Every year around Labor Day, I’m fascinated by the approach of and the conduct of the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert. If you don’t know about it, I’m not going to try to explain it; it rather beggars description. Would I ever go? I don’t know. Maybe. It’s certainly one of the unique experiences our planet offers. However, walking barefoot over hot coals and handling poisonous snakes for religious reasons also are notable activities, and I’m certainly not trying them. The mere thought of thousands of naked and near-naked people walking around in a week of intensive desert sun makes my pale skin hurt. Add constant dust, constant noise and perpetual challenges to how the normal (“default” in the Burner term) world operates, and it might be life-altering, but not necessarily for the better. Still, it’s a captivating idea. Certainly if the thing continues to increase in popularity, there’ll be spinoff Burning Man festivals one can attend without so much commitment to extremity: Smoldering Man?
Reading about this year’s edition of Burning Man, I came across an article describing an inevitable aspect of any large gathering of people engaged in any sort of activity, particularly extreme behavior: the medical tent. Here is a brief article on slate.com. It’s no surprise that along with the ailments which — by the actuarial odds — will strike some percentage of any large group of humans, there are some rather noteworthy medical “events” at Burning Man. Reportedly, the rather anarchic violence that threatened to become institutionalized at Burning Man a few years ago — the best was the opposing “forts” fighting one another with live hand grenades and flame throwers — has been tamped down for a slightly more civil approach. Still, the odds of ending up in the care of EMTs in a barren desert some hours away from any serious hospital is one thing to consider before one packs the car for a Labor Day weekend in the Black Rock Desert.
When I was a kid, one of the highlights of summer was the county fair. This was the real article: barns full of animals, competitions for pie-baking, quilt-making, tomato-growing and flower arranging. There was the half-mile track that featured harness horse racing and Pari-mutuel wagering. And, of course, there was the midway: ferris wheel and tilt-a-whirl rides, test-your-luck games knocking over the milk bottles with a pitifully soft ball stuffed with sawdust and guess-your-weight scams. There was the “high striker” (swing the hammer and ring the bell) (or not – they’re often rigged). There was food, although the great age of Deep Frying Everything At Fairs had not yet arrived, and we made do with cotton candy, homemade root beer and roasted peanuts and hamburgers and corn dogs and, well, you know. If there had been deep-fried Snickers Bars, we’d have eaten those, too, but their day had not yet dawned.
Our county fair happened in July, which is a stupid time to have a fair, because, although the sweet corn and the tomatoes might be at their prime, hardly anything else — other than the first crop of hay — is ready then. I’ve always assumed that our little rural town was low on the pecking order and that the bigger counties with the bigger county seats — Greene County (Xenia), Butler County (Hamilton) and Franklin County (Columbus) and the others — got first pick of the more pleasant late-summer and early Fall dates.
Holding the event in early to mid-July meant, of course, that on any given day of the Warren County Fair, the temperature would hang in the nineties and the humidity would cause even the staunchest Republican candidates for office to loosen their ties as they worked the crowd in advance of the November election. It was hot, hot, hot. Merely gathering together ten or twenty thousand rubes under that blazing white sky and filling them full of cotton candy, caramel popcorn and corn dogs alone would guarantee a steady beat of medical emergencies, even without spinning them around on the Octopus or the Tilt-a-Whirl after they’d spent an enlightening hour our so looking at the prize pens of hogs and sheep in one of the vast, unventilated barns of the fairgrounds. Later, with tractor pulls and harness racing excitement, the human toll only grew.
So, there was the Red Cross trailer. The local American Red Cross chapter provided and staffed a little trailer to provide first aid. I know, because my mother, a Registered Nurse, volunteered most years to work a shift or two. I got the impression that she didn’t look forward to the long, hot hours in the little trailer, never knowing if the next minute would be another minute of ennui or would bring in some mangled victim whose arm had been caught in the Round Up. But, Mom was dedicated to the notion that you were bound to do the right thing, and, as a member of the nurses’ organization, assisting the Red Cross was one of her obligations. She had a long dedication to public health, from her earliest days in nursing, which continued throughout her career, and it was one of her most fervently held values that every member of a civil society should participate for the greater good with whatever gifts one possessed. It was, she believed, one of the things that distinguished a well-ordered world, along with public education and voting in every election. She would have said voting Democrat, but the majority of Ohio farmers did not agree with her.
I hadn’t thought about those humid, sun-baked days out at the old fairgrounds for a long time until I recently gave blood at the local Red Cross center. I’d been dodging that activity for some time, with the credible excuse that I was too busy working. Well, now that I’m self-employed, that excuse seemed to have evaporated. So I went. For one hour, I was connected to Nurse Nixon’s lifelong campaign to improve the world. It felt good. Nothing noteworthy happened. There’s no dramatic climax to today’s story. But, it’s one of those things that almost everyone can do, and the good you can contribute far outweighs the hour or so it requires (depending on how long after you’re done you want to sit around eating free snacks and juice). You have to be at least 17 and you have to weigh 110 pounds and in general good health. You do have to answer some explicit questions about the state of your health, particularly about medical matters such as prescriptions that affect your blood chemistry and about your sexual activity. You answer those questions now on a computer form, rather than the way they used to do via a live interview. You cannot EVER have had hepatitis. Be careful.
They’ll test your blood pressure. Also, before you donate, they’ll do a little pinprick to test your blood to make certain that you have at least a minimum level of hemoglobin (haemoglobin, for you Brits). Hemoglobin transports oxygen. It’s not one of the things the doctor typically tests you for in your routine physical, but it’s important for blood chemistry. They do other tests on blood they draw during the procedure to make certain it’s safe for use, but that happens as a matter of course.
Doesn’t hurt much, if it all, depending — for me — how much I think about them sticking a needle in me. Since the techs who do the procedure are pros who do it all the time, they’re pretty darned good at it.
The blood goes to hospitals. It might save a life, or at least contribute to the health of someone who needs it for an operation or to recover from an illness or an accident. Your body starts making more blood right away, and what you donate starts helping someone who needs it right away.
To quote the American Red Cross: “There are no substitutes for blood.”
It cannot be manufactured.
It’s up to ordinary citizens to contribute.
To find out more, or to find a blood donation opportunity near you, CLICK HERE.
Mom would do it.
My apologies to you readers in Britain, the Netherlands, Asia and elsewhere: I cannot report how blood donation is administered outside the United States. It may be a function of the national branches of the International Red Cross, but I don’t know. I contacted the ARC with that question, but they did not return my e-mail. If any of you know what happens in your country, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.
Addendum: Regular reader/commenter and ace trumpet player, Mark, advises us that, “The Australian Red Cross collects blood at fixed locations and also runs “donor mobiles”; trucks which move around, parking in more convenient locations for a few days at a time to encourage locals to donate. More information at:
Thank you, Mark.