The One in Which Einstein, Sparrows, and Blood Have Something in Common

lonely sparrow
lonely sparrow (Photo credit: manitoon)

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
–Albert Einstein

A small but amazing miracle happened in my life today: I successfully finished a plasma donation. I have donated once before, and that went off with only a minor hiccough, but today was different.

Everything started out well, and I felt sure I’d be off the bed and on the way home within forty minutes or so. I lay calmly in the bed, reading and squeezing a stress ball, occasionally breaking to check the little green light that indicated my blood was flowing quickly. All was well. After about ten minutes though, the light changed to yellow. I squeezed harder and faster, trying to force my blood quickly through my veins. This worked for awhile, but my hand quickly began to cramp from the effort. I silently said a little prayer for strength to continue rapidly.

Another 15 minutes went by, and the light started vacillating between yellow, where it had hovered, and red– indicating that there was zero blood flow. I tried to wave over a phlebotomist for help, but they all were busy, so I pumped my fist harder and faster yet, squeezing that ball within an inch of its life. Sweat dripped down my forehead, and I could feel my body temperature rising exponentially with each pump. My legs began to cramp, and I realized that I’d been tensing them anxiously… but I couldn’t get them to relax.

I prayed again, more urgently this time, calling on my Creator to strengthen my hand and thin my blood before I passed out. Just as I concluded my prayer, the draw cycle ended and the machine began to return my filtered blood back to me. That meant that I got to stop pumping for a bit, and as I watched the blood flow into my body, it was as though I was watching my strength return, drop by drop. I was renewed, and I sent up a prayer of thanks. After a short reprieve, the next draw cycle began, and I pumped vigorously… and was rewarded with the coveted green light! Huzzah!

Then, the worst happened. My hand, which had been cramping unceasingly, began to tremble and spasm in protest. I was unable to pump my fist at the same rate any longer, and my blood flow slowed and then stopped completely. By this time I had subconsciously equated the firm and rapid squeezing of the stress ball directly with the green light. Blood was rushing from my head and I found it difficult to think, and in my confused state I had to fight the urge to squeeze the ball with the other hand, having irrationally reasoned that I’d be able to squeeze the ball harder and thus regain green light status. I watched donors who had been behind me in line come and go, while still trying to politely ask for help and growing more and more frustrated and resentful as I was ignored.

Eventually, I caught the attention of another donor, who alerted a super-helpful phlebotomist to my plight. She hustled over and informed me that the filter was completely clogged, and that all the pumping I had been doing was not helping, and could have damaged my vein. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at her timely wisdom, and instead, I prayed. I felt prompted to ask for both patience and water, and as I slowly sipped, I felt strength and logic return.

I calmly asked her what could be done, and she decided to massage the filter manually, since I was almost done with my donation at this point. So I gathered my resolve and gave my hand a firm (but silent) talking-to, and off we went. Pump, massage, pump, massage, pump, massage…. it felt interminable, and it hurt like the dickens! It felt like I was trying to push cement through my veins, but eventually the machine let forth a heavenly BEEEEEEEP… and I was done. Almost.

The last phase of plasma donation is a final return of blood diluted with a saline solution to re-hydrate the body. The saline makes you feel cold, and I smiled as I started to shiver, anticipating my approaching freedom. But though I continued to get colder and colder, the blood flowed more and more slowly. This time the needle was clogged. I’d been in the bed for over an hour and a half at this point, and I wanted to cry. I asked them to just let me go without the final return, promising that I’d take things easy — but no dice. So again, I prayed.

Eventually, the three phlebotomists and one nurse who had surrounded me decided to give up on that vein and complete the return in my other arm, which apparently was a breach of protocol and required enough delay for the saline-induced cold to set my teeth chattering and extremities quaking. My toes went numb, but eventually the decision was made and approval had, and the needle went into my other arm. A mere five minutes later, the machine beeped again, and I was done. Finally, my ordeal was over, and I silently thanked my Father as I made my way home.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is infinitesimal. People die and get serious illnesses and face all kinds of challenges that make my measly blood flow problem seem completely ridiculous, and the multitude of times I prayed may seem frivolous. But I very much needed a reminder today that my Father loves me, and that even my insignificant problems matter to Him, and I got it.

A warm feeling filled my chest on the way home, chasing out the saline cold. It felt like an inside-out hug, and tears of joy filled my eyes as I remembered that His eye is on the sparrow, but it is also on me– every part of my existence… even my blood.

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