cross usually has. Then imagine that same balloon, but with much less blood in it. Alternatively, the balloon could be full, but it's much smaller. Smaller than it's been in 15 years. That's how little blood The Red Cross has right now.

The goal is to get the figurative balloon large/full enough that when they pop it, there will be enough blood for everyone.

It's very simple to give your blood. They first take you into a trailer or van, where a phlebotomist will cleanse you with alcohol swabs. Then they get a needle and tie a rubber cord around your arm lightly, with gentle hands. They tap on your veins in just the right place. Sometimes they'll say that you have "nice veins," but don't get self-conscious or anything if they don't. Before you know it, the hot, red blood is flowing out of you and into a plastic bag.

They will give you cookies or juice, especially if you say you say you might pass out or that the lights appear to be flickering. When they've got enough of your blood, they disconnect you from the tubes, put the needle in a special box so no one will ever see or touch it, and put a sticker on you so everyone knows what you've done.

Just weeks ago, your bone marrow made that blood for you. But you decided to go into the trailer and give it away? Don't worry about it. If any part of you truly understands the depth of your generous character, it is your bone marrow. The core of your being. It will make more blood for you in short order, even while you're asleep. You won't even notice.

***

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When the Red Cross is having a blood crisis, we're all having a blood crisis. To the point that hospitals might have to start canceling some surgeries.

Why?

We're not giving them enough blood, and the Red Cross's best guess is that it's because people are on vacation, and it's been hot and droughty. "Too hot to give blood," as the adage goes? More like, "Cool down, get that hot blood out of you, friend."

Help them fill the giant blood balloon, if you will.

If you would like to give your blood to them, which you should, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or go to RedCrossBlood.org, where you can also read Blood Facts

Hey, Blood Fact: A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood. See? You can say to friends, "Blood Fact!" and before they can even ask "What?" you can drop a blood fact on them. Talk about making a name for yourself!

***

Keep in mind that they won't be able to use your blood if you're pregnant or have recently gotten an unregulated tattoo or questionable piercing. The concern (with the last two) is that you might have hepatitis. 

While we're at it: if you've gotten a tattoo in one of the 18 states that doesn't regulate tattoo parlors, or if you've gotten any body piercing in a strange or dirty establishment, consider getting tested for hepatitis. While you're waiting for the test results you can write to your state legislators and say, "Hey, what's the deal with the unregulated tattoo parlors?"


Blood Fact: Adults have about 10 pints of blood (in them). About 1 pint is given during donation.

Blood Fact: The Red Cross supplies blood for half of the country.

Blood Fact: A healthy donor may donate red blood cells every 56 days.

Blood Fact: People need your blood.


[embedded photo: flickr/rhysasplundh]




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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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