Nowhere to Hide

I huddle under the doctor’s knee-hole desk, a six year old cornered by the nurse who comes at me with a hypodermic needle. I have run from that big, thick metal spear through examination rooms and the hallway, and now I’ve reached a dead end. The structure I hide under is dark, brown, ugly. After a moment’s reprieve, the white-garbed nurse grabs my arm and jabs me. I cry, and it’s all over.

I think of this scene as I lie in the hospital receiving a blood transfusion. This one didn’t require a needle because, since being diagnosed with cancer over a year ago, I have a medi-port in my chest. It was accessed with a sharp, thin, single-use needle two days ago in the emergency room. But that’s not true for the people who donated these two units of blood. They stuck out their arms and accepted a needle in their veins, not for themselves but for me and others they will never know. I smile at the thought. Thank you, whoever you are.

My father was a regular blood donor, contributing multiple gallons over his lifetime. If I had ever asked him why he donated to the Red Cross so often—every eight weeks, I believe—he probably would have said something like, “It’s my civic duty” or “I can, so I should.” My husband, some cousins, and I began giving when my brother-in-law was ill and needed blood, but none of us gave as consistently or for as long as Dad. Reluctantly, I imagine him lying on the white-covered table, one arm at his side, the other with a needle in the vein, a red-filled tube dripping life-saving fluid into the collection bag. But, needle-phobic as I am, I’d rather just admire the numbers, much as I admired the man: two pint units in a quart, four quarts in a gallon, making eight units in one gallon. Somehow eight gallons comes to mind. That would be sixty-four units he donated—and that’s surely not a final count. The point is that he helped dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of people whom he didn’t know because it was the right thing to do. That was my dad.

I think about him as a stranger’s blood drips into me. I’d like Dad’s arms around me. I’d like him to shield me from my disease. But he’s been gone over a decade and can no more protect me than the pediatrician’s desk could all those years ago.

So here I am, without Dad and his sheltering arms. I face my illness head on but am less courageous about needles. As an adult I’d be embarrassed to run from them. Until recently, no matter how I tried to relax, I could feel my muscles tense as the silver point went in. When Julian and I went together for shots for a foreign trip, he claimed not to feel them, yet my arm ached for several days afterwards.

I can’t begin to count the times I’ve been poked since being diagnosed. Only a registered nurse can access my port, so blood draws at the local center are done through my one good vein. I may wince a little, grimace a bit, but I don’t try to escape the phlebotomist. Neither do I run from the nurse who sticks a needle in my port. Much as I want to flee, I merely look away.

And often, as I stare at the wall or into space, I picture myself hiding behind my pediatrician’s knee-hole desk with, dare I admit it, longing.

3 Responses to Nowhere to Hide

  1. Thank you for sharing this long ago vivid memory. I think my pediatrician wanted to run from me when I needed a shot. I turned from being a child who almost always obeyed (except when it came to liver which we often had because it was cheap…and good for you.) and turned into a tigress fangs and claws bared. It took two adults to hold me in place. My mother came to dread these visits and never brought me to see the doctor for my whooping cough booster shot. At age 13 I developed whooping cough and missed six weeks of school.

    B.J. I hope the blood transfusion has given you renewed energy. Sandy

  2. I didn’t know this about your dad; what an important and unselfish gift. Thank you for sharing these stories about your family with us here.
    I hope the chemo goes smoothly and am thankful that your port means fewer “pokes” for you!
    With love,

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