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In Character with Eileen Behnke

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Needle sticker par excellence Eileen Behnke has seen them come and go and occasionally faint drawing blood for the Red Cross. And the bigger they are the harder they fall, apparently.

When Southwest Portland resident Eileen Behnke says this won't hurt a bit, you might consider asking, 'Hurt whom?' Behnke is a nurse phlebotomist and no, she doesn't perform brain surgery. That's a lobotomy, though Behnke says she has had the two confused.

Portland Tribune: So what do you do?

Eileen Behnke: I work for the Red Cross in collections. But it has nothing to do with money.

Tribune: Well, there's only two options, blood or money.

Behnke: I've been sticking needles in people since 1977.

Tribune: And enjoying it?

Behnke: High school kids are pretty entertaining. The kids get nervous and they tend to have more reactions. They break out in a sweat, they get hot all of a sudden, they feel faint.

Tribune: Ever have one actually faint?

Behnke: It's usually the big football players that faint. The little tiny cheerleaders don't. There was a high school boy that had a reaction, I leaned over him and said, 'Now you know what a hot flash feels like.'

Tribune: Can you spot a fainter when he walks in the door?

Behnke: No. It's usually because we've taken a pint of blood away and it's the body's way of reacting to that. We did have a couple of ROTC students at Oregon State faint from their finger sticks. We do a finger stick to get a drop of blood to test for iron and when they saw the blood they just fainted.

Tribune: One drop?

Behnke: One drop. So we never drew a pint of blood from either one.

Tribune: Oh, boy, the Duck fans are going to have a field day with this one. I'm just asking because of this year's record, but those guys weren't on the football team, were they?

Behnke: No. A lot of people who are really nervous will say, 'Don't tell me when you're going to poke me. Just do it.' Sometimes I'll tell them a joke to distract them.

Tribune: Such as?

Behnke: There were two little boys taking a test at school. One of the questions was 'Old McDonald had a …' One little boy leans over to the other little boy. 'I know Old McDonald had something and I can't remember what it was.' And the second little boy says, 'Everyone knows Old McDonald had a farm.' The first little boy says, 'That's right, how do you spell farm?' And the second little boy says, 'E-I-E-I-O.'

Tribune: It must be a tough stick if you need that long a joke for the distraction.

Behnke: Often it's someone else doing the stick and I'm telling the joke.

Tribune: Any other memorable donors?

Behnke: We have people who come and donate so they can get the cookies at the end.

Tribune: Wait a minute. They give up an hour of their time, they get a needle in their arm and before that one in their finger, just so they can get a cookie? Those must be really terrific cookies.

Behnke: I think in a few cases they might be someone who doesn't get enough to eat normally.

Tribune: Have you ever said to someone, 'This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you?'

Behnke: No. I've told people it's not going to hurt me a bit.