The unexpected benefits of volunteering

Hand pouring water from can into canned soup in pot

I decided to volunteer for selfish reasons: I thought it might be good for me. I was excited about the potential for social interaction and for helping others, as well as the structure a new activity or two might add to my long and sometimes lonely days. I crave structure. So far, volunteering is all of those things and more.

What I hadn’t considered was all the swag that would come with the assignments, If we make it into PALS–wish us luck at our interview tomorrow–Jelly will receive a blue bandana to wear on shift and, maybe someday, a yellow vest. Canadian Blood Services provides an endless supply of snacks that I can eat if I get hungry during a shift. Cookies, juice, pop, a carboholic’s dream. So far I’ve avoided the Campbell’s soup, for obvious sodium-laden reasons.

(By the way, did you know that one cup of prepared Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup has 890 mg sodium? I retained fluid after reading the label.)

And then there’s my little red CBS vest. We volunteers need to be easily identifiable, and our blood-red vests set us apart from the crowd. I’ve never looked good in red, which now only accentuates my pasty white (anemic) complexion. But for my shift, I swallow my pride, knowing that the others look almost as bad as I do. No one looks good in red.

I bring my vest home every week and hang it in my closet. I hadn’t yet found any alternate uses for it off shift until last week I had a spontaneous nosebleed. In the olden days of my illness, I had frequent nosebleeds because of my blood thinners. Now I’m getting them because my platelets, those sticky things that make me clot, are low.

The other day, I was sitting at home reading a book and all of the sudden there was blood everywhere. I happened to be outside on the deck, so I leaned forward just in time to spare my clothing. A few hours later, the bleeding finally stopped.

I discussed this problem with Dr. Blood when I last saw her. She consulted the pharmacist who prescribed an ointment that constricts the blood vessels in the nostrils, thereby reducing the chance of recurring bleeds. Yesterday I drove across town to a special compounding pharmacy–who knew there was such a thing?–to have the prescription filled. The kind pharmacist asked me whether I’d like to wait. How long would it take? “About an hour,” she said. Waiting is not my forté, so I declined.

This morning, God punished me for my decision to leave the pharmacy. My nose started bleeding early, soaking my white t-shirt and necessitating an emergency laundry load. The red stuff has been flowing on and off since, from not just one but both nostrils. Don’t drop by. It looks like a slaughterhouse in here.

I am hoping that soon I will be able to leave the house. I’ve made several attempts, only to have them thwarted by a resurgence. What to do, what to do? Perhaps I’ll have to don my little red vest when I depart, just in case. If I’ve refrained from eating in the new car for this long, you can bet I’m not going to bleed on the upholstery.

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