Swords, Iron, Missoula Blood and Pie


First, I must apologize as this is a bit of sour grapes. Airing some dirty laundry.

At the same time, I’m told I am one of missoula’s most popular bloggers, so maybe this squeaky wheel will squeak a bit louder and, thus, be more likely to get some grease.

Further, I have some important health information dominantly for older guys.

Since a part of this story involves computers, I wish to point out my history with computers. In 1991 I created the “Missoula Area Conferencing System” – sorta like the internet before the internet became popular. In 1993 I created what became the world’s most popular software for accessing on-line services before the internet became popular. My career took me to working on all sorts of massive software projects, including being an architect for the ground systems for the space craft that takes pictures for google earth. And, to this day, I manage some big internet forums.

So I’ve been on the programming end of a lot of big systems. This story begins with me sitting on my butt, attempting to “work less”. I am watching a BBC show via the internet called “Doc Martin.” In this episode, a woman falls over from exhaustion. Doc Martin says she has an excess of iron and begins draining her blood. Ta da! Justification for the old leeches practice!



I’m supposed to be trying to “work less” because I’ve been feeling a bit exhausted. And I think back to many months earlier when my doctor did some blood tests and one of the things mentioned in passing was that my iron level was high.

I fired up “Doctor Google” and did a bit of research. Yup – there’s the “exhaustion” stuff for iron. And a few other things that seem to apply. And a note that this is quite common in older guys (maybe we are evolved to have more sword fights than we actually have nowadays).

2-gallon pinSo I get the idea of just donating blood to see if I then feel supercharged. I have donated a lot of blood in the past. I remember getting a “two gallon pin” at some point. I stopped donating because the missoula red cross said there was something wrong and I should go see a doctor. Sunnufabitch! I’m dying! I went and paid the doctor, paid for the tests, paid the doctor to tell me the test results and the result was “you’re fine – keep giving blood”. But I just never got around to going back. Maybe I was pissy about the false alarm, but I think it was just that my life got filled with other things and I forgot about it all.

The blood donation place is no longer on Higgins, but out on Reserve. Google maps shows they have three locations – it turns out there is only one. When I did not yet know there was only one, I tried to call them to say “which of these is correct?” but I ended up going through the big maze of “press 1 to donate money to the red cross.” So I just had to drive around and see. All three addresses were on Reserve, one near the interstate, one near Brooks and one near Mullan. Just north of Mullan is the correct spot.

So i get there and answer all of the questions:

  • Have you ever paid to have sex?
  • Have you ever been paid to have sex?
  • Have you ever had sex in Haiti?
  • Have you ever had sex in a box?
  • Have you ever had sex with a fox?
  • Have you ever had sex with somebody called “Sam-I-Am”?
  • Did “Sam-I-am” ever pay to have sex?

You don’t get a copy of the questions when you leave, so I am trying to remember the questions. Maybe they don’t want you to take the questions, because you might share the questions with other people and that could lead to cheating on the test.

I know why they do this, but I think there are much better ways to get this task done. But, of course, the people that work here don’t want to talk about how to improve their system – they just work with the system they have.

So I answer all the questions and hand the results over to the nice woman. I kinda feel like we now have a pretty intimate relationship. I mean, I shared some seriously private stuff here. In fact, I’m kinda feeling a bit down that at no point in time did any woman ever pay me for sex. That would have been pretty cool. I used to be in pretty great shape. Well, maybe “pretty good shape” or “not horrible shape.” Maybe “okay shape.” Maybe “pretty okay shape”?

umbrella-drinkThere was one time when I was in my 20s, a woman asked me out on a date. She paid for all sorts of fun things that night. She then wanted to buy me some hooch. Since I don’t like the taste of hooch, she ended up buying me hoochy stuff with umbrellas in it that didn’t taste much like hooch. Once I was a bit wobbly, she revealed her devious plan to take me home and have sex. Yay! Unfortunately, she did not calculate in my lack of experience with hooch. So I think the night ended with me asleep and her being disappointed.

But the Red Cross blood donation center has no question for that. Nor does it have an essay section under “Have you ever been paid to have sex?” Or even “On a scaled of zero to ten: have you ever been paid to have sex?” I would have marked the scale at somewhere around “1.3” because there once was a woman who parted with money in a feeble attempt to have sex with me and then the story gets a bit blurry from there.

Back to the Missoula Red Cross blood donation place and I am handing a nice woman a document of my embarrassingly boring sex life. I feel a little like it is only fair that I get to see how she answers the samequestions, but, of course, that is not how things are set up. So I am sharing my intimate details *AND* the engineer in me has a design of how this can all be done better, but I know that nobody there cares.

Then I go into a little room with the woman. She types my name into the computer and …. look, they still have records about me from before. So she updates my address and then tells me that I am not allowed to donate blood.


“I don’t know. There is a flag on your account that your are not allowed to donate blood.”

“But that was from … something like 20 years ago. They sent me a letter, I went to the doctor and the doctor said it was an error on the part of red cross.”

“There is nothing I can do. But here is a phone number you can call and talk to the red cross about it.”

“But I’m currently at the red cross. Can’t I talk to you about it?”

I kinda got the impression that it had something to do with my privacy. Which seemed a bit silly after my questionnaire about my sex life. I do like the idea that if somebody has something like AIDS or Hep-C then it can be a bit more private – talk to somebody in new york city rather than in missoula. But I know what it is and it is stupid, so I’m thinking “I hereby give my permission to look at the ‘why’ and solve this and move on.”

No amount of whining on my part would change anything. So I left.

Calling the number resulted in 45 minutes of talking to somebody where english was not yet a second language. My name had to be respelled about seven times. I was told that it was 1994 when I last donated blood and the thing they told me about was something they don’t even test for anymore. She said the computer would be updated and I would also be sent a letter just in case the computer in Missoula did not show the change. (Again, my brain is thinking about a better system –but I still need to remain quiet).

A month passes and no letter shows up. I go back to the Missoula Red Cross and am required to answer all of the questions again. Again I feel a little lame that there have been no new developments in the past month about getting paid for sex. Of course I know that that would be a big red flag for them, so it is probably for the best.

Off to the little room again …

ASurprised young manpparently I am still in “reject” mode. But wait! I thought ahead and I brought a brand new note from my doctor that says my blood is excellent for donating. They don’t care. Again they tell me to call the number and speak to red cross. I remind them that I am currently sitting in red cross. I then suggest that since red cross has an internal problem, that maybe it would be handy for a person at this office calls the other office and get things sorted out. “Nope. Go away.”

I suppose I can call the number again. It was 45 minutes last time, so I am guessing it might be two hours this time. Ug. Why should it be so hard to donate blood?

I go to google and look for blood donation stuff that is not the red cross.

I end up going to spokane. Oooooo … fancy. Way better snacks.

I don’t like Spokane in general. It reminds me of all the things I find icky in a city. I love Missoula so much. I could fill a book or two on how Missoula is awesome and Spokane is lame.

On the other hand, I am being overwhelmed with curiosity: if I donate blood, will my productivity go up? Will I be so consumed with productive energy that I just don’t have the time for an internet show like “Doc Martin”?

Driving so far for something so trivial seems like a horrible waste of fuel and time. But powerful curiosity combined with a prius overcome these concerns.

The spokane place has the same questions, only the questions are asked on a device with a camera on it. I did some software development in 2003 (or so) for this type of device. The idea is that the camera records you filling out the form. If a lawsuit comes up, they can play back the video complete with what selections were being made on the device. So if you die and your family says “he didn’t know the risk, so you owe us a million dollars.” then the video can be shown where the person is reading the part that says “do you you know that if we hack at your innards with sharp things, one of the possible side effects is ‘ death ‘ – right?” And the options include “yes”, “tell me
more” or “I would like to talk to somebody about this first.” I was not allowed to add a button that said “Screw all this, I’m going home.” or “If I die, my family will come and get revenge on all of you.”

So I’m being recorded as I am again presented with the question about whether anybody has ever paid me for sex. I kinda wonder if I check “yes” if the contraption will then ask questions like “how much?” or “what sort of stuff did you have to do?” or “We have somebody here in the office that is also interested in paying for sex.”

fish-in-a-tank-1-1367759-640x480Over all, the blood donation experience in Spokane was really nice. The missoula place seemed kinda …. cheap …. compared to the spokane facility. The spokane facility had a lot of beauty and professional looking stuff. I remember a huge fish tank, cushy chairs, a massive snack table with super fancy snacks and drinks. And they gave me a tshirt. They even had my size (freaky big). The missoula place had little plastic chairs, and looked like it was as cheap as legally allowed.

I guess in the Spokane facility I kinda felt like the blood donor is somewhat revered as something that smells a bit heroic. Maybe honored, or respected. In Missoula it felt like even if I made it past the little room, I would be treated like a bag of meat to be reluctantly processed.

Maybe in Spokane they are super desperate for blood and they have to roll out the red carpet for donors, or they don’t get enough. And (maybe) in Missoula, they get so many people wanting to donate blood, that processing these people is something of a hassle. Maybe the people in the Missoula office are given instructions to discourage people from donating, because there’s just too many people wanting to donate. This line of thinking makes sense to me because I think Missoulians are so awesome that they would go donate blood just to have an excuse to visit and bond while doing a good deed.

(Side note: whenever I need a dose of missoula awesome, I like to go to the big Ace Hardware at Trempers. I stand and look confused at something and in two minutes, somebody will offer help – and that person doesn’t even work there. THAT is my favorite example of what makes missoula freaky awesome.)

And now for the medical results: Immediate, large and positive. I think my overall productivity went up 40% after just one donation. Of course, this is purely anecdotal compounded with guesswork, but I do think that anybody feeling exhausted could give it a try. Before taking your blood, they do test it to make sure you are not anemic first.

BLOOD donation


It is now many months later and the Red Cross still has not sent the letter they promised, and I don’t want to go in to get rejected again. In the meantime, the place in spokane has called me to say that they found my blood to be delicious (it is October, so this is a funny thing to say in October) and they would be happy to have me come by again. They have all new tshirts, more snacks, lots of locations, plus a blood mobile. They seemed genuinely interested to any ideas I might have to interest me in coming over again. Their blood mobile does come as close as Wallace, Idaho and Kellogg, Idaho.

20150718_160214Related note: I get contacted from time to time by non-profit organizations that want things that I have. It seems that their general expectation is that I will donate my time and resources to them because they are a non-profit. For a non-profit like “Missoula Freecycles“, I am glad to do it, nobody over there is getting rich and when I talk to them, they do massive awesome stuff on a shoestring budget. For most other non-profits, I get the impression that I am being contacted by somebody that is getting paid a professional wage. I just feel that the person that is earning that professional wage is making more money than me – and so that person is profiting while waving the “non-profit” flag. So I kinda feel like the non-profit should pay for stuff just like anybody else. Unless, of course, they are super awesome like Missoula Freecycles. So, just now I googled “how much does the Red Cross CEO get paid?” Answer: More than a million dollars per year. And there are other people working for the Red Cross that get paid more than a half million per year. I’m all for people getting a professional wage while working for a non profit–I just feel weird that they call it a “non-profit” while there are people profiting, and then the people profiting are asking me to give them stuff for free. But I get the impression that I might be the only person in the world that feels this odd “profit with non profit” thing.

One other weird perspective: I kinda think that the Red Cross blood thing is sorta like eating at some lame chain restaurant, and the one in Spokane is a bit more like eating at a really nice local restaurant.

I feel like Missoula is where all the awesome stuff is, and spokane is where all the sub standard stuff is. So I feel like there was some sort of mixup in blood donation stuff.

I’ve donated more than two gallons of blood to the missoula red cross, but their own internal broken-ness has dictated they don’t want my blood anymore.

I’ve donated one pint to the inland northwest blood center in spokane, and they were, in comparison, freaky awesome.

I wish there was something as nice as the INBC in Missoula.

I also wish for a lovely piece of pie, and to win the lottery. And I wish for more wishes.

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Paul Wheaton is the tyrannical dictator of Permies.com, the largest permaculture forum on the web. As a certified master gardener and permaculture designer, he’s built an empire around what he calls, ‘infecting brains with permaculture’. His forums are full of rich information, and there are a number of great free resources, guides, and articles that can be found on his sister site, Richsoil.com as well.

He worked with rocket mass heater experts Ernie and Erica in developing a series of movies about making your own rocket mass heater and produced a series of movies on permaculture gardening on permaculture gardening, which detail how to use hugelkultur, swales, and natural ponds to capture and utilize water without irrigation. His recent work with natural buildings based on Mike Oehler’s designs has resulted in the creation of the Wofati, a semi-underground natural home design.

Crowned the Duke of Permaculture by Geoff Lawton and the Bad Boy of Permaculture by the Occupy Monsanto movement, Paul continues to educate and inspire at his property – dubbed Wheaton Labs – in western Montana, where he conducts experiments in permaculture and natural building, hosts workshops, and entertains the curious passerby. Learn more about staying at Wheaton Labs.