"Stand clear of the closing doors, please."
It's rush hour in the New York City subway station, which means adults and students alike are trying desperately to squeeze into my jam-packed subway car. A sweaty woman presses against my side as I grip the pole above me, standing my ground to avoid squishing my friend. The woman jostles me again, and I'm forced to switch my grip on the pole to my other arm. My sleeve falls away with this new position, revealing the blue bandage on my arm from donating blood earlier in the day. The train finally pulls away from Junction Boulevard, and I exchange an equally exasperated and relieved look with my friend.
I'm no stranger to the discomfort of standing on a train for hours at a time, so the wave of dizziness that hits me after just 10 minutes of standing takes me by surprise. I feel myself swaying and grope blindly for another pole, to no avail. Dark spots fill my vision and blood rushes in my ears — "Jane, I feel really lightheaded" — before I feel myself falling and lose consciousness completely.
When I think about my first time donating blood, passing out on a subway car is all I remember. I first donated blood during my senior year of high school, as my school was having a blood drive that was convenient during my double period physics class. Admittedly, my primary motivation for participating in the drive was to get out of physics, the fact that my blood could save lives was just a bonus. I've never been particularly fond of needles, but I figured I could brave the experience just this once.
The actual process of donating blood was painless, both literally and figuratively. After filling out a screening to determine my eligibility to donate, I sat with a healthcare provider for a physical exam. I remember, with some embarrassment, having to sit outside the classroom for half an hour because my heart rate exceeded the normal range. The provider stifled a laugh as she assured me that plenty of donors were nervous before donating. I just had to calm myself before completing the exam. Once I was in the chair and ready to donate, a nurse had me squeeze a roll of toilet paper to facilitate the process. I was done within 10 minutes. I grabbed a cookie on my way out of the room, my good deed done for the day.
Fast forward to that moment on the train. After such an easy experience, how had I, in a matter of hours, become the victim? When I came to, I was slumped in a subway seat, my friend staring down at me with wide eyes. Nearby strap-hangers gazed curiously at me as I reached for my water bottle and took several rejuvenating gulps.
"What happened?" I croaked out.
My friend filled me in on my brief fainting episode, informing me that I'd only been out for a minute and that other subway riders had helped to stabilize me, one had even given up their seat so that I could regain my strength. I remember feeling both shock and gratitude as I thanked the people nearby and inwardly cursed myself for not snacking enough and ignoring my fatigue. I kept my head down for the rest of the trip, feeling too ashamed to make conversation with my friend.
At the moment, I'm sure I swore never to donate blood again. The embarrassment I felt at passing out in front of all those strangers — probably looking like a rookie subway rider — trumped any sense of responsibility I felt to save lives. It was only when I got home and really thought about the experience that I realized why I should go in the opposite direction — not refuse to donate blood, but rather become a regular blood donor.
It had taken not even two hours for me to turn from a donor — someone who could help save lives — into a victim. The humiliation of my fainting episode and the fear I felt as I regained consciousness couldn't even compare to the feelings of someone who was gravely injured and in need of blood. Being in that position and losing control of my body put things into perspective, after all, what was a needle in the face of helping those in need?
Needless to say, I signed up as a regular blood donor that night.