Martin Elfert donates blood/Contributed photo

Donating blood: Mysterious and sacred


By Martin Elfert

Last Sunday, a number of our church’s members along with a number of our neighbors walked across the church parking lot and climbed on board the Red Cross “Bloodmobile.” We were there (as the Bloodmobile’s name implies) in order to donate blood.

The Bloodmobile is a bus retrofitted with rows of green vinyl beds, hooks in the ceiling for hanging equipment, and drawers full of medical paraphernalia. Your visit to this remarkable vehicle begins when you climb up its steps and a nurse invites you to sit down in a miniscule room near the back. Once you are seated inside the room (imagine a windowless phone booth or, perhaps, the sort of canister that you might lock yourself inside before riding over Niagara Falls), a laptop computer proceeds to ask you startlingly personal questions about your sexual history and whether or not you have been exposed to certain esoteric diseases.

I found the experience of visiting the Bloodmobile odd and fascinating.

It was odd not just because of the nosy laptop (although the laptop’s questions did remind me of playing Truth or Dare in some sad and distant high school basement) but also because of the whole ritual of lying on a bed, on a bus, while a stranger paints iodine on the inside of your elbow and then drains fluid out of your body.

And it was fascinating because I love learning about people’s jobs and about how things work. I admired the camaraderie, compassion, and expertise displayed by the technicians who made our donations happen. And I was captivated by the physical act of blood donation. It didn’t hurt. But, as I rhythmically squeezed a rubber ball and looked at the needle in my arm, I realized that I could actually feel the blood exiting my body.

That is a singular feeling.

My donation complete, I drank some juice and I left the bus. And I suppose that, outside of the vague sense that the other donors and I had been part of doing something good, I didn’t think much more about the experience.

That changed when a friend sent me a photo that she had taken during our visit to the Bloodmobile. In the photo, I am reclining on one of the beds, the needle not yet in my arm. I posted the snapshot to Facebook. And in return, along with a number of “likes” and a few jocular comments, I received the most extraordinary response from my friend and colleague, Becca. Becca’s son, David, now about nine, is a survivor of childhood leukemia.

This is what Becca said about David’s time of treatment:

Our David had more transfusions that I can remember, somewhere between 12 and 25. I lost count. Each one was a mix of people’s blood. It was a mysterious and sacred gift of life every time. Literally saving his life over and over.

And in that instant, I understood what we did together last Sunday in a whole new way.

My wife, Phoebe, says that during the time that she was breastfeeding our first child, she began to hear Jesus’ invitation in the Eucharistic Prayer with fresh ears: Take, eat: This is my body. As I read Becca’s words, I had a similar experience: Drink this all of you: This is my blood.

Last Sunday, we were able to be part of saving the lives of people whom we will most likely never meet. What an unreal and wondrous thing to be able to say. Through the donation of our blood, we gave an extraordinary gift. And, in a way that I can’t quite entirely measure or name, we received an extraordinary gift in return. As Becca says, we got to be part of something mysterious and sacred. On the Bloodmobile, of all places, we found communion.



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