In Which I’m Scared and Then Greedy and Then Slightly Altruistic and Then Both Scared and Greedy

This is about donating bone marrow.

I’ve been really passionate about giving blood for a while, until I gave too often and got minor anemia (it wasn’t the sweet tea after all). I hope to get back into it someday.

For a while I thought that the next step in anatomical altruism was either donating platelets or donating bone marrow. Both seemed like a great way to save lives, but I was scared. Both seemed a lot more painful and uncomfortable than giving blood.

Then, two weeks ago I heard about this guy named Amit Gupta. Apparently he founded a startup called photojojo, and he’s well liked among tech entrepreneurs. He was diagnosed with acute leukemia about a month ago, and the internet went crazy to get the word out about his need for bone marrow.

I did nothing. I was still scared of the idea (I picture donating bone marrow to involve a large needle navigated into my pelvis by a gruff Germanic nurse with big hands, preventing me from walking or blogging for days afterwards).

And then Seth Godin got me. Seth is a bestselling author with a widely read blog, and he decided to give $10,000 to anyone who was a match for Amit and decided to give. Not only that, but he offered to profile the matching donor on his blog, which is read by a gazillion people a day.

So I decided to do it. I know, it’s pitiful to require an incentive to do the right thing, but that’s what it took to get me over the edge.

I almost backed out when filling out the cheek swab (face cheek, not butt cheek) application. It’s a bit intimidating. When you donate blood, you just have to assure the Red Cross that you didn’t have sex with Welsh sheep between 1992 and 2001. When you sign up to be a bone marrow donor, however, you have to pledge that if you’re a match for someone in need any time over the next 30 years, you will donate. It’s implied that if you refuse, that gruff Germanic nurse will hunt you down and shove that giant needle into your pelvis, even if you’re in the middle of a very important meeting at work.

That’s a big commitment. I don’t know where I’ll be in 30 years. I sure hope I’m not in a meeting.

I want to pretend that I was brave. But really I just wanted the Seth Godin blog exposure. So I completed the application, and the cheek swab was on its way.

And then I read the fine print about Amit Gupta.

Amit Gupta needs South Asian bone marrow. I am Irish, German, and Polish. None of which are remotely South Asian.

And then I read more fine print about being a bone marrow donor.

The donation website says that if you are selected as a match, it might take up to 30 hours the week of the donation to go through the entire process. 30 hours?! I know that another person’s life is worth way more than 30 hours. But that’s a lot of my time. I can save three lives with a half-hour blood donation!

So my combined fear and greed (for time) outweighed my greed for money and exposure, and I opted out of the bone marrow registry.

I know. I’m terrible. But at least I’m writing this blog post in the off chance that a South Asian reads it, wants to be a better person than me, and saves Amit Gupta’s life.

Have you ever donated bone marrow? Is it painful/time consuming/dangerous?