The human body, depending on weight, contains roughly 10 pints of blood. A typical blood donation will allow removal of 1 pint. No more. No less. One single pint extracted with the understanding that the human body will mine that missing pint of fluid from your intestines to reconstitute and replenish your circulatory system.
My day started with an act of graciousness. The community needed blood donations and I had been a frequent donor. That’s a lie. I’d donated twice before but in my 19-year-old mind that constituted frequent. I have A+ blood, literally type A and Rhesus positive, like 34% of Americans, which is dead common and nothing to brag about. I’ve read that the Japanese believe that your blood type determines something unique about you, not unlike an American asking “what’s your astrological sign?” I’m not sure if that’s true or which is nuttier; did I mention that I’m an Aries?
In the summer of 1986 my cousin David and I answered the call for blood, and donated a pint at the Gainesville Blood bank. I’ll spare you the gory details of needles the size of coat hooks, sweat stained and curiously pale employees, and an unstable wobbly metal table that alternately gyrated left and then right which held a small liquid package attached to my person via a series of tubes and bloody conduits. You don’t need to think about that part of the story.
As a reward for surviving our “community” service, we each received a small black and white booklet of coupons from local businesses as a parting gift. One personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut, a whole bunch of crap that we’d never in a million years want or use, and an hour’s use of a hot tub, at TUBS at the intersection of University Avenue and 34th Street for half price. Please call ahead for scheduling.
After donating our pint the phlebotomist (minor note” spell checker wanted to make this word lobotomist) informed us that we should be sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Gatorade or orange juice was best, but any liquid would be fine. As we left the parking lot we immediately pulled into the Pizza Hut next door for our free personal pan pizza. At 19, nothing tasted better than free, and free hot steaming pepperoni pizza straight from the oven was manna from heaven.
A pint of beer is 99% water. On the evening in question I had one beer, and not even a good one. It might have been Michelob Light draft, but more likely was Busch in a 12 oz aluminum can. The beer isn’t the point but it was a contributing factor in what transpired that night, at least what I remember of that night.
We dropped off some friends at a party and drove to TUBS. A typical Friday night at TUBS was progressively rowdy, and by early morning many who arrived with one partner left with another, and sometimes more than one, and more than once.
It was early evening; the Florida sun was cresting the horizon when David & I arrived. We quickly split the bill and received our instructions. No drinking alcohol*(except for the alcohol on sale at the venue), no sex, and no rough housing. We signed that we had read the instructions, having no intention of doing any of those things, received a number and gathered our towels to enter.
After the entrance hut, the site was maze-like. Ten paces to the first gate, five to the second gate, walkways staggered in a an alternating left-right pattern. We were destined for number 8, which led to a fully enclosed area twelve feet in diameter with a bleached wooden privacy fence, one short concrete bench, and a hot tub designed for six affectionate occupants.
The previous year in chemistry class we discovered that the human body is 97% water; the remaining 3% is an assortment of heavy metals and salts. I quickly did the math; 10 pints of blood total, minus one pint donated leaves 9 pints circling the system. Add one mediocre beer to the nine pints, good to go. Right?
As I mentioned earlier, David & I are first cousins, and we are from the deep South. Now I understand that as far as stereotypes go there is an element of truth to most of them, but before I go any further let’s be clear on this point; OUR family tree forks like an oak, frequently and branching off in many different directions. I’m not making any judgments about what may occur in your family but our DNA doesn’t replicate or co-mingle within the confines of our beloved tree. Besides we’re more of a divide and conquer force of nature than a consolidate and dominate one.
So when I say that there was no funny business as we stripped down and demurely tucked under the bubbling water while turning our faces completely away from full frontal nudity, you should have no illusions or sickly incestuous ideation concerning an innocent transgression between two great friends who happen to be closely related. This isn’t that kind of story.
Hot tub temperatures can vary greatly but most hover between 100 and 104 degrees. This hot tub was particularly hot, definitely in the upper end of the tolerable temperature range and approaching potentially dangerous levels due to the level of humidity and the already stifling ambient air temperature. A typical Florida summer evening varies from 85-95 degrees.
Freely enjoying a most relaxing soak under the emerging stars, it was a full twenty minutes before I began to feel a little odd. Feeling a little light-headed and more than a little drowsy. Maybe I was overheated and needed to rehydrate.
The human body deals with heat exposure and exertion in two ways; the human body attempts to lower body temperature to a more conservative level by transferring energy in the form of heat to the extremities and skin surface, and naturally perspires causing the surface skin to cool as the evaporative process releases that heat into the surrounding air. The level of perspiration is unique to each individual and is difficult to quantify.
I personally sweat like a pig in a rut.
Once the ambient air temperature exceeds 69 degrees the level of disbursement of heat from the body into the air dramatically decreases. At temperatures exceeding 87 degrees sweating and evaporation gradually fail to efficiently cool the body and fluids lost to sweating increase thereby dehydrating the body even further. The cooling effect is further complicated by higher levels of water already present in the air, or high humidity factor, which inhibits water evaporation and explains why heat in a drier climate feels less exhaustive.
I distinctly remember thinking I needed water, and a full pitcher was on the nearby bench. I also remember sitting on the side of the tub and reaching for my towel to cover up with one hand and searching in the dusky dim light for the water with the other.
That’s all I remember.
I must have reached the bench because as I fell I struck the corner of the horizontally reinforced concrete plank hard with the right side of my skull. The world flashed white and back to black for a second time in less than five seconds. An indeterminate period later which could have been a few seconds or many minutes, I regained consciousness and found that I was lying naked, curled in the fetal position with my head wedged securely between the concrete bench support and the wooden privacy fence.
It was in that moment that I heard David’s small tentative voice saying “Are you ok? I saw you fall but I couldn’t stand up to catch you.”
I slowly turned my face to dislodge my head from its self-inflicted vice thereby adding insult to injury. Weak as water I replied “I think so. Are you ok?” as I tentatively touched my face and then the back of my head trying to determine whether or not I’d sustained any significant damage other than my wounded pride.
“No. But I will be once I drink something and cool off.”
Like me, David had felt woozy and had extricated himself from the hot tub, but unlike me his greater bulk and sluggish sweat glands had prevented dehydration and vasovagal fainting. The episode that had totally incapacitated me had made him thirsty and weak and unable to come to my rescue. In that moment I loved him and his feeble but ineffective attempt at chivalry more than ever before.
After regaining what composure I could muster and locating the majority of my clothes, I attempted to drive us home. I almost made it too.
Almost, but unlike “horseshoes and hand grenades” almost just isn’t good enough.
A low drone from behind the car didn’t register as important, more like a persistent buzzing which didn’t require thought or consideration. The flashing blue lights appeared in my rear view mirror like phantom winds blown in from the coast, and I was busted. I thought I was busted. Pulling over to the right side of the roadway, my heart in my throat, beating relentlessly against my windpipe, my vocal cords immobilized. I couldn’t speak. As the officer sauntered over to my window I frantically searched for my registration and driver’s license.
Whipping open the glove compartment, nothing. Damn.
Visor. It’s under the visor. Yes!
I needed to be ready. I needed to play this cool. I needed to speak and soon.
When the officer said “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
I was in a fog. My inaudible response “no sir” must have emotively transmitted, because the officer smiled at me.
“You have a taillight out.”
A little louder this time the “oh” sounded out like a word and not merely an exhalation of breath.
“Please step out of the car.”
At this David, alert to the absolute possibility that he was walking home, without me or the car, piped up. “Sir, we donated blood this afternoon at the blood bank and we’re really tired.”
Pointing at the “kiss me I gave blood today” stickers prominently displayed on our t-shirts, David pleaded “Could we go home, and fix the taillight in the morning?”
As the police cruiser exited the scene, leaving me with a pink warning slip for a broken taillight and the admonition to go straight home. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt for the second time in less than 8 hours a rush of love and thankfulness for David.
Even though we’re older and slightly wiser, we’re still close, David and I. We still go out for pizza and beer occasionally, but we’ve learned our lesson.
No more blood donations.
Say No to community service,
But most importantly; if you must soak in a hot tub drink more than one beer to stay properly hydrated.