Woman donating blood
Soul food

The gifts of giving blood

Yesterday, I was turned down by the Australian Red Cross Blood Service when I tried to make a donation. Since my last donation, I haven’t been to North Queensland or anywhere in Asia, or had intercourse with a sex worker, or gotten a new tattoo, or had man-to-man sex, or used intravenous drugs.

I don’t do a lot of charitable work in my community, but the one thing I make sure I do semi-regularly is donate blood. I like the thought of my blood saving someone’s life. It’s like I saved them myself. If it wasn’t for my blood, what would happen? If there was a global catastrophe and blood supplies ran so low that my donation was the last bag on earth – what would happen if I didn’t donate and the bag was empty? I could kill someone. Life’s fairly black-and-white for me and it’s usually my fault.

Turns out though, not everyone can give blood and even the ones that can, like me, have to accept there are times when our blood is less desirable. In my case, it wasn’t because of the six-pack I’d consumed over the weekend. It was the course of antibiotics I’d taken recently for an infection that turned out not to be the infection I was treated for. Long story short, because I hadn’t yet been given the all-clear, the nice people at the blood bank explained that they couldn’t take my blood on this occasion. They reassured me that I should make another appointment when I had sorted out my medical situation.

The lovely nurse confided in me that she was in a similar circumstance at the moment and that I shouldn’t worry. I assured her that it was completely fine and I didn’t feel absolutely gutted that they couldn’t use my blood. I mean it’s not like it was anything personal, but I was feeling a bit, you know, crushed.

As I got back into my car I started wondering how many people actually donate blood? And of the ones that do, how many are unfortunately – but necessarily – screened out and turned away? It’s my general impression that the blood bank always needs donors. There’s never a glut in the whole blood supply or a bumper season for plasma is there? So I started wondering … what consequences could spring from my inability to donate?

In my mind it goes something like this: a mother weeping at her son’s bedside as she asks the heavens why the blood that could have saved her son wasn’t available. A group of grim-faced doctors hold up a mug shot of me, point at it, and shake their heads sadly. I imagine a little girl with long dark hair, face pale against the pillow, waiting for a desperately-needed blood transfusion while, outside her house, a lone figure holds a placard bearing a photo of me with a red X over my face. I see long empty shelves where blood bags should be and a weary medic called Hawkeye returning to the O.R. empty-handed. Like I said, life’s pretty black-and-white for me and it’s usually my fault.

So I’m just putting it out there, asking if anyone has the time to, you know, make the donation that I couldn’t make? It’s easy to do – you just fill in some forms, answer some polite questions about your sex life and travel experiences, experience a tiny bit of pain when the needle goes in, then sit back in a big comfy chair for 20 minutes enjoying the sensation of giving. This is followed by a gift of orange juice and chocolates in the waiting room. Awesome. And consider this – the gift of someone’s life could be given with your blood. YOUR blood! How good would that be?

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