Avoid a 9-11 overdose

By Medicine Men

The Sept. 11 attacks are about to be played out again, this time in slow motion media coverage. Americans are bracing themselves for an estimated 100 hours of television programming, and countless inches of print.

Mental health experts warn that this potential overdose could be overwhelming, and that the best strategy is to “Just say no!”

The National Mental Health Association has issued a call to viewers to cut back on TV time or risk depression, irritability, apathy or fearfulness. In other words, all the symptoms many of us experienced following the actual attacks.

Some folks will react just fine – finding comfort in remembering. But others will be overwhelmed or frustrated. Some even feel guilty for not wanting to take part in ceremonies or watch the coverage.

Our prescription is some constructive action.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, tens of thousands stood in long lines in this country (and around the world) to donate blood to the victims. But the blood banks can only handle so much blood at one time, and blood only keeps for a limited period of time. Finally, the Red Cross and other organizations had to call a halt, due to insufficient processing and storage capacities. Much of that donated blood subsequently became unusable due to spoilage.

In one sense, it didn’t matter. We who gave blood were doing it as much for ourselves – and for our world – as for the victims. We were taking our stand. But in another sense, it matters greatly. Blood is a perishable commodity and, as another 9-11 approaches, we’re desperately short again.

Indeed, desperate shortage is the norm. The experts tell us that our blood supplies are down to only one to two days of reserve. Normally the blood banks like to have a five-day supply on hand. At the height of our patriotism after 9-11, we had four-and-one-half day’s supply on hand. But all too soon, we forgot about the importance of this most valuable and easiest of transplants. We’d made our statement. That was that.

And in the summer, when people go on vacation, blood donations plummet. This past season has been no exception and, indeed, has been worse than in previous years – 13 percent fewer than June 2001. Perhaps this is because so many people gave last September and felt they’d done their duty – an understandable attitude. But the shortage is nonetheless real.

The regions hardest hit include the East Coast and South Central states, including Texas, California and Oregon.

To make matters worse a new law went into effect May 31 that placed additional restrictions on those who have spent six months in Europe or three months in Great Britain because of the fear of transmitting Mad Cow Disease. This is expected to reduce the available supply another 3 percent.

To get more specific:

The American Association of Blood Banks estimates that about 12.6 million units of whole blood are donated each year by about 8 million volunteers. Sometimes, families donate to balance blood uses by an ill family member. Others, mostly strangers, donate the rest of the blood, which is used to treat about 4 million patients each year, at the rate of about 32,000 units a day.

Sounds impressive. But out of a pool of more than 200 million eligible blood donors, less than 5 percent actually do so on a more-or-less regular basis. And red blood cells can only be stored under refrigeration for 42 days. Freezing is too expensive and inadequate for national stockpiling.

Sixty percent of you are eligible to donate blood, and you can do it every two months. The human significance of blood is primal. Ancient civilizations believed that the soul resides in the blood. Even today, we speak of “blood relations,” and not of “my uncle via DNA.” Our closest non-consanguinal (the word itself denotes blood) friends become “blood brothers” and “blood sisters.” Blood is life.

So as part of the president’s request for a “September of Service,” please consider donating blood, America.

It sure beats sitting helplessly in front of the television. And isn’t that a more fitting and positive tribute to our 9-11 victims and heroes?

Those interested in making a donation can call the following numbers to schedule an appointment:

  • American Association of Blood Banks 1-866-FROM-YOU (1-866-376-6968)

  • America’s Blood Centers 1-888-USBLOOD (1-888-872-5663)