Odd Job: Giving Blood
Both sides take a leap of faith when you reply to a Craigslist job offer. The job posters are trusting that you will show up and do the work, while you are trusting that, when you arrive, whoever posted the ad won’t tie you up and sacrifice you to their underworld god, Zotan. If you’ve ever been on either side of a Craigslist post, you know that these expectations are both optimistic.
But in this case, a company called The Bluco Center was offering $100 to draw 100mL of my blood. And while I’m not sure where exactly I draw the line on being extra cautious about accepting gigs, I know that it’s somewhere before the point where they stick a needle in my arm.
So I started investigating. Problem was, no one had heard of The Bluco Center. The Better Business Bureau said they had no record of the company. Yelp had zero reviews, and if you’ve ever been on Yelp, you know that that’s saying something. A friend told me that people also post reviews on Google+, but all that gave me for my trouble was the dirty feeling you get when you use Google+.
I was torn. On the one hand, I really wanted $100. On the other hand, this is how most kidnapping movies starring Liam Neeson start. So I gave the company a call.
“Well,” explained the secretary, “we work in a sterile, professional environment, and we use brand new needles for every patient. Everyone who works here is thoroughly trained and has an average of 6-10 years’ experience in the medical field.”
“Okay.” I said. “Is there anyone you can refer me to outside the company that attests to this being a safe and clean facility? Like the Better Business Bureau or a local medical center?”
“Um… Well, we are on Facebook.” Oh! You’ve been screened by Facebook! Well why didn’t you just say that in the first place?!
“You got anything else?”
The woman on the phone had told me that The Bluco Center was located on Main Street, right next to St. Mary’s Hospital. Now, if you’re like me, when someone tells you they’re performing medical trials right where a hospital is located, you would assume that they were in some way associated with the hospital, and not, for example, located in what appeared to be an abandoned shack that happened to be next door to the hospital.
You would be wrong.
The pavement of the parking lot looked like it had been ripped by an earthquake, and stray trash was scattered everywhere. The building’s splintered glass window was held together by scotch tape. I braced myself for the worst as I opened the oak door. If it’s a crack den, I run. If it’s a crack den, I run. I told myself.
But rather than the dirt-infested people warming themselves with trashcan fires that I anticipated, I found carpeted floors, beautiful furniture, and a plasma TV on the wall. Most impressive of all, the magazines in the waiting room were from this month. Maybe I wasn’t going to be abducted today!
I signed some forms, then was taken to a back room by a woman named Helga. I had talked to Helga on the phone and was a bit disappointed to meet her in person. With her thick German accent, and a name like Helga, I had been picturing a burly woman who could bench press a grizzly bear, eat thirty sausages and then go compete in a rowing competition in which she would undoubtedly fail the pee test after setting a world record. But this Helga was gentle and thin, with wire-framed glasses.
She led me into her office, where I took a seat. As I answered her questions, I gazed around the room, grateful that it looked like a real doctor’s office. There were boxes with gauze, fancy instruments, and a bed covered in butcher paper. While the boxes labeled “blood and stools” were mildly disconcerting, they did at least seem like something a legitimate lab might have.
“Now I just need a small sample for the centrifuge.” Helga said, as though that sentence made any sense. Did she just say centrifuge? Like what they use to train astronauts?
She pricked my finger with a needle to draw some blood, then put the blood into a strange-looking machine that I assumed was the centrifuge. She flipped a switch, and a loud whirring sound started up like a factory turbine.
“What’s your height?” She shouted over the roar of the machine.
“About 6’1”” I shouted back. I felt like we were on the floor of a factory. What the hell was happening to my blood right now.
“Weight?” She shouted.
“190!” I hollered.
She stuck a thermometer under my tongue, glanced at the output, then wrote down 34.7% on her paper. Is that my temperature? Who has a percent for a temperature?
The centrifuge spun to a stop and she checked the readings. “Ooo, you just made the cut. You have a reading of 34.”
“Good.” Thank god. I was worried my centrifuge score might be only 32 today.
“So we’ll be taking 100 ml of your blood, a bit less than they take when you donate with Red Cross. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. I’ve given blood before.”
“Okay. You sure? Because this can hurt.” Helga asked this question or one like it about seven times. To the point where I started to worry just how strong of a whimp vibe I give off when I meet someone.
Then a big, strong woman came in the door. Now she looked like a Helga. “Hi, my name is Persephone.” She said. Of course it is. “I’ll be drawing your blood today.”
Once she injected the needle in my arm, she looked over at me and, with a deeply maternal voice asked, “You doing okay? Does it hurt?” Then she made a wincing face like she was experiencing sympathy pain for what must be a truly torturous experience on my part.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” How much did they coddle the patients who weren’t 6’1”, 190-pound men who had given blood before?
A few minutes in, she looked over again, tilting her head as she spoke. “How ya feeling? Okay?” For Christ’s sake.
“You are doing such a good job.” This hyper-coddling environment was making me long for the time when I feared this would be a callous, unhygenic clinic.
Once we had finished and put the gauze over my arm, Helga handed me a cup of pineapple juice while Persephone clamped the blood samples.
“So I clamp here? And here?” Persephone asked Helga, as though she was still learning. This is always what you want to hear from someone who just finished injecting you with a needle: insecurity about how this all works.
“You know what?” I said. “I don’t need any juice.”
“Okay.” Helga shrugged and threw the juice into the sink. The same sink where Persephone was clamping my blood samples.
“Oh! Juicy blood!” Persephone shouted.
“Ha!” Helga laughed. “Juicy blood!”
They shared a laugh like this was the kind of thing that happened so often it was becoming an inside joke.
When we were done, they gave me my check and led me to the exit. And that was it. Aside from the restriction that I couldn’t give blood for another 56 days, I was done.
I didn’t think much about the experience until 56 days later when I got a call from an unrecognized number.
“Jonathan! It’s Helga!” Helga exclaimed like we were old friends.
The name rang a bell, I just couldn’t quite… “From The Bluco Center!” Bluco Center… Bluco… “Do you know why I’m calling?”
“We need more blood!” She shouted. Her tone was the kind someone uses when they tell you you’re their 10,000th customer and you just won a grand prize, despite the words sounding like dialogue from a 1970′s vampire movie.
“Um…” I thought back on the experience I had last time. The frightening parking lot and the strange machine that roared like a car engine.
“Though I should tell you we have moved.” She said. “And you may notice our phone number is different.” I’m not crazy about giving blood with someone who sounds like they’re on the run from the cops. “But don’t worry, we still pay $100.”
“I’ll be there.”
-  This information could be interpreted in one of two ways. The BBB only has files on companies that either registered with the BBB, or that people logged complaints against. If a business isn’t in the BBB database, that means it either has never generated a complaint, or that it isn’t an actual business, but rather something run out of the back of some guy’s car. Craigslist gigs often trend towards the latter. ↩
-  To disspell any concerns my readers may have, and by that I really mean my mom who is probably having a heart attack right now as she pictures me giving blood at this clinic, I should say that at this point the secretary asked a coworker who gave me several very good, credible references, including websites ending with .gov. You know it’s official when it ends in .gov. ↩
-  My kind of woman! ↩
In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.
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