Wednesday, 27 June, 2007

The fluid of life...

I went down to a hospital near where I work to donate some blood today. And I was witness to something which essentially inspires this post.

As I was being prepped at the lab, there was this man who hesitantly walked up to the lab technician, only to be roundly scolded for disappearing an hour earlier when just about to donate blood. It was clear to anybody seeing this chap that he was anxious and apprehensive about the whole thing. He looked like he didn't have much of an education, and was dressed in a dhoti and shirt. Tall, and built like an ox, possibly from doing hard physical work. The story, which came out when I got talking to his brother (a much more urban cell-phone toting type), is that the man's son is in pediatric surgery, and requires blood from the blood bank. And the way such things normally work is that one can take out the requisite units of blood, while ensuring that the same number of units are replaced through donors that one should find (the type of blood need not be the same as the one being withdrawn. I was there because of such an arrangement myself). Since typically family members of the patient donate, this man was here (or, rather, it looked like he was brought there). The younger brother could not donate as he was a diabetic.

This man had such a fear of the whole process, I found it quite tough to believe at first. WTF??? I had donated before, and anyways couldn't figure out what the big deal was, but here was this big guy, pale as a sheet and literally trembling! He had come in earlier that afternoon, and got his screening done, after which apparently he claimed he wanted to go to the restroom - and basically disappeared! No wonder he got a shelling from the people at the lab when they brought him back.

He didn't say much. When he was asked if he would donate or not. When he was told it was his own son he would be doing it for. When he was assured over and over again that it would not hurt - not even as much as it did whenever he was injured in the past. "Will I feel dizzy?" was his only question - but it was clear that he was terrified. I could almost see the picture in his head - of pipes drilled into him, of him shrinking and shriveling as the lifeblood is drawn out of him, and pumped into his son, who would expand and fill out in health - maybe. Straight out of a Popeye cartoon, more like!

The problem, of course, was one of education and awareness (rather, the lack of). All I could do at the time was offer to act as a demonstration - "you can watch me while I give blood, and see for yourself that nothing happens!". But no, he just slunk away when no one was looking. I wonder if the fact that he was unable to arrange for blood to the bank means that his son might have to go without. I don't know, but I cannot rule out the possibility!

People like him are not the only ones who are unaware of, or have wrong notions about the blood donation process. Many of us educated types have not been a donor ever, or may harbour some of these very same misconceptions of how it all works. But in reality, blood donation is simple, safe and harmless. And here's my first-hand account of it -

  • 5:15 PM - It's been slightly more than three hours since my last meal (lunch). So I down an apple-flavored milk shake at the hospital canteen just before I get to the lab.
  • 5:30 PM - I arrive at the lab. The technician checks my weight, and runs me through a questionnaire asking me about my age, any known health problems, medication being taken etc. I can donate blood only if I clear this stage. In this case, I do.
  • The technician swabs the inside of my left elbow with alcohol, and draws out a few ml of blood for screening (it hurts as much as taking a shot from your doctor) - they check for the hemoglobin content. I can donate only if I clear this too, which I do. The screening takes about 10-15 minutes.
  • 5:45 PM - I go to a large room with some beds and the equipment. I am asked to lie down, face up, and my blood pressure reading is taken. I can donate only if this is in the normal range. I pass. Clearly, there are multiple checks to ensure that I am fit to give blood. I like that!
  • I am left lying down to stabilize and calm down. I am staring at the ceiling light, thinking of this and that, almost gently dozing. My breathing is regular, my blood pressure settles down. I am like this for almost 15 minutes. I still have the band of the blood pressure meter thingie wrapped around my upper arm, along with a tourniquet.
  • 6:10-ish PM - The technician then preps the equipment - breaking out a new bag for the blood, new pipe, new needle (or canulla, as it is called technically). The inside of my right elbow is swabbed and disinfected, and the needle is inserted into my vein. The only pain is when the point of the needle breaks the skin - when the rest of the needle follows through inside, it doesn't hurt! So, it LOOKS way more painful than it actually IS. I am given a soft sponge ball to squeeze gently using my right hand, to keep the blood pumping well and evenly. The needle is also taped to my arm to keep it steady.
  • For the next 12 minutes or so, I squeeze the ball firmly, but gently, in an even rhythm - I get through 38 squeezes (I actually counted them off!) in this time. And the blood flows out into the bag, which is kept oscillating to prevent coagulation. There is ABSOLUTELY no pain throughout this process. I'm just lying there with nothing else to do.
  • 6:22 PM - In 12 minutes, I hit 400 ml, and the beeper on the scale goes off. The technician comes over to snap off the tube and tie up the bag, and take the last few ml in the tube into a few test tubes - for more testing, I'm sure.
  • Then the needle is taken out (again, minimal hurt - it's the ripping off of the tape that stings a bit!), and a swab of cotton is kept in the crock of my elbow, and I rest for another ten minutes.
  • 6:35 PM - Off goes the cotton, on comes a band-aid. I then get up and walk over to the recovery room next door. I get through a small carton of fruit juice (apple again), and just chill. I feel a little light-headed, like I've had one glass of wine - just one. In another ten minutes, even that goes away. (Sigh!)
  • 6:45 PM - I then walk out, collect my donation certificate, and sit down to chat with a friend. I go through another apple milk shake - this stuff rocks! It's slightly more than an hour - milk shake to milk shake. I pop open another bottle of pulpy orange juice which my friend has thoughtfully brought along, and swig from time to time. The idea is to tank up on healthy fluids for a while.
  • 6:55 PM - Ten minutes of this, and I then amble over to my car, rev up, and head for home. On the way, another friend calls me to say folks are meeting over at his place, and since he doesn't live that far away from the hospital, I just make a turn on the way...
...and life is back to what it used to be. I just ensure I take it easy for the next hour. I will lay off any heavy lifting or exercise for the rest of tonight, and all of tomorrow, just to be sure. The only visible mark of this exercise would be a small bruise the size of a mosquito bite when I rip the band-aid off.

I know this is a fairly lengthy and laborious post, and gets into the smallest details, but that is exactly my intention here - to go through each little step, hopefully clearing any misconceptions or thoughts about "How painful will it be? Will it hurt a lot?", "How will I feel before, during and afterwards?", "Will it take forever?" etc.

There are tons of benefits in donating blood - getting your body to recharge your blood with fresh generation every year or so is good for you. Sort of like changing the engine oil of your car, except here your body generates the next batch of oil by itself! Plus, think of all that good karma :-) - for what if you are the one in need yourself? (On that note, check out the concept of autologous donation, something I did not know about, till this evening. If you have scheduled surgery, you could donate for yourself! Just siphon off some blood, freeze it, and use it for yourself when the time comes. Risk free)

And that, as they say, is IT! Blood donation is really as simple as that. So go ahead, give. You don't have to be a wuss if you can help it!

Monday, 25 June, 2007

Trying a new look...

I just changed the template for the blog (love these new bright colours). Also added that 'gapingvoid' widget by fooling around with some HTML (can you see it on the right?) - let's see how it goes!

Check out the site while you're at it - Hugh MacLeod has some amazingly edgy art going on.

Btw, I totally recommend this from his site - an amazing take on 'how to be creative'. It's an old post, but a beauty in its timelessness! Warning: fairly long. So set an hour aside and enjoy! I assure you some points will hit home - real hard.

Friday, 22 June, 2007

Chak This Out!

I read recently that Shah Rukh Khan will be endorsing a fairness cream for men - going from 'lux'uriating in a bath-tub to preening in front of a mirror, playing with his tube of cream? D-uh! What is the world coming to?

Perhaps - as a listener explained this morning on a radio show I was tuned in on, where said topic was, well, the topic of discussion - it has something to do with the fact that his next movie, "Chak De India", has him playing the coach of an all-girls hockey team, and all that competition is getting to him! Someone ought to warn him about the pitfalls of taking the first word of the movie title a little too literally.

Ah, guess all is "fair" in love, war, all that. He-he!

Saturday, 16 June, 2007

"Summaa Adhirudhu-lle!!"

Hoo-boy! Last evening (night, rather) was one of the most fun experiences ever! I went for the first-day show for the movie 'Sivaji' - starring our own thalaivar Super Star Rajnikanth! I have never been to a first-day-first-show before in my life, certainly not a thalaivar movie. And though this was technically not first-show, it was still certainly something! Rock concerts by internationally acclaimed bands be damned! This is the real thing!

Consider this. You get to the theater one hour before the show. You don't bring your car, coz you know that traffic would be a bitch and parking will be hell. And even though you're an hour early, you see FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE standing in queue outside the theater. You think they are waiting for tickets, but no - THESE GUYS HAVE TICKETS! They're just waiting to get in!

There are metal barricades all across the entrance of the theater complex, and beefy security guys with a mean look and brandishing meaner lathis patrol the queue of eager fans. The line continues to grow. People are being let in, one at a time through a gap in the barricade - their tickets being checked, and their selves frisked. You spot a moment when all the guards happen to look away, and sneak into the queue right behind a bunch of girls who are just getting in through the gap, thus 'jumping' a few hundred poor souls in line (tip - jump the queue just after a bunch of girls - this way the guards apparently think twice before starting a ruckus), and lo, you're inside the complex. But wait - there is ANOTHER line leading up to the entrance of the movie hall, where you get frisked over and over in sequence six times, and are checked to see if you're carrying any cigarettes or alcohol, both of which are banned. You've not been frisked so many times at one go ever before! You pass through what seems like an endless passage before you reach your hall. Btw, all the screens in the complex are running the same movie.

You decide to take a leak just before the show starts, and hit the restroom only to find people in there - smoking! You finish your business and return to your seat, to find the guys in the row in front of you sipping surreptitiously from a bottle of cola, passing it stealthily from one to another - only, it's no cola, it's a clear golden liquid which seems to burn a lot going in, by the look on their faces! The faint stench of whiskey in the air only confirms your suspicions.

The movie is scheduled to start at 10 PM, but no one is in a hurry. You wait till the hall is filled one person at a time, and eventually the lights dim at 10.45 PM. The screen lights up, and the crowd goes wild! It's only a trailer for some arbit movie, but no one cares! :-)...the party is on, fellers!! With just the one trailer (and no ads), Sivaji kicks in. For the first five minutes, you can hear NOTHING from the screens! This is because the crowd refuses to hush up, going wild with frenzy right through the intro sequence - said intro sequence being a ubiquitous thalaivar hallmark! The camera captures only his feet, his back, his shoulders, as he walks and talks through his first few lines, and at the dramatic moment, he turns to face the camera - and smiles. And that's when all hell breaks loose in the movie hall - the guys in the row ahead, along with pretty much 80% of the crowd, are on their feet cheering...and someone is throwing fucking confetti!!! Well, it's just a bunch of paper that's been shredded to bits, but it's in the air, tons of it! It takes a full ten minutes for some semblance of calm to set in. By this time, you're fully into the spirit of things! (No - no puns about 'spirit' please. The guys in the row ahead were done with their firewater long ago)

You realize that this particular movie-watching experience is highly interactive. When a song is playing on the screen - you see this chap sitting two rows up get up and begin to dance along. It's actually a bit surreal to see his sinuous silhouette swinging hips in time with the heroine on the screen! When the 'comedy track' kicks in, you literally roll along the aisle in laughter. You slaver openly when the heroine goes through the titillating mechanics of the dances (the choreography of which, typically, has very little to do with the lyric or music, and more with blatant suggestive eroticism), clad in the barest essentials that just stop the censors from going 'snip'. You hiss and boo the villains, casting very vocal aspersions on the legitimacy of his birth and threatening to chop off his wee-wee when he gives your hero some lip.

And the punch lines. Ohh, the punch lines!!! You wait for it with bated know it's coming...and when it hits, you roar as one with the crowd, cheering your thalaivar, savoring the lyrical tang of the punch, quickly memorizing it and hoping you'll remember it - for later. Coz this is the first day, and you heard it first!

All through this, you are dimly aware of the fact that there is some sort of a story being told here, maybe. And then again, maybe not. You don't really care. All that matters, is the fact that you are there first. For the first day of your thalaivar's movie, after a break of two years. Jumping for joy, cheering at full cry, roaring as one with the crowd of admirers - till the pounding from the surround-sound speakers resonates with your own full-throated enjoyment. All that matters, is the vibe. "Summaa adhirudhu-lle?" :-)

Monday, 4 June, 2007

What did BMW do wrong?

I'm sure everyone has seen the details of how the "BMW case" is turning out - this news item, for instance.

I quote here the crux of the case, from the same article -

"Nanda is facing trail* for crushing to death six persons while driving his BMW car allegedly at high speed in Delhi on January 18, 1999."

(*spelling mistake! Bad, bad rediff!!)

That's it - that's the ONLY connection BMW has with the whole issue, and yet this is being labeled the "BMW case"!!! And the company's name is being dragged through mud! When Sallu bhai did something similar a few years ago, it was termed the 'Salman Khan case', or the 'pavement murders'. But here it's not the 'Nanda case', but the poor guys who made the damn car!!


Interestingly, I haven't heard a peep from the BMW guys in the media about their name being bandied about in this context. I am not entirely sure it's good publicity for them - unless mowing down the plebians is the latest pastime of the rich and famous, or alternately, these guys believe that any publicity is good publicity.

Saturday, 2 June, 2007


I watched this movie called Proof (2005 release) today with some friends. I can't believe IMDB rates this movie at 7 on 10 (though this is a user rating mechanism I believe)! This is a perfect example of a movie that promises at first, only to deceive, unfortunately.

The story is about this math genius (played with effortless brilliance by Anthony Hopkins) who, in the last five years, has been mentally disturbed, and is recently deceased. In his last years he is cared for by his daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow in another very good performance) who chooses to live with him at their home in Chicago. She has to now face the possibility that she might have inherited his streak of insanity. A research student (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives to search through the papers written up by the professor during these last years. Also entering the scene is the elder daughter (Hope Davis) who arrives from New York to settle matters after her father's death.

The production quality of this movie is excellent - the cinematography is sensitive to the fact that this is a human drama, with a few key characters, and the camera often moves through some great portrait settings and view points. The storytelling technique is very crisp and tight, moving in and out of flashbacks. The technique in the script is also good - the build-ups and punchlines that characterize a story told interestingly.

However there are enough of the weak points, in many crucial scenes, that make the movie slip badly. Just when a scene achieves a dramatic buildup, comes a corny cheesy line from a Mills & Boon novella to spoil the moment entirely. And if this movie is about the math, well, where's the math? The audience ought to have been given SOMETHING to test their intelligence - who can forget the 'blonde entering the bar with her friends' sequence in 'A Beautiful Mind' that then fires off the sequence of thoughts in the mind of John Nash, eventually leading to game theory?

Another place the movie loses out on is the (mis)casting of Jake Gyllenhaal - the other three key players in this drama come up with stellar performances (despite the weak moments in the script), but Jake ends up trying a bit too hard and cannot pull off the 'cool geek' persona.

This movie held my attention for the first twenty minutes or so, with some very clever production and storytelling, but if the attempt is to create a gripping drama, then EVERY line of dialogue counts! A few loose moments here and there can make the audience's interest go poof!

Recommendation: Watchable - but keep your expectations in check.