Originally created 07/21/98

One pint at a time



She's scared -- is it going to hurt? Will she faint? What will it feel like?

Trying to distract her subject from what she's about to do, medical technologist Gloria Cawley asks Mrs. Ziccarelli about her family. With a proud smile, Mrs. Ziccarelli starts talking about her brand new great-granddaughter Audrey.

Mrs. Cawley takes the subject and runs with it."Well, that's just wonderful. Don't you love grandbabies? I have four grandchildren, so I figure between you and me we've got this thing covered," she says. She keeps talking as she binds Ms. Ziccarelli's arm, feels for the vein in the crook of her elbow and swabs the area with iodine."You'll feel a little stick now," she says as she swiftly glides the needle into the vein.Mrs. Ziccarelli's eyes widen for a moment, and she gasps at the instant the needle pricks her skin.

"You all right?" Mrs. Cawley asks cheerfully.

"I'm OK," she says, a little incredulously. "I'm OK."

She drinks in a deep breath as the blood begins to flow through the tube that Mrs. Cawley attached to her arm into the plastic bag beside the chair.

In her nearly 43 years in the medical field, Mrs. Cawley has learned how to put people at ease.

"I just talk to them," she says. "If you hit on a subject they like, that distracts from what you're doing. I'm always teasing, laughing with people."She joined the Red Cross last year after retiring from her job as a lab manager at University Hospital.

"I didn't like retirement," she said. "I'm a widow, and my kids are grown -- I got bored. I'm a people person. I love being around people, and I've been in the work force for so many years I didn't know what to do if I wasn't working."

After only 10 months of retirement, she responded to an ad for a position with the Red Cross, and got the job on the spot. Since October, she has been collecting blood from donors -- first at mobile blood drives in schools and businesses, then at the Augusta center.

"With blood collection, we're helping before the fact instead of after the fact," she said. "At the hospital we'd be helping people after something happened. Here, we're supportive services."

Though the majority of what they do is collect pints of whole blood from donors to supply area hospitals, the medical professionals at the blood center offer other services as well. They do what they call "specials," when a person scheduled for surgery wants to donate their own blood for use during their operation. They also collect platelets, which help blood clot and are often used in cancer treatments and maintain a bone marrow registry, through which potential donors can find out if their marrow matches that of a patient in need of a marrow transplant.

"I recently saw a lady my age find out she was a match for a 5-year-old child with leukemia. There wasn't a dry eye in the house," she said.

A typical day begins at 9:30 a.m., when she and the other blood center staff members begin quality control. Every day, they have to check all the equipment to make sure it's in proper working order, she said.

Donors start arriving at 11 a.m., and the rest of the work day is spent doing whatever is necessary to make their blood donation experience a pleasant one so they'll want to come back.

Her job is rewarding, Mrs. Cawley said, because of the people she meets doing it.

"You meet a lot of awfully, awfully nice people in this business. I never met a donor I didn't like," she said. "They're just super people."

Job profile

-- Subject: Gloria Cawley, medical technologist

-- Time in field: 43 years; nine months with Red Cross

-- Training: associate's degree in medical technology and passing the Medical Technologist registry

-- Best thing about the job: The people she meets

-- Worst thing about the job: "I'm very fortunate to be doing something I absolutely love -- there's nothing I don't like about my job."