The Vietnam War was in its mid-sixties fury and blood donation events were common and well attended at Red Cross and military sites.
At Columbus AFB, MS, the blood drive that early fall was held in a mess hall set up to process at least six donors at a time. Each donor setting included a gurney, associated stands, and screens and a chair on which to leave one’s uniform shirt while giving blood.
It was the Lieutenant’s third donation, the last having been about six months before. He knew the drill, removed his shirt, loosened his military web-belt buckle and lay supine on the gurney as a nurse approached with the usual paraphernalia. The veteran nurse Captain used an alcohol swab on his inner right arm just below his elbow and suavely inserted the needle connected to the tube and plastic bag.
He turned away as the blood began to flow and the nurse moved on to another gurney. Shortly, an engulfing unknown buzzing pleasure began. He closed his eyes to concentrate on the bliss and buzz that had displaced all other senses. He slowed his breathing consciously so as not to perturb this never experienced and glorious flow of ecstasy. He wanted to stop all and any movement that might result in this feeling being changed; it was perfect and consistent. He willed himself to not breathe, not perturb and screw up this never before inner and outer feeling.
As he lay there he buzzed inward and from without. He now saw himself floating prone, his shiny shoes pointing down toward his head, his body elongated and tapering to infinity. His creased tan uniform pants hung on the back of his calves, and his blue military web belt, as a small dot, was the last detail discernible in the elongated taper that was him. At the end of his body, just a point in the mile? … ten yards? that stretched from his heels, was a glorious light of bright yellow and yellow whites that appeared perforated as if his body was elongating through it … and the light … the light was not to be turned away from. It was part of the exquisite hover, a suspension, with a gentle tapering of his body being focused more and more thinly to a point. There was no flesh visible, just the uniform wrapper.
Tension long gone, there was now no effort or thought towards guarding the buzz … it was self-sustaining, totally on its own … He was the buzz.
“Wake up, goddammit Lieutenant! Wake up!” Again, no preamble. He was being slammed standing onto the concrete floor by a stout and very strong nurse who had her right hip against his left while she held him under his right shoulder and drew him up as she leaned to her left, elevating him about six inches off the floor and then slamming him vertically as she whipped to her right. She repeated this at least twice, it may have been more, keeping him upright. He woke on one swing up and down, and was conscious of the last slam to the floor at which time he took a step forward to escape this bewildering activity.
His next recollection was of lying on his back on a hospital cot looking up at a nurse, two Bird Colonels, and two IV bottles. As he tried to sit up he was restrained by the nurse, who looked familiar and told him to cool it, he should not move yet. He learned it had been about thirty minutes since the nurse who woke him had delivered him to the cot where he had immediately clicked off, sans buzz.
After about another fifteen minutes of observation and discussion, the Colonels decided he did not need IVs and that he could return to duty.
He fetched his shirt, drove to his office and greeted his senior NCO with a smile and joke about being the slowest blood donor on the base.
In moments the NCO returned and told the Lieutenant the Commander wanted to see him right now.
He promptly entered the CO’s office, and impelled by the “right now” emphasis of the NCO, saluted. He was told to go home right now and go to bed. He said, “Yes, Sir.”
He exited the office, went to the latrine, relieved himself, and when he went to wash his hands he was shocked by the image in the wash basin mirror. He was gray, various shades. His facial skin was flaccid. Under his eyes he had slack large bags that were streaked grey and black, with blotches of iridescent green and gold. He realized it had something to do with his “passing out” while giving blood.
He arrived home and was told by his wife that their friend Rita, the nurse who had restrained him, had called and said he should be fed a lot of protein, which he was. That was that.
More than ten years later, while reading an article on near death experiences he found himself reading of his, unbeknownst at the time, near-death experience.
The impact of the article and of knowing that what had been heretofore just a really pleasant experience lit up insights and real meanings of many words. Many he had thought of as hyperbole. Now visions, ecstasy, seeing heaven, out of body, death’s preamble, were more concrete, possibly even euphemisms. He, not knowing what the hell was happening then, lived for years with that experience never once being recalled, discussed or in any way thought of.
Hmmm. Death is less scary; he learned respect for people who claim(ed) visions and extraordinary sensory experiences, as he now does. And the nurse who roughly interrupted my awesome flight to the light? I do not know who she was and cannot explain why I never again donated blood.
March 6, 2014