I shrug and smile a little, say nothing. I feel strangely calm and deliberate today, as if I’ve been blessed with a deep and peaceful equanimity. She gets me to sign the form and I notice she seems to have missed the “yes” beside the last question, which asks whether I engage in any hazardous activities.
“The hazardous activity is rock climbing,” I say, pointing to the question, “but I’m not doing it today.”
She smiles and jots a note, then takes me through to the donation room, where I get a position by the window. I’m to be attended to by Marcia. She looks to be in her late 50s, determined, capable, in control. Marcia introduces herself and asks for my full name and date of birth; the usual ritual. I tell her, and she sets about transferring small, coded stickers from a sheet to an assortment of bags and tubes and phials. I am to be dispersed, sampled, tested, stored, and, eventually, to become part of someone else. With luck, my fabulous haemoglobin might save someone’s life.
“And what do you have planned for Easter?” Marcia asks.
“Staying put. Staying out of the hills. Too many people; the huts’ll be full of hunters.”
“Ah, the roar,” she says. “Everyone looking for a stag, though why you’d want a stag in the roar, I don’t know.”
“Yeah, beats me. They’re pretty horrible this time of year.”
Marcia and I talk a little about the stink of stags and their disgusting behaviour until she says, “Now, this might be the time to look away.” She has the needle poised over my inflated vein. It doesn’t bother me, but I look away anyway. A momentary prick and it’s done.
“You did that really well,” I say. “I hardly felt a thing.”
“That’s because you were distracted,” she says, but it’s not true. We resume talking about stags.
“I had one write off my car once,” Marcia says. “It was a Datsun 120Y.”
She nods and tells me the story. “Apparently this stag decided it didn’t like the look of my car. Somehow it managed to break through the fence; I was inside, and heard a lot of noise. I went out—it was at night—and managed to get the thing back in the paddock.”
She unclips the clamp, and the tube running from my arm instantly turns purple-red. I’m thinking about this small, capable woman managing to get a worked up, hormone blinded red stag, probably weighing close to several hundred kilos, back into its paddock. I’d have shot the bugger.
“Anyway, I had to go to work, and I couldn’t get in the driver’s door, it was too badly beaten up. I had to crawl in through the passenger’s side. The car still drove ok, but I didn’t realise how bad the damage was until I finished my shift and saw it in daylight.” She laughs. “When the other traffic on the road saw me coming, everyone got out of the way.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“I told my husband what had happened. He went outside, looked at it, came back in and made himself a cup of tea. I was furious,” she says.
I think I’d rather have taken on the stag. Apparently the panelwork on the car was too badly damaged and the insurance company wrote the car off.
When my 470 ml is in the bag, Marcia clamps the tube and goes through the remainder of the process, methodically, carefully. She folds a wad of gauze, presses it over the needle, which she then extracts. I know the ritual; I’ve been through it more often than I can remember, so I don’t wait for her to ask, but put my finger on the gauze so she has both hands free to process the various bags and phials. Eventually she takes over the gauze pad, and peeks underneath to see if the hole has closed over. She’s not satisfied, so she raises my arm in the air and presses down firmly on the pad. We chat for a while until she lowers my arm and begins wrapping the pad with a length of that strange, self adherent elastic bandage.
“They first developed this for horses,” she says. “It’s good for tying up plants in the garden.” She gives me a slightly impish look.
In the tearoom I chat with a lively, fit looking guy who asks me what I’m doing for Easter. I give him the same answer I gave Marcia.
“What about you?” I ask.
“Means nothing to me, mate,” he says, all cheerful. “We just carry on as usual where I work.”
“On the milk tankers,” he replies. “Drive ‘em for Fonterra. Go all over the place—Hawkes Bay, Taranaki, down to Levin...”
“You go up the Pohangina Valley?”
“Yeah, too right. Go up there lots.” I get a big grin.
We yarn for a while over a cuppa and a biscuit, then go our separate ways.
“Might see you on the road some time,” I say.
“Yeah, cheers mate,” he says.
I leave, smiling outside and in. You don’t get paid for giving blood in Aotearoa; there’s no financial reward. For me, the rewards are a cup of tea and a biscuit; meeting people like Marcia and the milk tanker driver whose name I don’t even know; and the satisfaction of sharing my fabulous haemoglobin. Beats a bit of cash any day; hands down.
Photo 1: Fence post, No. 3 Line, Pohangina Valley.
Photo 2: Just an autumn photo: Amanita muscaria, Te Awaoteatua Stream, Pohangina Valley.
Photo 3: Shed and grasses, the Catlins, Southland.
Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor