Responsibility of Blood

Alicia fastened her seat belt and took deep breaths to calm herself as John, her newly wedded husband pulled out onto the highway pushed the speed limit. Instead of heading north to start hiking part of the Appalachian trail, the honeymoon as they’d planned for the past year, they drove south.

She closed her eyes and remembered what her mother had told her so many years ago, “It’s a blessing and a curse.”
Alicia was only nine at the time and didn’t understand. They were sitting together in the back of a police car, speeding to the local emergency room.

“Are you sick?” She asked her mother.

“No, dear,” was the response. She’d heard that before and wanted to believe it was true. She only remembered going with her mother a couple of times, but not since she was six or so, in the afternoon on a weekend, her dad was there then. But this time Dad was away, an engineer advising on a new bridge construction in Brazil. It was 2:00am, and no sitter was available, and it was an emergency. She’d awaken when the phone rang in the hallway. She’d listened as her mother spoke quickly, “Oh, of course … I’ll bring Alicia with me … fifteen minutes, we’ll be ready.”

Alicia wore her heavy coat over her pajamas. Her mother had quickly dressed in sweats.

“You might be able to get some sleep while you wait for me” her mother said as both watched out the window as they passed the emergency vehicles and glimpsed the mangled cars and the over turned semi. The hospital was less than twenty miles away.

The winter had been long and snowy and icy. Although her mom had regularly given blood, it turned out that the need was greater than usual, and tonight’s accident was serious, Lucy, the familiar nurse, explained after they arrived.
After her mom had gone quickly through the doors that said “authorized personnel only.” Lucy ushered Alicia into an empty office room, with a sofa, given a blanket and pillow and left to go back to sleep.

But she didn’t sleep.

Alicia cracked open the door and peered out. Listening she only caught fractions of sentences, or maybe people weren’t completing thoughts: “prepping now, two dead, boy, seven we think, mother stable in ICU, direct transfusion.”

Nurses, doctors, rushed about, and then it was quieter.

Alicia walked out to the desk where Lucy was stationed.

There were a few people sitting quietly in the waiting room. One had a bandage on his hand, another in a wheelchair nursing an injured foot, or ankle, not life threatening. Alicia realized they would have to wait for attention as long as she would be waiting for her mother.

Lucy looked up and smiled. “Your mom is a life saver. You must be proud of her.” Alicia nodded without really knowing what she thought about it. “You should probably try to rest – it might be a long night. Do you need anything?”

“A glass of water,” Alicia said, and then added, “please.”

“I’ll bring it too you, if you want to wait in the office. It’s much more comfortable than out here.” Alicia went back into the office and sat on the couch, crossed legged, and pulled the blanket around her.

Lucy brought Alicia a paper cup of water, and an ice-cream cup with a plastic spoon. Alicia smiled. Lucy sat with her a few minutes.

“Will everyone be okay?” Alicia asked as she put a spoon of ice cream in her mouth.

“I can’t really talk about our patients,” Lucy said, “some people were seriously hurt, but it would have been worse if your mom couldn’t come help.” Lucy stood up to leave.

“Can you leave the door open a little?” Alicia asked her. Lucy nodded.

“Oh, and thanks for the ice cream.”

That memory seemed a lifetime ago. But she still remembered the blue pajamas she was wearing that night, with the stars on them. She remembered thinking twinkle, twinkle little star, and making a wish that everyone would be okay.

That night after Alicia put the empty ice cream container in the trash bin and got comfortable on the sofa, wrapping the blanket around her, she remembered saying the Angel prayer, asking them to watch over her mother, and everyone else.

Alicia was pulled from her thoughts by her husband. “We’re making good time,” he said.

As he focused his concentration on the road and traffic Alicia slipped back into remembering.

For years after that emergency run, Alicia didn’t really think about the blood thing much. Her mom regularly gave blood. She thought all mothers did. “it’s for a very good cause,” her mother said, “my contribution, doing something that helps others?”

When Alicia started high school, during a routine physical before the start of fall soccer season, the nurse greeted her with unexpected warmth. “I know your mother. We’ve met before.” she said. And then in a strained casual way asked “Are you RH-null also? It’s not on your record.”

Alicia just shook her head and shrugged her shoulders as she recognized Lucy.

“Well, we should get that information filled in. In case of an emergency,” Lucy suggested.

RH-null? At fourteen Alicia didn’t like to let people know when she didn’t know something they seemed to think she should.

During American History, next period, she pulled out her laptop as her mind drifted from the discussion on the War of 1812 and typed the question: “what is RH null?”

She scanned quickly: “… rarest blood type is actually Rh-null … lack of antigens in the Rh system. Less than 1 in 1,000 people …

Alicia’s heart started to pound, and she glanced up quickly to mentally check in with her class for the moment and sensed no pressing need for attention. Back to her lap top, “… this type can donate blood to just about every blood type.”

Nurse Lucy’s question came back to her, “are you RH-null, also?” Alicia stared straight ahead with out seeing anything as, for the first time, she realized her mother’s contribution.

She mentally checked back into the classroom. A student was reading his rather dull essay on Andrew Jackson’s defeat of the British in New Orleans. Alicia, fingered the pages of her essay on the “era of good feeling” following the war and the demise of the Federalist party.

Feeling confident about her preparation, she looked back at the information on RH-null. “The blood type is inherited and has been known to run in families.”

It was only when her teacher asked “Alicia, are you okay?” that she realized she had her mouth wide open with a surprised stare. Shaken back to reality she stammered, “oh, it’s just all so interesting.” A classmate snickered,
“Perhaps your essay with be just as interesting.”

Alicia, closed her laptop, picked up her paper and stood. By the time she’d finished reading, the class was over. All afternoon the question nagged her. “Are you RH-null, also?”

She didn’t have time to continue her research until later that evening.

What she read next was even more startling. There were maybe only ten persons with this rare blood type in the active donor pool for this rare and important life-saving blood. And that it was almost impossible for people to have it without a family history of the blood type. Why hadn’t it been explained to her that children can inherit the rare condition from their parents or other direct relatives. And a person could be AB and RH- null at the same time … but AB wasn’t a universal donor type. The information she found was detailed and confusing.

Was she also RH-null?

So, she asked her parents that weekend when she knew they would make time to talk to her.

Then, the stories came out. The tragedies of miscarriages, the miracle of being able to help save someone’s life. There were so many new treatments – ways to insure healthy babies.

“You’re not required to give blood, there is no pressure,” her mother said.

“That will always be your choice, honey,” her father said. “When you are older.”

She understood, and she tabled the information. Filed it away in her memory.

***

Alicia noticed that the traffic had picked up. They were getting closer to the turnoff for the hospital. She put her hand on her husband’s thigh and they smiled at each other when he glanced over at her. As he continued to focus, both hands on the wheel, her mind drifted back again.

Life was fun, and interesting and exciting. She enjoyed high school and college was better.

Her sophomore year in a small liberal arts college, in a picturesque upstate small town, was as close to perfect as she thought she would ever experience. She was spending a lot of time with John. He was a tech genius, even his professors thought so.

“I’m not just a geeky nerd,” he laughed when they met for a study lunch after the party where they’d been introduced by a mutual friend. “I’m on the track team.”

Turns out he still held his high school record for the 100 yard dash. He made her promise not to tell anyone. He actually blushed when he made this request.

That spring she spent lovely afternoons multi-tasking – delving into her calculus assignments and other pre- engineering courses while keeping an eye open for John’s events. She like his track friends. She was in love.

And then one very rainy evening, when she was working on a major assignment that had to be emailed in by midnight, there was a scream in her residence hall, followed by loud voices. Alicia walked out of her room to see what the excitement was about.

She heard pieces of the conversation. “accident … bus involved in a multicar … track team… dead?”

She ran down the hall with her dorm mates to the television lounge. The local breaking new report had people on the scene. Emergency vehicles were gathering. They appealed for blood donors. Supplies were dangerously low.
Alicia felt faint. She scanned the screen for John. She could hardly breathe.

She ran back to her room, she grabbed her coat, purse, phone and left without saving her assignment on the computer.

She had to park a distance away from the emergency room entrance. So much activity, She felt panic, while all around she observed the competence of people doing their best.

She paused to watch gurneys being gently lifted out of ambulances – the injured already attached to plasma bags. She thought she recognized one of John’s team mates.

She slipped inside the first opportunity she had and looked for someone to tell.

The triage nurse supervisor, or so she appeared to be, caught her eye. In response to the hard look of “I’m busy, what do you want?” Alicia went to her quickly “I’m RH-null.”

The nurse stared at her for a non-blinking moment and asked if she was a registered donor?

“Not, yet, but I will help if I can.”

It was a long night. Word got out that Alicia was in the hospital and John, who had luckily sustained only superficial injuries was waiting for her when she was wheeled out of the emergency room. Exhausted from the ordeal of the direct transfusion, she opened her eyes when she heard his voice.

She missed the midnight deadline to submit the assignment she’d been working on. Her father told her not to worry. She could make it up. Her mother told her she was proud of her. They cried together.

It became the new normal. She had a standing appointment to give blood. It was so routine that she hardly thought about it. She always felt happy afterward, maybe the chocolate malt she treated herself to after each session was the trigger.

One Sunday morning during her senior year she was sleeping in while John hummed about the kitchen, preparing pecan pancakes and mimosas. In addition to being a tech geek and a track star, John knew his way around the kitchen, well, on weekends. He could make pancakes and scrambled eggs. And that was fine with Alicia.

The television was on the local channel, John was waiting for the weather report – they were planning a bike ride later that day. As he poured a cup of freshly brewed coffee his attention was drawn to a breaking news story. Earlier that morning, there’d been a head-on collision, next town over, a family of five and a car with three teens.

John walked to the bedroom as Alicia’s cell phone rang. She rubbed her eyes and yawned. The phone identified the caller as St. Luke’s. She answered the call on speaker mode. “Yes.”

The voice on the other end said, “Alicia, we need you again.”

“Sure,” Alicia responded as she looked in John’s eyes. The call disconnected.

John handed the fresh cup of coffee to Alicia as she sat up in bed. “I’ll drive you.”

“I’m sorry” Alicia began.

“Don’t be,” he said.

***

John drove as close to the emergency entrance as he could.

They kissed, and John told her, “I’ll park and be right in. If I don’t see you, you’ll know where I am.

Alicia said, “I love you,” and got out of the car rushing to the entrance.

John watched with admiration as she disappeared inside.

Cafe Management is run by the administration of The Confabulator Cafe. We keep things running smoothly, post stories by guest authors, and manage other boring back-end tasks.

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