I was doing well at hiding my terror; my hand shook only slightly as I took the cup of juice the nurse offered, and I had managed to keep my pulse down to a modest 86 as I was read my rights.
"Have you ever had malaria?"
"Jaundice or yellow fever?"
"Typhoid, smallpox, diabetes?"
"No, none of those."
"In the last three days have you seen a dentist?"
"Well, I thought I saw one in Farragut Square this morning, but . . ."
"Do you feel well this morning?"
"Would you if you were about to be leeched?"
"You have the right to make one phone call. Anything you say or do may be held in evidence against you, and if we don't happen to like your face we will extract another pint of blood before letting you out of here."
Actually, much of this conversation never took place on the day 42 of my fellow Peace Corps colleagues and one coward donated blood to the Red Cross. But given my terror, the exchange was easy to imagine.
My hemodonaphobia -- or fear of giving blood -- arose around seven years ago, when I first volunteered my veins. The Red Cross had set up one of its mobile units inside the WJLA television studio; the station was appealing for blood by televising a studio full of people, all lying on tables and giving .
That was enough to convince my older brother. But he needed someone to steady his nerve, so he persuaded me to join him in the sacrifice.
Then suddenly I was subjected to a barrage of questions. Because I'd brought no written parental consent, I had to lie about my age to get in. Like joining the Army at 17, I mused.
"Nervous?" asked the woman passing out the juice, pointing to my hands, "or do they always do such marvelous butterfly impersonations?" I wondered if the juice was full of sedatives. I prayed it was.
Lying flat on my back, I realized a nurse was stabbing the inside of my left elbow with a needle. Exasperated, she accused me of harboring a "rollaway vein." It sounded vaguely criminal. "Perhaps I should follow its lead," I suggested, plotting my escape. But seconds later, I was bleeding dutifully into my little plastic bag.
After I teetered -- dramatically -- to the refreshment table, my circulatory system, exhilarated by its first command performance, decided to; deliver an encore. The hole in my arm began to percolate blood. It soaked through the bandage, coursed down my forearm and dripped onto my clothes and the floor. This caused some consternation. One nurse turned an odd, queasy olive color and groaned to her cupped hand, "I can't stand to see blood!"
By contrast, my second blood donation passed without event. The nurses were self-assured professionals, and my recalcitrant antecubital vein agreed to cooperate. Afterward, the Red Corpuscle Union was orderly, contenting itself with a return to its routine, everyday course.
I know the next time I volunteer to be punctured I will be free of all these anxieties. I know I will be perfectly calm.
Of course I will.