My Job and the Stupidity of Youth

phlebotomist [fluhbotuh-mist] n. a health worker trained in drawing venous blood for testing or donation.

I am a phlebotomist and I work at a blood donation center in Eastern Pennsylvania. I have been doing this job for nearly a decade and, let me tell you, I hear a lot of weird s**t. The most disappointing is what I hear from the youth of America. I have met hundreds of these kids through blood drives at high schools and colleges. And although I have never come across insolence, I have come across stupidity… way too much stupidity. They say and ask me the most ridiculous things.

First, it is important to understand how donating works. A donor must go through a screening process which includes answering a series of health history questions and then a short physical check (temperature, blood pressure, pulse, etc.). Once your eligibility is determined and you get the green light, we escort you into a separate room to perform the blood draw. Then, after that, you get treated to some junk food and soda. Easy peasy.

The following anecdotes are absolutely true.

One of the questions we ask during the health screen is, “In the past three years have you been outside the United States or Canada?” This question has to do with certain countries having a malarial risk. It’s not the end of the world if you traveled to one of theses places. We simply ask people to wait three months before donating. Answering yes, however, prompts the screener to ask where you have been – which countries. You would be surprised at the lack of geography skills that exist. On one occasion where a donor answered this question in the positive, I, as usual, asked the follow-up question of where she had been. She replied, “North Carolina.” After suppressing my exasperation I said, “North Carolina is in the United States.” She said, “Is it?” She sincerely thought that she had left the country. This donor was a college freshman. Or how about the high school senior who argued with a coworker of mine that Hawaii wasn’t part of the United States? “You know, it’s like Puerto Rico and Mexico.”

Another question we ask is, “Are you currently taking an antibiotic?” It’s amazing to me how many people, of all ages, say yes to this, which leads me to believe that when they see a word that has more than four syllables they get confused. So, let’s go over what an antibiotic is… antibiotics treat infections. This will defer you. If you have an infection, please don’t try to donate. There are exceptions though: taking antibiotics for preventive measures; these are people who suffer from rosacea, acne and some fungal infections.

Answering yes to this, like the travel query, prompts follow up questions. (Girls always say yes to this one.) “What kind of infection do you have? What medication are you taking to treat it?” The response is almost always, “birth control.” Urghhh… ATTENTION YOUNG WOMEN: your period is not an infection! If I have to have one more teaching moment with these girls my head may explode.

There is no such thing as a stupid question. Wrong! There are most definitely stupid questions. Here’s the one I get asked the most and it is ludicrous. “Is your blood really blue and then turns red when it meets the air?” I’m going to pass the blame for this one to the education system. Granted, I don’t have kids, but school curriculums still include science, right? Are there no biology or health classes taught in schools anymore?

A mother and teenage daughter walk into the donor center. It’s the young girl’s first time donating (FYI: 16-year-olds need parental consent). I take the mom into a screening room and my coworker escorts the daughter into another. There’s always a little chit-chat that goes on behind the closed door. The conversation leads me to tell my donor about how high-schoolers think their blood is blue and she is in complete disbelief. In fact, she tells me that her daughter is smarter than that. Once the screens are over and both mother and daughter are sitting next to each other in the phlebotomy area, she nudges me as if to say, “Here, I’ll prove it to you.” She asks her offspring, “Honey, what color is your blood?” I’ll give you one guess what the kid said. Only one. All the mom could say was, “Oh my God, my daughter is stupid.”

Of course, it’s fun to retell theses stories. I usually get some laughs, but I can’t help thinking of the ignorance that pervades the people who will one day run for government. Even worse, they’ll probably manage the nursing home that I’ll be living in. This, of course, doesn’t mean that these are bad kids. In a world that is fueled by the instant gratification of the internet, is it really a surprise that they have a short attention span?

On a more serious note… There is an enormous blood shortage in the country. According to the American Red Cross, “supply can’t always meet demand because only about 3% of age-eligible people donate blood yearly.” If you think you are eligible please make an appointment at your local blood bank. I am more than willing to answer any questions about blood donation, so, please, leave me a comment.

I often joke that my job is a give and take relationship; I not only take blood, I also give it. I am a platelet donor (that’s my arm there in the close up photo). Platelets help your blood to clot and stop bleeding. They are mostly used for cancer patients, people undergoing transplants, and heart surgeries. They have a super short shelf life, only 5-7 days.

Donating blood also runs in the family. My dad was always a blood donor and I got the chance to stick my sister last fall when she was in town. In the pictures above they are giving a whole blood donation which has a longer shelf life of 42 days.

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