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Volunteering in vein

One drop of blood, deep crimson and nearly spherical, bloomed from the end of my finger. When the phlebotomy tech placed it in a tube of blue fluid, it floated slowly downward but refused to sink. I should’ve known right then. But the tech assured me that my other test for anemia showed high-enough iron levels, so I was cleared to donate to the Red Cross bloodmobile that visits campus each semester.

And it began OK. After the initial jab and then the searing sting from the anticoagulant in the tubing and collection bag, I lay there making my fist and feeling mighty fine. I was glad to be participating in a campuswide good deed, joining with students and librarians, secretaries and vice presidents, professors and carpenters, all giving a bit of ourselves to the wider upstate community. People came and went, each donor visiting with the volunteer at the cookie-and-juice table before walking back to class or office. When I’d bled my pint, I strolled over for a snack, sipped a little fruit punch, and idly mentioned by way of small talk that my arms and legs felt like they belonged to somebody else. Like lightning, two techs bundled me into a wheelchair and deposited me on a cot with my feet elevated. My protestations dissolved into gurgles with the compulsory administration of a drinking straw connected to a juice carton. It was a discomfiting position, as all around me sleep-deprived adolescents and white-haired, bookish intellectuals were jumping off the cots apparently as full-blooded as ever. Twenty minutes later I was perfectly ambulatory and went back to work under my own steam. But the rest of the day, and into the next, I was headachy and queasy. For subsequent attempts, I tried pumping myself up ahead of time by drinking water, snacking, eating a steak, but each time I gave blood it left me feeling like a wan, wraithlike victim of one too many dates with Count Dracula.

Seeking a different way to serve my fellow man, I joined the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee—and found it nearly as draining as a bloodmobile. Recently, as the city seems to be growing less overwhelmingly Republican, the Democrats are coming out of hibernation hungry, feisty, and fractious. The Dems mostly agree, and mostly oppose the Republicans, on the hot issue of a supplemental municipal water source (a debate for which Skidmore is providing some objective research—click here), but we’ve been split down the middle on many other matters. This rift makes the already stifling chore of committeework downright torturous. The parliamentary process, the ax-grinding and ox-goring, the elaborate argumentation built on a misheard remark, the roll calls and Robert’s Rules… I’ll take the needle! This has been my first direct experience with local politics and committee dynamics, and I’m not sure I can bear it much longer, at least not without an intensive refresher course in patience and people skills.

Still, I’m pleased to have served and will surely do so again. I’ll just be looking for a volunteer role that suits me better, body and soul. For example—and I know this makes others woozy, but it doesn’t faze me—I’m perfectly happy to patrol Skidmore’s North Woods with a garbage bag and an extra-large pooper-scooper. —SR