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Early Mornings, Falling Glass, Giving Blood

11 Apr

This morning I voluntarily woke up at 4:45 a.m. so I could go for a run. Other Moms who run will understand my dilemma: a hectic lifestyle of juggling work, kids, and other family responsibilities means having choose between sleeping and running. Other runners – Mom or not – will understand that running and sleeping are equally necessary for my physical and emotional wellbeing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete masochist. I use some very creative thinking in order to try getting my runs in without having to get up in the middle of the night (or what feels like the middle of the night). Today, however, I had no choice. If I was going to (a) run, (b) get in the distance I was aiming for, and (c) be on time for work, I had to be on the road by 5:00 a.m. Which meant getting up at 4:45.

After all, I think it is reasonable to not want to run in the thunderstorms that were being predicted for this afternoon. And since my desperate attempts to master the art of being in two places at once have come to nought, I could not run at lunchtime and donate blood at the same time.

I had a lovely, lovely run. 7.5km in nice warm weather with just a little bit of wind.

Not a bad way to start a Monday morning.

After my run, I took care to have a nutritious breakfast. During the course of the morning I drank a V8 vegetable juice and ate a banana – neither of which I actually like, but in preparation for donating blood, I needed to make sure my iron levels were up and that I had enough nutrients in me to avoid passing out.

When it was time to go, I took the elevator to the ground floor, intending to get on the subway. As I exited the building, though, I was accosted by a big policeman who was yelling, “Get back inside! Get back inside!” Ridiculously, I offered a lame argument to the policeman.

“But I have to go and donate blood,” I said.

The policeman looked at me as if I had broccoli spouting from my forehead, and said, “Well, you’ll be bleeding a lot sooner if more glass falls off the building.”

Okayyyy. Turns out that a pane of glass had come out of the top floor of the office tower and crashed onto the street about sixteen storeys down.

I took the scenic (read: long) route to the subway and took the train for two stops. Then I got off the train and wandered around like a lost fart until I found the blood donor clinic. I checked in, and as the nice blood clinic man was giving me my paperwork, the shoulder strap on my purse broke and half of the contents of my purse fell onto the ground.

This was turning into quite an adventure.

My medical checks and interview went without a hitch. My iron level was fine. Vital signs were good. No bruises or lesions on my arms. I haven’t had sex with a cocaine addict or been a prostitute.

The donating part itself went well too. The nurse easily found a fat, pulsing vein to use and the needle went in flawlessly. Less than ten minutes later, a unit of my blood was in the bag in memory of Capt. Snuggles, I had a Band-Aid on my arm and I was sitting at a table getting free juice and cookies.

You can only count a day as GOOD when you’re able to get in a good workout and do a good deed.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/prashu/3359028784/)

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A Letter For Amy

3 Apr

To my dear friend Amy,

It has been more than two months now since you held your beautiful Captain Snuggles in your arms for the last time. I was one of many people who had been sending out prayers, positive thoughts, positive energy, in the hopes of keeping him alive and with you. I like to think that although the brave Captain still left us, we collectively managed to shift the Universe just enough to give you some extra time with him. Maybe, during those long sleepless nights, you felt a warm aura surrounding you as people sent out virtual hugs for you. The outcome was not what anyone wanted, but maybe – just maybe – we made some kind of difference.

I was so desperate to help you back then, to do something that could be of some practical use to you. But with us living on opposite sides of the border, this was not possible. So I donated blood. It was a momentous occasion. I felt humbled by the fact that it had taken a baby’s tragic situation to spur me on to action, and at the same time, I felt good that it had spurred me on to action. David was still with us on that day when I made my first donation, and I had entertained fantasies of meeting him someday and saying thank you to him for making me a better person.

My heart shattered when I learned of his passing. I could not begin to imagine what this was like for you, what it would be like for you going forward. I confess that I did not know what words to say to you to comfort you, so I opted for honesty. I told you that I didn’t know what to say, but that I was thinking of you, and that I was there for you whenever and however you needed.

Please know that this has not changed. More than two months have passed since Captain Snuggles left us, but for you there must be times when it feels like the blink of an eye. Grief is such a personal process. Everyone goes through it in their own way, at their own pace. No-one can truly understand another person’s grief. I still cannot imagine what you are going through and how it feels, but I am still there for you. You will be in my heart and mind as you go through this first year of birthdays and anniversaries.

This is a big week for us. This is the week of the Captain Snuggles Blood Drive. This week, many people are going to donate blood (some already have) in memory of your beautiful boy. Every unit of blood has the potential to help up to three people. It has the potential to give up to three families that precious commodity of hope. Through the inspiration of Captain Snuggles, this week is all about giving life.

I know that the blood drive is not going to bring the Captain back, and it’s probably not going to make your grieving process any easier. But he will live on in the hearts and minds of all who donate, and all who want to donate but are medically unable to. There could well be people whose lives will be saved by this blood drive – people who, although they will never know it, will be alive because of this baby who has touched so many hearts.

I send you lots of love and hugs, and vibes of strength and peace.

Your friend Kirsten

Starting A Snowball Effect

24 Feb

From time to time, I find myself asking the following question: Why am I here?

Sometimes, when I am in a particularly bleak frame of mind, this train of thought leads me straight into a downward spiral, and I then have a hell of job trying to climb back out.

Other times, though, I can ask this question and come up with an answer (or answers) that make me feel – well, good about who I am. Because, you know, I think I’m quite a nice person. Not that I’m the type to blow my own trumpet or anything.

I am here to make a difference, to help make the world a better place. If my presence on this earth changes just one life for the better, then I think that maybe I’ll have done OK. I like to think that my immediate circle – my family and my close friends – are enriched by the fact that I am in their lives.

I try to instill positive values in my kids, to set them up for happy and productive lives in which they, in turn, can have a positive influence on those around them.

I am a strong supporter and advocate for the autism community. I run a race every year to raise funds for autism services, and I try to spread awareness and acceptance for people like my beautiful boy George. I also try to ease James’ path as sibling to a child with autism, to allow him to balance care and concern for his brother with his own need for independence and identity as a human being in his own right.

As Gerard’s partner, I try to make a difference in the lives of the youth in our community. I support Gerard in his endeavours to keep teens away from a life of crime and gangsterism, to steer them into avenues where they can have a more positive outlet for their creative energy.

When someone I love needs advice or support, I try to be there for them as much as I  can. I have a genuine love and concern for my family and friends, and it gives me joy to help them through troubled times.

When a friend’s baby dies, there is very little I can do to ease the pain, apart from making sure my friend knows I am there, and offering whatever support I can. There is no way to get anything positive out of that kind of tragedy.

Or… is there?

On January 20th, I donated blood for the first time, in honour of Capt. Snuggles, an eight-month-old baby who was fighting for his life. Four days later, I wept – even sitting at my workstation where other people could see me, I openly wept – as I read the devastating news that Capt. Snuggles had slipped from this world into the next.

A couple of weeks later, I started pondering the question: if I started the chain of events, how many people could I get to donate blood, in memory of Capt. Snuggles, over a five-day period? After running my idea by Amy, the brave, brave Mom of Capt. Snuggles, and after receiving her blessing (and some really valuable advice), I am now officially launching the campaign.

The Captain Snuggles Blood Drive.

From 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time on April 4th until 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on April 8th, I am inviting everyone who is medically eligible to roll up their sleeves and give a unit of blood in memory of Capt. Snuggles. No matter where you are geographically located, please consider going to your local blood donor clinic in the first week of April to start in motion a sequence of actions that could save someone’s life.

I am relying on word of mouth here, so I need everyone’s help. Please spread the word. Repost, reblog, tweet, talk – please do whatever you can to let the people in your life know about this drive. Let’s work together to create a snowball effect that would make actual snowballs look like lazy amateurs.

Together, let’s save lives.

Currently, there are three ways for you to sign up:

  1. Respond to the Facebook event that has been set up.
  2. Send an email to captsnugglesblooddrive@gmail.com
  3. Leave a comment on this post, but make sure there is some way for me to contact you.

If you sign up, you will receive regular news updates and information, and I will even help you find a blood donor clinic convenient to you. Once your donation has been made, I will ask you to let me know, and you will be added to what will hopefully be the giant number of people who made a giant difference in honour of an incredibly brave, tough baby.

This blood drive is not going to diminish the tragedy of Capt. Snuggles’ plight, or the grieving of his family.

What it will do, though, is this. It will allow Capt. Snuggles to live on through the good that we will do for other families who need life, who need hope.

Together, let’s see what difference we can make.

Giving Blood, Giving Life, Giving Hope

20 Jan

I sit in the chair across from the nurse, anxiously waiting for that tiny little needle to pierce the end of my finger.  Has it worked?  Has my healthy eating, strict regimen of iron-enriched vitamins, and consumption of gross vegetable juice made my blood as healthy as it needs to be? If I am turned away now, I will be pissed off.

I am lost in my thoughts, willing my blood to cooperate, trying to analyze everything I’ve eaten in the – OUCH!  Holy crap!  For a tiny little needle that HURTS!

Not as much as the big fat needle going into my arm is going to hurt.

Not as much as the multitude of agony that Captain Snuggles has endured over the last five months has hurt.

It’s a tiny little needle, don’t be such a baby.

The nurse puts a little smear of blood onto a slide and feeds it into a machine.  She tells me that the number has to be 125 or higher.  We wait for a few seconds, the machine beeps, and…

…154.  YES!  As I follow the next nurse into the next screening area, I imagine my healthy blood cells, marching around my body like sergeants, getting ready for deployment into the next human body that needs them.

Screening goes well.  My temperature is good.  My blood pressure prompts the nurse to tell me I must work out a lot.  My heart rate is slightly elevated because I am excited to be doing this.  No lesions or bruises on my arms, all of my questionaire answers are acceptable.

I am deemed Fit To Donate.

I am taken to a row of folding chairs, where I take a seat and wait my turn.  I know that my friend extraordinaire and maid of honour Michelle is a short way behind me in the process.  I look for her and she is not in the room; she is probably in the screening area telling the nurse whether she has ever taken money for sex or taken cocaine intravenously.

As I am waiting, a man starts to pass out with his blood in mid-flow.  The kindly woman seated beside me looks at my “First Time Donor” sticker (which I feel entitled to since my one and only donation attempt, over 20 years ago, ended in disaster and could not be completed) and says, “Don’t look at him.  He’s a man.  Us girls can handle this!”

I am led to one of the stations, and as I take my seat in the thing – it’s not a chair; it’s not a bed; what’s the word for it? – I imagine those blood cell sergeants lining up in my arm, getting ready for their marching orders.

Michelle takes a seat on one of the folding chairs, which means I can talk to her instead of looking in the direction of the nurse who is taping tubes to my arm in an ominous manner.  I squeeze my eyes shut, grit my teeth, and – the needle is in!  Those little sergeants have started marching!  I imagine the blood cells in the Captain’s body straightening up and getting their act together (because let’s face it, they have been slacking off in the last little while).  I imagine them coming together, strong and whole, forming a line of defence against illness and infection.

As my blood flows out of me, I imagine Captain Snuggles getting better.  I picture his broken body healing, becoming whole.

My actual blood will not get to Captain Snuggles.  But it will get to someone who needs it.  Captain Snuggles, through his suffering, will have saved a life.  Many lives, since I am now committed to being a regular donor.

It takes less than ten minutes.  When the needle is removed, I sit in my thing-thats-not-a-bed-or-chair for the prescribed five minutes.  There is more fiddling with my arm and bandages, and then I am permitted to go and sit down in the cookie and juice room (no caffeine for first-time donors!)

As I sit there drinking my orange juice and eating my cookie, I imagine where my blood will go from here.  Samples will go to the lab for testing, and the donation will be added to the blood bank.

I imagine it being transfused into someone’s broken body, transforming the probability of death into the possibility of life, into hope.

I imagine the joy of some family, in some hospital, when they are given the news that their loved one is going to make it.

I imagine Captain Snuggles healing and becoming whole.

I imagine myself someday saying to him, “Thank you.  Thank you for making me a better person.”

Making The Giving Worthwhile

15 Jan

On Thursday morning (at 11:30 a.m. EST if anyone wants to be that precise) I will be donating blood.  I am greatly looking forward to it, and if you’re reading any sarcasm in that sentiment, none whatsoever is intended.  I really, genuinely, truly am looking forward to sitting in one of those reclining chairs while a unit of my blood is transferred from my body for the purpose of saving a life that needs saving.

I am excited to be doing this.  I am excited to be doing something, giving of myself in some small way, to help other people.

The last time I tried to donate was about twenty years ago.  I passed the initial iron test and got settled in one of the reclining chairs in the clinic.  The entire process from that point on was an absolute disaster.  The nurse – a kind, gentle soul who felt terrible about the pain she was putting me through – had to poke multiple holes in both arms before she could get the blood to flow.  When it did flow, it was painfully slow, and when about third of a unit had been taken from me, I passed out. I was sick for days after that, and when I went to my doctor, he advised me not to donate blood while my health was in such a fragile state.

It just wasn’t the right time for me to donate, back then.  There was a whole mess of crap happening in my life, and the stress of it all took its toll on my health.

Now things are different.  I am fit and healthy.  I am not under constant stress, I sleep as much as two kids and a hectic schedule allow me to, and my running regimen pretty much forces me to eat more or less healthily.  I am ready to put the memory of my last donation attempt behind me and try it again.  I am confident that the results will be far, far better.

I’m doing what I can to make sure, though.  My main objective over the next few days is to ensure that my blood is whole and healthy, that it can indeed be used to help someone who needs it.  If I show up on Thursday to give my pint of blood in honour of Capt. Snuggles, and they turn me away because my iron is too low, I will not be happy.  I have to do whatever I can to make sure that does not happen.

I share these tips for the benefit of anyone reading this who might be interested in donating blood (Michelle, maid of honour and friend extraordinaire, has already said that she will try to join me on Thursday).

  • For several days prior to donating, eat foods rich in iron.  Breads, meat, fish, chicken, fruit, raisins, nuts, dark leafy greens.  This is especially important for the ladies, whose iron levels tend to be less stable.
  • Be aware that many foods rich in iron are also high in fat, and a high lipid content can also result in you being turned away.  For 2-3 days before you donate, focus on a low-fat diet, but keep on consuming iron-rich foods that are low in fat.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  If you don’t drink enough fluids, the nurses will have a hard time finding your vein, and once you are hooked up, your blood will flow slowly and the process will take longer.  Limit sugar and caffeine in your beverages, since these slow the absorption of water.
  • Get enough sleep!  This will not necessarily change the quality of your blood, but it will make your recovery a lot easier.
  • The day before, load up on iron-rich foods, but ones that are low in fat.  Drink lots of water and go to bed early.
  • The day of, have a good breakfast so that you have the calories to start regenerating your blood.  Eat fruits with a high water content, and drink water and energy drinks (this can also give you one last iron boost before you go).
  • Try to eat either a meal or a snack right before you go.  You don’t want to donate on an empty stomach.  Take a bottle of water with you.
  • After you’ve made your donation, sit down and rest, and have a snack to raise your blood sugar.  Many clinics provide juice and cookies – if you don’t have a snack of your own on hand, accept the juice and cookies!
  • Light to moderate exercise several hours after you donate will help raise your energy levels.  I’m not talking about a five-mile run, I’m talking about an easy walk.

Many of these are good inroads to a healthy lifestyle, and following these steps will help make your blood healthy and vibrant.   If you are medically able to donate blood, I appeal to you to please consider it.  It really could be a matter of life and death for someone.

I am humbled and kind of ashamed that it has taken this – the life-threatening tragedy of a little baby – to spur me on to do this.  Ultimately, it is Captain Snuggles saving lives here, because he is the reason I am doing this.

Click here for Amy’s latest update on Capt. Snuggles.