The man next to me on the gurney was old. But then so am I.
Old enough to be invisible. I have become reconciled to it.
We were both invisible. The phlebotomist got both of our blood drips going and then left us to go talk to the nurse across the room.
"Hey, how are you doing over there," I called out. The man's head snapped around and he said, "Fine. Happy birthday. I heard the nurses say it was your birthday when you came in."
"Yeah," I said, "what better way to celebrate your birthday than to donate your 99th unit of blood?" I was feeling frisky about my penultimate blood donation before I reached my lifetime goal of a century mark of blood donations and was bragging.
"This is my 188th donation," came the reply. My head snapped around and I looked at him and asked, "How old are you, sir?"
"Eighty-nine." I immediately launched into my ever-present quest to speak with every member of the greatest generation that I possibly can and asked, "So did you serve in World War II?'
"Yes," came the answer, "I was in the Navy in the Pacific."
"My dad was in the 1st Marine Division at Peleliu and Okinawa," I responded.
I looked across the room as we both bled out at the blood technician rapt in conversation with the nurse as us two old fogeys entertained ourselves. " I was off Okinawa," the man beside me said, "Those Kamikazes were terrible."
"My dad never faced a kamikaze, he merely flushed out dogged Japanese infantrymen from deep inside caves on the ridges." The old-timer wasn't biting on my talk about my dad.
"My ship was the Constellation, but then they changed its name to the USS Hope. We went to pick up the Bataan Death March survivors after the Japanese surrendered."
This was interesting. "They must have been in rough shape after being POWs for over three years."
"Yes they were. They were mere toothpicks when they came on board. They ate everything we put in front of them. We were making ice cream for them and they didn't even wait for it to freeze, they drank it in liquid form. Within the hour they were pregnant toothpicks."
I could imagine emaciated hollow-eyed men, mere skin and bones, forming grotesquely distended stomachs from rich feasting after years of starvation as their bellies blew up. "A doctor came down to the mess and put a stop to us feeding them. He said we would kill them if we fed them too much too fast, it would overwhelm their systems."
The octogenarian's name was Tony, he was a hero in World War II and he's still a hero. How many lives do you think he's saved with 188 blood donations? He was a spry fellow, he could get around just fine, and there was nothing wrong with his mind or his memory. I have learned that all you have to do is begin a conversation with someone considerably older than yourself and sometimes it can become a rich learning experience.