To Scrooge, Regarding the Surplus Population

My favorite Christmas video clip is of my own oldest son.  He was six or seven, still in his pajamas and robe, looking at several new toys arranged in front of the hearth.  Next to him was a toddler, my younger son, oblivious to what was going on or why. I don’t remember what special present my older son had asked for that Christmas, nor does he.  I also don’t remember why he didn’t get it: too expensive, stores sold out, inappropriate for his age? I don’t recall. But in the video, he didn’t complain. Instead, he looked up and said, rather matter-of-factly, “I didn’t get what I wanted, . . . but I guess a did pretty good.  Right!?”

This Christmas, I’m not thinking about what I won’t get.  Instead, I’ve found I’m thinking about what I can’t give. These are not falsely pious thoughts, trying to emphasize the often-stated admonition of holiday preachers, though those thoughts are correct.  “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” they’ll quote our Lord. No, instead, I’m mourning the loss of my ability to give a life-saving gift.

It started with an every-six-month trip to my doctor’s office lab to get my cholesterol checked.  I got a call a few hours later that informed me I was in a near-emergency situation. My red cell count was dangerously low.  A flurry of events led to my quickly being scoped upwards and downwards, looking for—but not finding—a source of bleeding. Something clicked with the doctor, and we started going through my calendar.  It showed that I had donated blood to the local blood bank less than a week before my cholesterol check.  

We also looked at a date, earlier that year, when I passed out on a plane flight to Boston.  I hit my head, which caused a lot of blood to flow down my face. The scalp wound, exaggerated by a daily aspirin, bled plentifully.  The emergency was called off, however, once the blood was cleaned up and the cut was found to be minor. Our plane ceased to plan a diversion, and we landed in Boston as scheduled.  The paramedics that entered the plane pronounced me fit as a fiddle. Of course, they didn’t check my red cell count. The calendar we were checking showed I had donated blood just two days before the flight.  

While grateful I wasn’t bleeding internally, I wasn’t pleased with the speech from my doctor.  “Karl, at YOUR age . . . .” He explained that some people (mainly men) can reach an age where they can no longer replace their red blood cells rapidly enough after a blood donation.”  In addition, I had been giving “double red cells”—where one’s plasma is returned while twice as many red blood cells can be donated as compared to a whole blood donation. “So,” the doctor concluded, “it’s time for you to quit giving blood!  Never again! Got it?”  

That hurt.  I’d given for almost four decades.  Plus, a few years ago, my younger son had a surgery mishap.  After coding twice that night, they realized his pleural lining had been nicked during “minor” Thoracic Outlet surgery earlier that day, and he was slowly bleeding out, internally.  A week in ICU, and multiple bags of blood, kept him alive. Giving blood had a very personal meaning and gave me a very real reward of knowing I was making a positive difference.

But it doesn’t stop there.  I’ve also reached the magic age where no one will take my bone marrow.  I’ve been on that donor list for decades, but no match was ever found, apparently.  I never got a call, and I never got to donate.

Let’s use this Christmas to think about what we give, how we give, to whom we give—and make sure it’s something that makes a difference.  Money, time, talents? Your church, B. H. Carroll, Mission Metroplex, et al.? You just might change someone’s life.    

Maybe we can join together in confessing, “I didn’t GIVE what I wanted, . . . but I guess I did pretty good.  Right!?”

Published: Dec 9, 2019


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