By Kevin Kuzma, Online Editor
Albertine Vineyard lifted the bag full with my blood a few inches off the bedside table. She held it in one hand, as comfortable as she could be with what was inside, and after drawing a breath, said, "It’s your gift of life … that’s what I call it." She set it back down. And then she told me about her gifts.
The needle doesn’t come out of your arm right away. First the line to the blood bag is cut, and then the bag is sealed and labeled while your arm still lays flat across the table.
The medical assistant tells you about the next few minutes. Why you shouldn’t sit up too fast. Why you should take it slowly and walk carefully around the beds they’ve set up and not try to rush back to your desk. They tell you that you can’t exercise. That you need to drink plenty of water and eat a big lunch. They tell you to stop at the snack station on the way out and sit there for five minutes before going back to work.
You hear very little of this and instead wonder when the needle is going to come out. You look down at the line full with your blood and the light feeling in your head gets lighter. You’re down a pint and you feel like you just woke up.
In Albertine’s trade, this is the time for small talk. Those few awkward minutes can be equated to a dentist taking his thumb from your mouth, and giving you a precious few seconds to respond to something he’s asked before jamming his hand back in your mouth.
I’d been talkative with her earlier – while she prepped me – and my queasiness about donating only showed when her cell phone rang. She’d just finished talking with me about HIV/AIDs, hepatitis and other diseases that brought a serious overtone to something I’d arbitrarily decided to do. I didn’t want her phone call to take priority over what was about to happen.
“Don’t you worry about that,” she said, continuing on with her work. “It’s my son. He’s in the hospital.”
I trusted that I was her main concern, over her own child – at least temporarily.
Albertine went on a little bit about herself. She’d spent the two previous nights at the hospital. The first one was with her mother who’s suffered a serious asthma attack. The second involved her 26 year-old son, Broderick, who has Sickle Cell Anemia Disease. The condition triggers extremely painful episodes. His red blood cells are not round-shaped, but rather half-moons that cause them to cluster and cut off oxygen in certain parts of the body. Broderick was diagnosed with the disease when he was eight months old.
I couldn’t tell Albertine had missed any sleep. She went about her work diligently, and only sounded indifferent when repeating routine directions.
She hooked me up to the IV and to take my mind off the process, she asked me what I did for the company. I told her about our magazine and the career colleges we write about. I wondered what had led her into her line of work, half-certain the path involved a “for-profit” college, so I asked.
“I’m a Heritage College graduate,” she said. “I was a home-maker for 17 years. I decided to go back to school because I was bored.”
She told me she was diagnosed with Lupus in 1989 (at 24 years-old). The disease destroyed her kidney immediately and by 1990. She was on dialysis for about two years when her brother donated his kidney to her in October 1992. Thinking the road to recovery could begin, there was another setback. The blood was not flowing through her joints and that led to a right hip replacement in 1999 and then the same procedure with the left hip in 2003. Even walking hurt.
But she never let her condition impact her education. She was determined. Learning how to take care of her son spiked an interest in the medical field.
“Because of all the nurses, techs, and doctors who had taken can of my son and me, I wanted to give back and make an impression on someone else’s life,” she said.
At Heritage, she “learned how to prick people and take blood,” she said. Her only challenge was a worry that she would get sick and not be able to finish her education. “Through the grace of Jesus Christ, I made my dream come true.”
Albertine’s first degree led to her career as an X-Ray Medical Assistant. And she’s enrolled in Heritage’s Billing and Coding program with plans to graduate next fall.
This woman who was calming me from a few moments of discomfort had been through a lifetime of more pain than I had. She talked about her memories of pain and her struggles like they were old friends of hers now. And I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t asked.
There are variants to a successful life. Not everyone starts in the same place, or endures the same amounts of agony, or grows as much along the way, or works as hard to make it.
Someone who reaches a pinnacle in their profession might not come as far as someone who came from little and is just beginning to make inroads. Albertine’s gifts were the trials, her education, and a deepening faith in herself and her lord. Her life is full of quiet victories, as hushed as her Sunday school voice. You can’t tell just by looking.