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When theres no time to wait
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Adequate blood supplies could save your life or mine when tragedy hits

I’ve never held someone’s life in my hands but Ihave had one man’s life in my arm.

It was the left one, if memory serves. The year was 1974. Our tiny hospital was still in operation, including the emergency room.

The main highway was two lanes of treachery back in those days and deadly wrecks occurred far too often.

A young man had been brought in to the E.R. only moments earlier, his body a tangled, broken mess. “Emergency medical service” was mostly volunteers back then. They were dedicated to the task, but ill-equipped. By the time they’d extracted this man from the twisted, jagged steel remnants of his car, most of his blood had gushed out all over the seats, and them. The little blood he had left was seeping away rapidly right there on the stretcher.

One lonely doctor was working feverishly to save this life. Blood supplies were harder to come by in those days, and less was kept on hand. In fact, there was little to none available to replenish the spark of life for this young accident victim.

Someone, I don’t know who, made a decision.

I was a young newlywed, a regular blood donor, and lived within a stone’s throw of the hospital’s back door. A call came that evening from a calm, but insistent, nurse just before I was sitting down to dinner.

I forgot my meal and walked over to the hospital where I joined several others who’d been called. We all rolled up our sleeves and, one by one, a nurse drew a unit of blood from each of us. This was in an earlier time, of course. Procedures were different and, in this case, probably didn’t matter anyway. This accident victim had two chances of survival, slim and none, without an immediate supply of blood.

I later found out that my blood, and that of the other donors, was taken directly from us — untested, and still warm — and given to that young man. I wish I could tell you he lived and is with us today, but the truth is I simply don’t remember, if I ever knew at all.

What I do remember is the feeling I had, sitting there, realizing a very few moments of my time could play a part in saving another man’s life.

It’s been nearly 40 years since then and I’ve given blood numerous times, but never again in such a dramatic moment. For years, I was a regular donor, but then, for some inexplicable reason, I fell out of the habit. Shamefully, I’ve missed more blood drives in recent years than I’ve attended.

That is changing, though. I gave blood this week. Nationwide, bad weather has caused a severe shortage in our country’s blood supply. Stockpiles are dangerously low and, again, lives are hinging on the need being filled. I read of the need and, again, left my home late in the afternoon, delaying dinner, to go and donate a few moments of time and the precious gift of life.

The person needing my blood wasn’t lying in the adjacent room, life hanging in the balance.

But he or she lies somewhere.

Robert M. Williams Jr. is an Effingham native who publishes weekly newspapers in Blackshear, Alma, Folkston, McRae and Forsyth. E-mail him at