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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

This story comes to us from one of our blood drive volunteers, Kim Elizabeth Manning, who is willing to do just about anything to make our blood donors feel welcome

When something great happens, you probably cheer loud and exuberantly … but what if you’re deaf, or the person you’re cheering for is deaf? Recently, I had a chance to cheer for a blood donor, and what a moment that was!

I’m a Red Cross volunteer blood donor escort. My job is to assist each donor in getting from the donation bed to the juice and snack table.

When a young hard-of-hearing woman walked into our local blood donor center, I got excited. Great! An opportunity to practice my American Sign Language (ASL) skills.

When I approached this woman, she told me that she was terrified of needles. I understood; I don’t like them either. To help her through the experience, I offered to hold her hand during the donation.

During each step of the donation process, I explained what Marilyn, the blood collection technician, was doing. Unfortunately, all of this donor’s veins were small. It took two attempts to get the needle in and positioned to allow the blood to flow.

Marilyn and I did our best to distract her from the discomfort and reassure her that she could do this. I encouraged her to keep breathing – and breathed with her. I showed her how to help keep the blood flowing by continuously wiggling her fingers – and wiggled my fingers along with her. I told her how proud I was of her for being so brave – and reminded her that she was saving up to three lives today.

And for the entire 19 minutes and 59 seconds that it took, she didn’t back down … and successfully donated a pint of blood. Together, we cheered. In ASL, that means waving your hands high in the air. We waved and waved!

My new friend was so proud of herself. I admired her determination to work through her fear for the greater good. While her face clearly and continuously showed how much she didn’t like the needle, but afterwards, she enjoyed some juice and some cookies – and signed up to donate again in 56 days.

ASL is not a series of word-signs that translate into English. It is its own language and has its own syntax. Vocabulary is only seven percent of the language. It requires learning how to communicate visually, using facial expressions and one’s hands to “create a picture.” During my two years of study, and even with some tutoring with my teacher, Heath, I found this part of sign language difficult. It wasn’t intuitive, so I often felt that the concept “a picture is worth a thousand words” eluded me.

But, in those 19 minutes and 59 seconds, I got it. It was like getting a transfusion of understanding. I got over a big hurdle in my fluency with this fascinating form of communication and was able to explain concepts and offer a thousand words of support with one picture. Now I was proud of myself, too.

Thank you to this brave and determined young woman – and to all of you who are scared of needles or even blood, and yet choose to give this life-saving gift to those who need it. You are the real heroes of American Red Cross Blood Services.

For more information on saving lives by giving blood, please call 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit RedCrossBlood.org.