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What We Can't Forget When We Tell People to Donate Blood After a Crisis

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Paige Wyant, The Mighty’s Associate Chronic Illness Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

When I awoke Monday morning to the news of the tragedy in Las Vegas, I sat unmoving in front of my phone, feeling helpless and small in the face of such violence. Shock quickly melted into a mixture of grief and anger as I struggled to understand how a person could hold so much hatred and disregard for the lives of fellow human beings.

As more information was released over the course of the morning to the many Americans struggling to find ways to help, there was one request that continually topped the list of priorities: Donating blood.

Every time I saw a headline stressing the urgency of donating blood, my heart sank and my feelings of helplessness heightened. Once again, there are human beings in crisis, and I cannot help in one of the most critical ways. Once again, I feel the sting, the frustration and the guilt of being unable to donate blood.

Because of my chronic illness and prescribed medication, I am unable to donate – and I know I’m not alone. Others who are chronically ill or taking certain medications may face the same restrictions as me, and according to the American Red Cross, you are also ineligible to donate if you are pregnant, are younger than 17 (or 16, with parental consent), have donated blood in the past eight weeks, have an infection, weigh less than 110 pounds or are a man who has had sex with another man in the past 12 months. (Visit the American Red Cross website for a full list of eligibility criteria.)

I don’t argue with the fact that I can’t donate blood, as I know it’s for my and the recipients’ safety. But honestly, it sucks to know I can’t donate. I would donate blood in a heartbeat if I could. I’ve grown up around doctors and nurses and hospitals and needles, and I even have to give myself shots, so the thought of getting pricked doesn’t faze me at all – especially when I know the result could potentially be lifesaving.

When a crisis like the shooting in Las Vegas occurs, the predominant request is for people to donate blood. While, yes, this is absolutely a critical need and I strongly urge everyone who is healthy and able to do so, I know there are others like me who are left feeling helpless, and perhaps even a bit angry at our bodies – even if the reason is completely out of our control.

In the years since I have been old enough to donate, I have carried this bitterness within me.

When my school hosted a blood drive a few years ago, everyone who donated got a sticker to proudly sport on their chest, and one of my professors promised a significant amount of extra credit to anyone wearing a sticker, proving they had donated. When I arrived to class as one of the only people not wearing a sticker, I felt singled out and judged – and I was given no other opportunity to earn that extra credit.

These days, whenever I pass by a table of people hosting a blood drive who kindly ask me to participate and I have to say “I’m sorry, no,” my cheeks burn in shame. I don’t feel comfortable disclosing my health and medical history to a bunch of strangers in passing, but without an explanation I fear they think the worst of me. They must see me as a heartless, selfish person, too busy with my own life to take the time to help others.

These feelings of frustration, fear, self-loathing, guilt and helplessness bubble quietly inside me, but when a tragic event occurs and brings up these feelings, even more guilt and self-loathing gets piled on top, because while people in critical condition fight for their lives and families grieve the sudden loss of their loved ones, I’m upset that my inability to donate means I have to sit in a comfortable chair in front of my computer all day just watching. What kind of horribly selfish person complains about their feelings at a time like this? I think to myself.

If you are unable to donate blood and find yourself grappling with similar feelings, know you are not alone and these feelings you have, these feelings we have, are valid. We all have different ways of coping with traumatic events, and while it is so important to do whatever we can to help the victims and their families, it is also important to take care of ourselves, and to not shove these feelings down, but address them.

There is no reason to be ashamed if you are ineligible to donate blood. And while this issue may not feel like the most pressing problem we’re facing today, it is still important to bring attention to the many reasons why a person may not be giving blood. We shouldn’t automatically assume someone isn’t donating simply because they’re “too busy” or “just don’t care.” Donating blood is critical, but it’s not the only thing people can do.

If you’re unable to give blood but still want to help those affected by the shooting, here are some ways you can contribute:

1. Make a Donation

For those with chronic illness, donating money may be difficult if you have limited funds due to costly appointments, medications or treatments. But no matter how much you’re able to give, every little bit helps. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund has raised over $8.7 million for those affected. You can also text “Vegas” to 20222 to donate $10 to the National Compassion Fund.

2. Volunteer Help If You Are Near Las Vegas

If you are local to Las Vegas, you can join this Facebook group to offer transportation, shelter, services or donations to those in the area who have been affected.

3. Give Your Time

On Monday morning, the Mandalay Bay Resort put out a call for trained crisis counselors to offer their services to those affected by the shooting. If you are a trained professional in Las Vegas, follow up with Mandalay Bay Resort to see if they need additional support in the coming days or weeks or offer your services to other community organizations in the area.

If you are outside the Las Vegas area but still want to help with crisis counseling, sign up today to become a certified crisis counselor. Many hotlines and hospitals look for volunteers — whom they then train — to help out with crises and in emergencies. If you want to help out on a more regular basis, the Crisis Text Line operates a 24/7 crisis line, where people can give — as well as receive — just by texting.

4. Call Your Representatives

The grief and trauma may feel overwhelming, but now is the time to speak up and share your views with your representatives. You can find your representatives and their phone numbers here, or you can use Resist Bot to fax or mail a message to your representatives.

5. Be Respectful

If you share news or articles about the shooting, make sure they are from a trusted source to ensure you’re spreading accurate information. Additionally, be thoughtful when choosing to share images of the violence or chaos that could be potentially triggering.

If you are able to help in any of the above ways, please do so. But if you can’t, don’t beat yourself up over it. Taking care of yourself is important, too.

It is never easy when such a tragic and unthinkable event occurs. But in the aftermath of such violence, it is more important than ever to spread love, understanding and acceptance of others. Let’s show compassion for our fellow humans by donating blood if we can, and by not judging those who can’t.

Screenshot via YouTube

Originally published: October 4, 2017
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