ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By
Joseph Walker

GIVING BLOOD WITH BROTHER DRACULA

Dick wasn’t really a vampire.  He just played one on the telephone.  But when it came to collecting blood, he made Count Dracula look absolutely toothless.

Of course, he didn’t start out as a vampire (few of them do, you know).  He was actually a house painter by profession.  But he had to put his brushes and buckets away when a two-word phrase that he had never even heard before entered his life: Parkinson’s disease.  The illness affected his body in a variety of ways, most notably causing him to tremble uncontrollably.  He was embarrassed by the shaking, and the physical limitations imposed upon him by the disease were frustrating and painful.  But instead of allowing himself to become embittered by the tough hand life had dealt to him, he chose to play it out openly – and with characteristic good humor.

“The good thing about having Parkinson’s,” he said the first time I talked to him, “is that I can hold your hand and shake your hand at the same time!”

That’s the way Dick was.  He didn’t defy Parkinson’s, but he didn’t take it all that seriously, either.  Although he allowed some accommodation in his life for the devastating effects of the disease – for example, since he had to spend most of his time in bed his bedroom walls were lined with video copies of his favorite films – he resisted any attempt by well-meaning friends and neighbors to give him excuses for not doing the things that he knew he could still do.

“Disability is not inability,” he used to tell me.  “Parkinson’s has already taken a lot from me, so I’m going to be pretty protective of what little is left for me.”

Most of what was left for Dick came straight from his heart.  He was kind and generous to a fault.  When you visited him you usually came away with a smile on your face and a pack of gum in your pocket.  His greatest desire was to serve others, and when it became too difficult for him to do it physically he tried to do it through his limited financial resources.

As the lay leader of his church congregation I tried to warn him about frittering away his fixed income on treats for everyone who came to call.  But he would hear none of it from me.

“Everyone is so good to me, I need to give something back,” he said.  “I need to give.”

So we tried to find something he could do within the congregation to fulfill his need.  It wasn’t easy.  His limitations were very real; most of the service options we could come up with required more than he was physically able to do.  About the most strenuous thing he could do for any length of time was talk on the telephone.

Which, it turned out, was exactly what was needed to lead our annual blood drive.  When we asked him to be in charge of the project he accepted with eagerness.  He called every member of our congregation and got more commitments to give blood than we had ever received.  Then he called everyone again the night before the drive to remind them of their appointments.  And if anyone didn’t show up at the appointed time he would call them again to find out why.  Every time he called, his salutation was the same: “This is Brother Dracula.  I vant your blood!”

And he got it, in record amounts.  A few days after the blood drive someone from the local blood bank called to thank me and to ask what we had done to attract so many participants.  “It’s easy to get blood,” I told him, “when you have a vampire in the congregation.”

Dick continued to preside over our congregational blood-lettings for several years.  When we moved out of the area I found myself missing his regular inquiries as to the condition of my corpuscles.  Even now, whenever I have blood drawn I think about Brother Dracula and how he refused to allow disability to limit his ability to give – and to get others to give.

Even if he wasn’t REALLY a vampire.

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— © Joseph Walker

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