Thank You

St. Roche, patron saint of plague and dogs, early 16th century Normandy, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fully drugged for minimum anxiety, I looked hard at my phone as Candy Crush’s pale sliver grew to a full square.

I was so nervous to give blood. Not to be stuck, I tolerate that, but to think I might think of being drained of what I needed? Or my lingering gulp from when my body panicked at the coldness of an IV?

The medication doesn’t snuff out my anxiety, like benzos would, but puts it in a back room and locks the door, so I know it’s there. While in there, it yells, but it doesn’t try to knock down the door.

I could only be put in this position by a child, my niece, who though she has everything, would also like amusement park tickets. I am for amusement park tickets, but more than that I wanted to show an example of community engagement.

When I left my nieces to go give blood, I said, who’s going to come with me and hold my hand? Silence. “Maybe the dog?”

I was not sure that a dog would be welcome in the school gym with the clean needles and the styrofoam blocks on the walls.

I hadn’t given blood before because of a very secret reason that I hid in shame: I once was very light. I once worried that I might not make the 110 pounds. Middle age and pandemic have helped me with that. I have a new heft which, though frowned upon by society. other times makes me feel like, now I’m here. I’m not a lightweight anymore.

There had been six middle school kids at the door, holding the doors, holding umbrellas, their phones, and bouncing to stay warm, and they all thanked me when I went out to my car to get my phone. “I haven’t done it yet, so don’t thank me,” I said.

“Now you can thank me,” I said later.

Waiting is what really powers my anxiety. I had waited to be called back to check my blood pressure, to have my temperature taken (again), to be stuck on my middle finger and bled a drop.

The woman who performed these checks was humorless and offered no distraction. “This is the day I’m officially fully vaccinated, so that’s kind of cool,” I said. Two minutes later she said, “Have you recently been vaccinated?” “Yes,” I said.

I was approved: temp 98.4, blood pressure numbers she said were “good,” and the stick to my finger apparently gave the go ahead.

I had to wait to be taken to a table.

When I stood up, my name tag stuck to the magazine I’d brought and my Eli was separated from my zabeth. I bent over to pick up my reading glasses, and I thought I do need to wear a tank top under this dress, as when I move certain ways, and then my bra strap fell down and I had to suavely return it to my shoulder.

I had to wait while on the table.

When the first tech saw my left vein, she said, we need to try the right.

Once she had the tourniquet on my right arm, she said, “Could you tilt your wrist?” I could. “Could you squeeze the ball but not move your arm?” I kind of couldn’t carry out instructions, as my nerves distracted me, and I had never isolated these various muscles before, and also, I had a tourniquet on my upper arm.

“Can you look at this?” she called.

A second tech examined my apparently subpar vein.

“I’m going to ask someone else to do this,” she said.

I waited. I attempted to climb back onto the Candy Crush horse, in its beginner levels an easy hop up and on. Using only my left hand, as my right arm waited to be used, it was trickier.

I had the magazine, where gods and goddesses deigned to be photographed in their natural beauty, rather than their painted beauty. Candy Crush was better, though. One had to act.

A third tech came over, and blessed be her, as she had some humor and felt like chatting with me about how a much larger needle was needed for giving blood, as opposed to having blood taken for testing. This knowledge would have probably driven someone else over the edge, but I wasn’t nervous about being poked. I was nervous about the life force draining out of me, I guess. Or feeling lightheaded. What did that feel like anyway? Lightheaded? Any feeling except a panic attack is a feeling I now imagine I can tolerate.

But what if I swooned, or fell? The fear of falling.

The third tech warned me, I looked away, and after all this time, finally, I was stabbed, and it was going.

“You’ve got a great flow,” she said. “You could be done in six minutes.”

I squeezed the shit out of that ball because I was now late to get back to my nieces.

I Candy Crushed, moved my candies into lines, swapped their spots, worked for the sprinkle donuts, kept my mind engaged. I hadn’t used Candy Crush for this since I was on the subway, in my previous life. Candy Crush was an important tool in surviving subway odysseys.

“You’re done,” she said. It took her a minute to unhook me. Did I feel lightheaded? Did I feel strange? Anxiety made me feel pointed and tight and faded, so who knows if I felt anything from giving blood.

Until I had panic attacks, I prided myself on being a great patient. Healthy and compliant, unafraid of what doctors would do to me. My appendix went bad when I was in first grade, and my overall feeling about the whole experience, including having my appendix burst its poison throughout my body, was feeling relieved because I knew for sure that doctors and nurses could and would fix me.

They did.

My niece was emotionally invested in what snacks I took. Three middle school girls sat at a table. I wavered between chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter cookies. And gummies, one girl said, don’t you want gummies? I did not.

Two weeks exactly from my second vaccination, now cleared. My body had spent weeks learning lessons from a tiny vial of fluid: if you see this, do that. If you see this, do that. We won’t tolerate so-and-so in here. If you see ’em, aim and fire.

My body is inhospitable to covid-19. As a thank you, I let go blood that others might need. My A plus blood. Blood of someone healthy and approved to give. Healthy, educated body, generally well cared for and well made, and most importantly, lucky.

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