blood and baseball

In honor of it being opening week across America I have decided to share my thoughts on how blood donation, or collection rather, is similar to the great American pastime of baseball.

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I came to this realization last year and have started approaching each donor as the next game and myself as the pitcher.  Hopefully, even if you know nothing about baseball you are at least aware that there is a pitcher and what his role is and you are able to follow me into this analogy.

The body doesn’t want to give up its blood.  Arms are the batters I am staring down trying to slip the needle past to fill up the 450 ml bag.

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Here are the different scenarios in this game:

Sometimes I have no issues.  Good needle placement, bag fills somewhat slowly but I make it to the full 450mls —> Win

Sometimes I have the perfect needle placement, the bag fills in record time, there is no splatter and are no mistakes and I have the full 450mls —> Win, No-hitter

Kansas City Royals v Boston Red Sox

BOSTON – MAY 19: Jon Lester #31 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after throwing a no hitter against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park on May 19, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Sometimes I know I missed the vein at first but am able to reposition and squeeze a full bag out of the donor —> Comeback win

Sometimes I miss the vein but am able to get help from another tech who can come in and reposition the needle to fill the bag —> Bullpen win

Sometimes I start off with the needle placed properly but the arm moves so the blood flow starts to slow.  After letting this happen for a while I reposition and am able to finish strong —> Rain delay, win

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Rain delay Fenway Park in Boston Wednesday, May 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Sometimes I get the needle in but the blood is flowing so slowly it clots in the line collecting only 50 or so mls in the bag —> Rain out, game postponed

Sometimes I miss the vein.  I try to reposition with zero success.  I call for help.  My other techs cannot get the blood.  We all finally throw in the towel and give up —> Loss

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Those are the different situations I can find myself in while attempting to draw blood from our wonderful crew members.

In addition, I see veins as my different pitching options.

Center AC- Fastball, obvious choice but some days the batter will hit it out of the park all day long and in this analogy where I’m the pitcher the last thing I want to do is throw home run balls.  I’m forced to stick with the curve: the cephalic (side vein).  It doesn’t anchor well but for some reason is untouchable – like A 23 year old Beckett pitching a two foot breaking ball for the Marlins in the series against the Yanks in 2003.  I slide the needle right past and save the fastball for another day.

Florida Marlins celebrate

BRONX, NY – OCTOBER 25: The Florida Marlins hoist up pitcher Josh Beckett #21 the 2003 World Series MVP after defeating the New York Yankees 2-0 in game six of the Major League Baseball World Series on October 25, 2003 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. Beckett pitched a complete game shut-out in clinch the series for the Marlins. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

 

But the real connection comes with the mental game.

Pitchers get up on the mound, throw out the first pitch and see where the game goes.  The first pitch and first few innings often set the pace of the game.  If it goes well the pitcher is in the zone and continues to throw outs.

However, if it starts off poorly the batters can get into the head of the pitcher.  Each hit builds on the one before.  Pitches aren’t placed where they are supposed do.  The fastball doesn’t have enough on it.  The curveball hangs.  The pitcher looks over and sees the pitching coach on the phone in the bullpen.  He knows he’s on his way out.    Slowly the manager makes his way out to the mound.  The only things left to do is hand the ball over and hope for the best.

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The pitcher is then left to sit with this for the next five or so days until he can once again stand on that mound and face the next batter.  Whether throughout the game or between games in a pitching rotation, success builds on success but failure tends to pile on failure.

The same goes with blood collection.  The more clean “wins” I get in a row the more confidence I have.  The more “losses” or even “bullpen wins” I get, my confidence slowly fades.  It gets to the point that I can’t even strike out a blind man, figuratively speaking.  I just have to say, “Take me out coach.”

At this point really, the only thing to do is just keep trying.  Hoping the next unit will go a little better.  Slowly, I make my way back.  The draws may not be pretty but each win is positive reinforcement and once I get into the zone a winning streak can last for weeks.

So thank you to my losses who put up with the errors and discomfort. Thank you for my rocky wins to let me back in the game. Thank you for my bullpen who have come in a saved the day and thank you to my no hitters out there who build my confidence more than anything.  This ship could literally not operate without you all.

Photo Credit Katie Keegan

Patient Sambany with 14 of his 17 total blood donors.  Read his story here. (Photo credit: Katie Keegan)

 

And remember, in life, baseball and blood collection – You win some, you lose some and some get rained out.

GO SOX!!

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wings not roots

Very few things make me home sick.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a great family and love them dearly and whole-heatedly love where I am from.  I think I was born and raised in one of the most beautiful places on this earth.  Yes this view is limited since I have yet to see so much of this spectacular world we live in but I believe I could travel for a year and still think that New England ranks up there with the Mediterranean coast, Alpine villas or Asian paradisaical beaches. The history of the freedom trail though Boston, driving through Franconia Notch in October or the quaint fishing villages tucked neatly into the rocky coast of Maine– there is nothing quite like these – but I have wings not roots and rarely do I long to be back there.

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So what is the exception?

The post season.  No, it is more the whole season of most sports.

For some reason, even if I am around other New Englanders, I long to be back home when I’m watching my boys play – whether that’s the Bruins, Sox or Patriots.  I think it is because New Englanders are gifted with a strange, sometimes delusional, faith that knows that “it’s never over ‘til it’s over.”  The funny thing is, most of the time this theory isn’t irrational.  What other town will have full confidence to come back after being down three games to the Yankees in a best of 7?  What other town will stick around in game 7 of the first round of the Stanley Cup down by 3 goals with less than 9 minutes left?  What other town will believe that sure two separate 2 TD deficits are albeit a minor complication but never insurmountable.  Other cities may look at our fans and say we are irrational but we live out of a faith based on what we have seen.

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Sure it doesn’t always pay off.  Sometimes Pedro stays in an inning too long or we lose to the Hawks at home after being up 2 goals with 17 seconds left on the clock or we drop a perfect season in the Super Bowl –and these are just the recent heartbreaks.  Our history is full of them.  In those times though, the support group I want to be with, the ones who will understand the reason it hurts so much is because I believed with everything in me, are my fellow New Englanders who mourn alongside me.

The consolation?

It is, at the end of the day, just a game and the fact that after almost 30 years I still have a hard time saying those words does not make them any less true.

It is just a game and this community I have flown myself into is a support system through the parts of life that really matter.  It is a community that also possess an insurmountable faith but it is not in the athletic ability of a group of men.  It is in the Creator of the Universe, the Creator of me and the Creator of you.  It is a faith not based on things seen but unseen because we know that we can boldly urge one another to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).  As much as I love Bergy, Pedy and Tom – men disappoint.  Men fail.  Friends, family, sports heroes whomever they may be, the only one who I can put my faith in is Jesus my Lord and Savior “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).  My salvation and my identity are defined in my God and I thank him for bringing me into a community that understands and shares that faith.

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