Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Not your typical Valentine’s Day story February 14, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

That memorable quote from the movie Forrest Gump rings so true in life. To a point. With a box of chocolates, you can choose. You can use the cheat sheet to find your preferred flavor. Let’s call that planning. Or you can take a risk and just grab a chocolate, any chocolate.

And then you bite into the sweet morsel and it’s either exactly what you expected, a disappointment or a sweet surprise.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Life is like that. Some days all goes exactly as we plan. Other days not so much. And then there are those days when you simply want to take the entire box of chocolates and toss them out because the “you never know what you’re gonna get” part is just too much to handle.

Yeah, this seems rather heavy to write about on Valentine’s Day. But there’s a reason. The other evening, while donating blood, I struck up a conversation with the young woman drawing my blood. I noticed a tattoo on her arm and inquired about the poetic sentence inked thereon. I can’t recall the exact wording, but it was beautiful and honored the loved one who penned it. Her brother. Today marks exactly six months since his unexpected death.

I told her how sorry I was for her loss. And then she asked if I wanted to hear the story behind her tattoo and that’s when the phlebotomist told me about her brother and how they’d always wanted to get the same tattoo and now it was too late. And then, while paging through her brother’s journals, she found the quote that now graces her arm.

He was a writer. And a veteran. I looked up his obit online. He struggled, after two deployments, to readjust to life.

As I sat on the table, blood flowing from my vein into a bag that would bring life-saving blood to someone, I considered this young woman, her brother and the loss of his life. She wasn’t bitter. She wasn’t angry. Sad, yes. Yet, she had no choice but to go on with life, she said. I admired her positive attitude in the newness of her grief.

She talked, too, about how writing helps her deal with her loss. Like me, she holds a degree in communications, is a published writer and loves writing. It was reaffirming, even in the darkness of the topic which prompted our conversation, to talk shop with someone who loves the craft as much as I do. I encouraged her to keep writing. She smiled. And I felt that in some way perhaps I’d helped her. And myself. We agreed that writing is therapeutic and that we can’t allow life to get in the way of our writing. No more excuses.

And then, four minutes and 17 seconds after blood began flowing, the collection bag was full and we wrapped up our conversation while she filled tubes and wrapped my arm in tape. I thanked her. And it wasn’t just for her work with the Red Cross.

There’s more.

As I sat at the snack and recovery table, I commented on a patriotic tattoo covering nearly the entire right arm of a blood donor. It honors those who serve, he said. And then the young man directly across the table—the father of three young children who came with his wife to donate—shared that he’s a veteran. His wife, too. She was by this time already giving blood. We thanked him for his service, which includes several deployments. I couldn’t help but think of the other vet, the brother gone.

This felt like one of those moments meant to be. Here a small group of people came together on a bitterly cold Minnesota winter evening to donate blood at the local Eagles Club. And by the time we all left, we felt a connection, bonding over tattoos and stories and a genuine care and appreciation for one another.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. But on this evening we got the choicest of chocolates. Without a cheat sheet. Without any planning or effort on our parts. Because sometimes life brings sweet surprises when we most need them.

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FYI: I welcome any chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers! Make today the day you will reach out to someone, ask a question, listen to a story, offer support, show compassion and love.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting as I reach a milestone blood donation March 1, 2019

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My blood donation card. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY AMERICAN RED CROSS CARD shows I started donating blood in 2009. Now I’ve reached the two-gallon donation mark. Note-worthy, I suppose.

But I hold regrets. Regrets that I didn’t start giving blood decades earlier and that I’ve given irregularly. I can’t offer an excuse that is acceptable. I was busy. Never considered donating, even though my husband had been giving for years. Who intentionally puts themselves through questioning and needle-poking? Not that I have an issue with questions, needles or blood.

Thankfully, 10 years ago, I decided to accompany Randy to a blood drive. And I discovered that donating blood is pretty darned easy. It just takes a bit of time. The process has become easier and quicker, though, with online screening (aka RapidPass) done at your convenience prior to your appointment. Once on-site, there’s additional health screening followed by the actual donation process. No big deal. I have no problem with needles or seeing blood or drinking lots of fluids (no alcohol, obviously) before or after.

I never really thought about what happens to my blood once it flows into a collection bag. Sure, I knew I was helping someone somewhere. But then awhile back, the Red Cross began emailing donors with specifics as in your blood went to this location. Wow. Great move. Stories connect us, make the act of donating personal. In the past, my blood has gone to Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, Minnesota, and to Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria, Minnesota. I haven’t received notifications about my recent donations. Apparently this destination info is sporadic, according to a Red Cross scheduler who phoned the other evening to set up my next appointment in April.

But I do know that blood transfusions saved my mom’s life multiple times years ago. A single blood donation can help save up to three lives. So says info printed on my Red Cross donor card.

The Red Cross seemingly really really covets my blood, which is AB positive. Only four percent of the U.S. population has that blood type. But nearly 100 percent of patients can receive my blood. That info came in an email to me from the Red Cross. No pressure. Now I’ve also been asked to consider donating platelets, a process that can take up to two hours and which must be done at a donation center. For now I’m passing given the time and inconvenient metro location.

 

 

I will continue to give whole blood as long as I am able. The process is easy. And the need is always there. Every two seconds someone in America needs blood.

Please consider donating blood if you are eligible and able. The need is great to help save lives.

 

TELL ME: Has your life or that of someone you know/love been saved by a blood donation? I’d like to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Busted July 21, 2017

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Effective immediatley, I can drink coffee using my left hand only.

 

DON’T LIFT. Not a laundry basket or a watering can or a dirty dish. Nothing. Not even a John Deere coffee mug.

That mandate came from my ortho doctor Wednesday afternoon after he asked, “What have you been doing with your arm?” He was referring to my right arm/shoulder, which I fractured 8 ½ weeks ago.

 

Thursday morning I stair-stepped a laundry basket up the basement stairs with my left hand, angled the basket onto my body and steered it out the door. Then, using only my left hand and mouth, I managed to clip towels onto the clothesline.

 

Not that he was accusing me of anything. But he knows me well enough to realize that I will push the limits. I confessed to all of the above. I was so busted. But, in my defense, I had surmised that if a specific movement/activity didn’t hurt, I could do it. Wrong. It’s a good thing I am not a doctor and that mine understands me as “a force of nature to be reckoned with” (his words, not mine).

I love my doctor, even if he tells me things I don’t want to hear. He is kind, compassionate, caring, funny, a great listener and a really good communicator. I always understand exactly what’s going on with my body and what’s expected of me when I leave his office. On this day, had I been a student in a classroom, I likely would have warranted after school detention for bad behavior.

 

This is a photo of an x-ray of my broken shoulder taken on May 22. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But I got an imaginary gold star for healing. Pulling my May 22 and July 19 x-rays onto his computer screen, the good doctor compared the results. “Looks great,” he said. If I used exclamation marks in my writing, I would string a series of them after that assessment. I beamed. He showed me how the top of my shoulder had settled, rounding back toward to its normal curve rather than jutting like two misplaced puzzle pieces. Then he traced his finger down the screen, along a white line indicating healing in the length of my shoulder.

After delivering that good news, my doctor issued the lifting ban for two weeks, longer if necessary. By 12 weeks the bone should be healed. I’ve learned, though, that directives can change. I intend to obey rather than risk a setback. “If I have to go in there and do surgery now, it will be a mess,” my doctor warned. So my husband will be washing the dishes again.

Today I return for my second physical therapy session. I have the OK now to start active (rather than passive) range of motion exercises to rebuild and strengthen my muscles. I can expect muscle soreness for up to a year. Ditto for the swelling that stretches from the top of my shoulder to my fingertips. Sigh.

 

For the first time in 8 1/2 weeks, I don’t have to wear this arm sling while sleeping.

 

But I can ditch my arm sling. I stopped wearing it during the day several weeks ago. I can also sleep on my side, including on either arm, as long as it doesn’t hurt. I tried sleeping on my left side Wednesday night. My arm hurt. I’m back to sleeping on my back. So much for sleeping freedom.

 

My blood donation card.

 

Then I asked one final question of the doctor: “Can I donate blood?”

“I don’t see any reason you can’t unless there’s something I don’t know about you,” he replied.

So I am scheduled today to donate blood, some 8 ½ weeks after I missed a step, fell and broke my right shoulder while on my way to donate blood at the local hospital.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Homemade pizza is back on the menu July 13, 2017

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FOR THE FIRST TIME in seven weeks, I made homemade pizza. But this was not your ordinary pizza. This pizza represented something much more than food to fill the belly on a Saturday evening. The pizza I crafted signifies healing.

I have reached the point in recovery from a broken right shoulder that I no longer feel the need to clamp my arm protectively to my side. I am reaching, pulling, even eating with my right hand. I am free of my arm sling except to sleep and to use in crowded public places.

I figure if moving my arm doesn’t hurt, then I’m OK doing whatever. So far, so good. I’m doing laundry, washing dishes and making pizza, with some assistance from the husband.

This Friday I start physical therapy. I am ready and could have begun 10 days ago had an opening been available. My goal is to lift 21 lbs, 10 oz., the current weight of my 15-month-old granddaughter, ASAP. I miss cuddling Izzy. Realistically, I expect I won’t be holding Isabelle for quite some time without supervision. But I need a goal, right?

My short term goal is to pull a t-shirt over my head, to dress my upper body by myself. I’d also like to use my Canon DSLR camera soon. I am passionate about photography and really miss that creative outlet. Sure I’ve been using my smartphone. But even that is challenging and the results not nearly as good as those of a DSLR.

 

Up until my fall and resulting broken shoulder, I crafted homemade pizza every Friday evening, always served with mugs of icy beer.

 

When I consider how much I’ve improved since May 22, the day I missed a step on a hospital stairway and fell while on my way to donate blood, I am amazed. My post injury exhaustion and need for daily naps have vanished. Sore muscles have replaced pain. My once purple, yellow and green arm is now almost free of bruises. I am healing. I can feel it in the handles of a rolling pin as I work dough across a floured board. And I can taste it in a bite of fresh pizza spread with homemade pizza sauce and sprinkled with Italian sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella and slips of fresh basil and oregano clipped from plants potted in my backyard.

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SORT OF RELATED, because I fell on my way to donate blood…please consider donating blood to the Red Cross if you are able. The current shortage of blood is termed critical. I’ve been bombarded with emails requesting that I donate. I need to check with my doctor whether I can resume donating. By giving blood, you may save a life. Blood transfusions saved my mom’s life about a decade ago. I am grateful to those many many donors.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Giving blood, saving lives February 17, 2015

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“YOU SAVED THREE lives today.”

I’d never thought about blood donation in that specific personal frame until recently, when I gave blood at an American Red Cross blood drive in Faribault for the third time in my life.

In eight minutes and eight seconds, I filled a plastic bag with one unit of life-saving blood.

 

Blood donation sticker

 

Why haven’t I donated more often? I offer no excusable explanation.

But when the woman who had taken me through the entire hour-long process of preparing for and donating blood thanked me with those five words, I committed then and there to giving more frequently.

My mother, after all, was saved some 10 years ago by massive transfusions of blood. That memory of her near death weaved through my mind as blood flowed from my vein.

Personal experiences often influence our words and actions, fuel our passions and opinions.

 

Blood donation card

 

Adding to that personal connection and the “you saved three lives” was the discovery that my blood type, AB +, ranks low in the general population. Just three percent of Caucasians, like myself, have AB + blood. My blood can only be given to those with the same type. But I can, thankfully, get blood from anyone.

O + and A + blood types are the most common among all ethnicities. (Click here to learn more about the eight blood types.)

If you can’t donate blood for health or other reasons, you can still help. Take my friend Tami. She worked the refreshment table, making sure donors were properly fed and hydrated and doing OK before leaving the donation center. She’d rearranged her work schedule because the Faribault collection site was short of volunteers. That’s to be applauded.

Here’s the real clincher, though. Tami can’t handle blood and needles. She’d likely pass out if she attempted to donate. That came as a surprise because Tami came over to talk to me while my blood flowed into the collection bag. She displayed not an ounce of fear. I had no clue.

Only afterward, when my friend waited on me and other donors at the refreshment table, did I learn the truth. To set aside one’s personal anxieties to assist in the process of saving lives impresses me.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you ever donated blood or volunteered at a blood drive?

As an extra incentive, the North Central Chapter of the American Red Cross will enter the names of all donors who give blood between February 9 and 28 for a chance to win an iPAD mini.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling