Joel Long

How We Are: Donating Platelets During Lockdown

Memorial Day, I go to the American Red Cross to donate platelets the fourth time in the pandemic. I am AB positive, so they always want my platelets. I figured, with the pandemic, they must need volunteers even more, so I keep making appointments every three weeks, every two. The protocols have become more severe. Last time, they check my temperature at the door, flash a reader on my forehead. The masked receptionist gives me a mask to replace my bandana, asks me to sit in a chair, three chairs from anyone, and wait. The phlebotomist takes me to a cubicle, checks my temperature again, the sheathed monitor in my mouth beneath the lowered mask. She pricks my middle finger, pearl of blood, to check my hemoglobin count, takes my pulse, blood pressure.

I find my chair in the main room and wait for a pillow and blanket. I want some comfort. After sterilizing my arm, thirty circles with a cold swab, the rookie phlebotomist inserts the first needle with ease, a needle in softened butter; I think, she’s good. The second needle in my left arm goes in the same, but the experienced phlebotomist recognizes the needle has not hit the flow. She adjusts, stabbing walls in the vein, probing, poking—it hurts, I whisper—until the needle hits blood, relaxes into the stream.

For two hours I sit, watch three episodes of the third season of The Crown on Netflix, a new, older Queen and King, Churchill nearly dead. Just into the last episode, another phlebotomist comes and tells me it’s time. I remember now that for over two months, I haven’t been touched by another person. I have seen friends across front yards. I have seen students in little boxes on Zoom, virtual backgrounds, backyards, bedrooms or kitchens. I have seen my family on Zoom. My mother, 86 years old, lives in Colorado. My brother Jon visits her condo, sits on the patio, talks to her through the screen, cats flitting in and out of view. I live alone with two dogs: my two daughters live together in Los Angeles, lockdown, not working, living on avocado toast and wine. Instead of seeing humans, I go to nature, drive to the Great Salt Lake, to Bear River Refuge. During the pandemic, I see more birds—ibises, egrets, herons—than people by far. I haven’t been touched.

The phlebotomist removes the needle from my left arm. She presses gauze to staunch the bleeding. She lifts my arm and begins to rub her hand from the top of my arm to the swell of my shoulder to get blood moving. I realize the human touch, feel tingling that starts in the arm then fills my torso and brain. I feel pleasure and grief. I nearly weep in this public space from her touch, my other arm still waiting, the last blood returning with citrate, needle still widening the vein. She wraps the gauze in pink elastic tape. She tells me leave the tape, wait four hours to let the body heal.

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