Because I said I would: Start donating blood again

“Because I said I would…” is series of entries inspired by a project of the same name. While living in Quito I’ve got ten goals for myself, and I’m writing about each one as I accomplish it.

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The first time I gave blood was when I was 17, at a high school blood drive. As with most people, I had a bit of trepidation the first time I let a stranger stick a 16 gauge needle into my arm, but I quickly realized that the experience isn’t that bad. After that first successful donation, and after learning that my blood type is O negative, I started donating as often as the Red Cross allowed. I also may or may not have been trying to match the gallons of blood that my Grandpa Diller selflessly donated during his life. While in high school, and into college, I consistently went to the local Red Cross every eight weeks and pumped out a pint of blood.

Sometime around 2009 I was nearing 20 total pints donated when I received a random phone call from the Red Cross. I had donated about three weeks prior, and they were calling to inform me that a test for Chagas Disease had come back positive on my last blood samples. I had no idea what Chagas Disease even was, but I wasn’t too worried, as they said that it was a new type of test and could’ve been an error. They had me come back in, took some more samples, did a few more tests, and told me that I was healthy and clear of Chagas Disease. Unfortunately, however, the Red Cross also told me that I could no longer donate blood. In the subsequent years I attempted to donate in Indiana, Kansas, and Alaska, and was turned away every time. I was frustrated that they essentially banned me for that one false positive test result. Though, I suppose it’s a moot point now, as I’m sure I can’t donate in the States because I’ve lived in Ecuador for over a year.

Fortunately, though, the rules in Ecuador are a little more lax! The last time that I donated blood was in Guayaquil, about a year and a half ago, so I knew that the Red Cross’ refusal of my blood didn’t extend to South America. When I moved back to Quito I made it a point to figure out where I could start donating regularly. It ended up being super easy to find a place to donate, as the local Red Cross sets up four mobile donation stations around the city every weekday, and publishes their locations online each week. I had been trying to find the time to donate over the past couple of weeks, and this past Tuesday a donation point was set up at a park just a few blocks from my office.

After grabbing lunch, I walked down to the tent that was set up, filled out the necessary paperwork, and donated some O negative. I hadn’t donated for over a year, but it was just the same as always. A quick finger prick to test iron levels, the sting of the needle, about ten minutes of opening and closing my hand, and that’s it. Plus some juice and cookies afterwards just like in the States. And, same as always, the most unpleasant/painful part of the whole experience was yanking off the band-aid the next day!

Now to wait three months, and it will be off to find another spot to donate again. And in the meantime, you should go donate too!!

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Because I said I would: Commute to work by bicycle

“Because I said I would…” is a new series of recurring entries that I’ll be writing over the next year. These entries are inspired by a project by the same name, which was started by Alex Sheen as a way to honor his late father. The project is a social movement designed to remind people that they’re able to keep the promises they make. Anyone can send Alex a request and he’ll send you (for free) ten business cards which are blank, except for the phrase “because I said I would.” on the bottom. The idea is that you write down a promise on each of these cards, give the card to the person to whom you made the promise, then get it back when you follow through on your word. Before I left the USofA, I got ten of these cards and decided to write ten promises to myself. Or, perhaps more accurately, ten goals for myself during my time living in Quito. So, over the next year I’ll (hopefully) be writing ten posts about the goals that I’ve fulfilled.

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When I knew that I was going to be moving back to Quito, I knew right away that I wanted to buy a bike and ride my way around the city. In fact, before I even got here I knew where I wanted to buy a bike as well. A couple of posts back I wrote about Carlos Tacuri, the owner of ConstruBicis, a local bike shop here in the city. Nearly a month ago I ordered a custom bike from Carlos and picked it up after about a week of work. It’s a great basic mountain bike, with a custom green Tacuri frame, and over the past few weeks it’s been an amazing way to get around this city. One of the biggest surprises about the bike came when I went to pick it up. I was told to come by at 5pm on a Thursday, but when I got there, the bike wasn’t quite ready. The final components were being put in place and adjustments were being made, and the decals weren’t even on the frame yet. As I waited in the lobby chatting with Carlos, I saw another bike there that had someone’s name on one of the rear chainstays. I asked Carlos who that person was, and he said “Oh, just another client. Everyone gets their name on the bike they order – even you.” I was skeptical at this, to say the least, but sure enough, when my bike was finished and they were putting on the decals, they included a small sticker with the Ecuadorian flag and “Cristopher” that went right on the frame.

Biking in Quito has kind of been a trial by fire, for a couple of reasons. First, the most noticeable thing about biking in this city is the altitude. Quito sits at over 9,000 feet in elevation, so any physical exertion feels pretty intense compared to most places. When I first picked up my bike, I rode back to my apartment, and when I got inside I had to chug some water and lay down because I was beat. After a few weeks of riding every day my lungs and muscles have adjusted a lot, but it’s still an effort to ride up to my house on the way home from work – even though it’s only just over 2 miles, it’s mostly uphill and to do it quick takes a fair amount of effort.

The other rigor of biking in Quito is the traffic. As a city of two and a half million cramped in a narrow valley, the traffic can be pretty treacherous sometimes. Fortunately on my ride to work I’m on roads that aren’t super busy. However, some of the longer rides I’ve done through the city have been through some pretty sketchy sections of traffic. Riding here has made me super defensive and aware of my surroundings. And even though some of my fellow WT alums think I’m crazy for biking here, it’s actually really exhilarating and a lot fun. Plus, there’s an awesome growing cycling scene in Quito (which I’ll write about more in another post), so there is increasing respect for bikes in the city. That being said, I’ve learned assume that designated bike lanes won’t actually be respected.

To give you a better sense of what it’s like to bike here in Quito, I decided to film my commute from home to work. It took me a few attempts to figure out where to mount my camera and get a respectable shot of my descent to La Mariscal, but eventually I figured out a way to attach my camera to the front of my helmet. Needless to say, it looked pretty ridiculous, so I’ve included a picture of what that looked like as well. Enjoy the video and I look forward to another “Because I said I would” post in the near future!