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of units are replaced through donors that one should find (the type of blood need not be the same as the one being withdrawn.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!


Crazy Spelunker said...

Awesome Post! I guess it helps a lot.. And can you believe it that I never made the cut to donate my blood ;-) I am not scared, just that every time I got rejected at one stage or the other. This inspired me to try again and donate this time!

Phanin Mitra

Anand said...

Ah ha, so it's you :)

And yep, just takes getting used to once. Then it is a matter of course.

Eileen said...

Good for people to know.