"We need your blood. . . " I didn't wait for the phone conversation to end. I had spent the last four sleepless nights at the St. Luke's Medical Center wondering whether my son, Adi, would survive his bout with dengue. My wife had just returned from the hospital chapel.
I could still smell the ocean in her eyes.
"His blood platelet count has dropped to critical levels," I said. She quietly nodded as I stepped out of the cramped room and headed for the blood bank.
"We've been expecting you," cheerily greeted the nurse as I eased myself onto one of the spongy reclining chairs. A rubber tube was tightly wound around my arm and a three-inch nail entered a fat vein near my left elbow.
It didn't hurt at all.
"Here, keep squeezing this," she gently urged while loosening the arm band. I mindlessly stared at the basketball game flashed on the television screen before realizing I was squishing what looked like a deep crimson, anatomically correct, heart-shaped stress ball.
These people have a sick sense of humor, I thought to myself. But what the heck. This was for my son, even if he was going to be transfused with some stranger's blood. How I wish they had taken my blood days before, right after the screening process. They could have spent the requisite twelve hours to process it, and my son could use my blood plasma in the next few hours.
Instead, I was donating, to replace someone else's blood. I even had to sign a disclaimer just in case the donor was tainted with malaria or something. What was I arrogantly thinking? Why did I think my lifejuice was superior, especially since I wasn't perfectly healthy at that time.
Squeeze. Pinch. Squish. My blood flowed in time with my prayers. Litanies for life, for hope, and for a better birthday gift for my two-year old. I remembered the Sesame Street-bedecked Childrens Ward, the happy smiles of Big Bird and Cookie Monster greeting my mirthless son, and the dying lambent light of candles left unblown.
I recall puzzling over who the impostor was, lying on his narrow hospital bed. Where had my son gone? Where was the boy who would adorably pull my hair and punch my belly? Where had my lively little twister hid himself this time? There he was, quiet and peering at me unblinkingly, hidden behind a tangle of clear, intravenous vines.
Dengue made his eyes, head and tummy hurt, which explained why he didn't have much of an appetite. Lack of nutrients drove his blood platelet count downwards, which made him feel worse. I implored him to eat and he pushed me away with firm No's. But just before his count plummeted, I remember him looking at me and saying: "Adi is a good boy. Adi will eat now. "
Somehow, in his infant mind, he knew he needed to get strong. And I rejoiced knowing he had the will to live, and the determination to do whatever it takes to survive. And so he ate his food, just before I headed to the blood donor's section.
Squash. Press. Squoosh. A pause before a second bag was placed for me to fill. It didn't take long.
"We're done, Sir. Now this won't hurt a bit," promised the nurse before she pulled out the needle.
She lied. It hurt like betrayal.
She offered me a tiny cup of orange juice, the usual drink gifted to dizzy donors. Strange, it seemed to have tiny specks of red, I mused. Or perhaps I was just hallucinating. After a while, I staggered back to my family and patiently waited for the promised miracle.
Two years later, I still breathe a prayer of gratitude for God had given my son back to me. Some of the pain is lost in memory and I look forward to colorful days ahead.
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Red Orange Juice
Updated June 7, 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Manuel Viloria of http://www.viloria.com
Email: manuel AT viloria DOT com