Saturday, October 13, 2007

Giving blood

Probably my biggest regret in life, apart from the incident with the Swedish air-hostess and the apricot jam, is that I never gave blood sooner.
Of course, such was my lifestyle in the early years of my so-called adulthood that anyone benefitting from one of my donations would have felt more than pleasantly merry and might well have been stopped by the GardaĆ­ as they drove home from the hospital. But once the last vestiges of adolescence had fallen off my shoulders and I became boring and flatulatory, there really was no good reason why I shouldn’t have started giving blood.
Of course, I told myself I was too busy, though I could always make time to go and see Shelbourne. I had no car and Pelican House was on the south side, but so was Harold’s Cross, where Shels played at the time. Years of wasted opportunities, I suppose, looking back.
It was only when we moved out to Dublin 15 that I started giving blood. The clinics were local and the venues were many and varied. I have donated blood in Coolmine Community School, St. Peters in Dunboyne, Castleknock Community College, Hartstown Community School and Blanchardstown IT, a veritable cornucopia of educational establishments and have admired everything from class projects on Peru, (with the emphasis on anchovy fishing,) to Confirmation portraits while waiting for my turn to lie down on the bed.
The thing that depresses me a little bit though are the questions. Have you ever had typhoid fever? Have you ever fondled a monkey from South America? Have you ever snorted cocaine? Have you ever snorted a typhoid monkey or fondled South American cocaine? It really makes me wonder what sort of exotic lifestyles some people have and puts it up to me how dull my life has been.
But that feeling disappears when you get chatting to the nurses. Blood nurses are the only category of people that are never in bad form. Even hospital nurses have their grumpy moments and nuns have been known to give the odd lash of the tongue when riled but the blood nurses are invariably, almost unnaturally pleasant. I suspect its because they do a lot of monkey fondling in their spare time and therefore feel their lives are so enriched.
The first time I gave blood, I actually had a little trouble. I lay down on the bed and the blood nurse inserted the needle. No problems. But when she opened the valves, the red liquid – I was quite pleased to see it was indeed red – merely trickled despondently into the waiting container, as though loathe to leave the safe confines of my body. “Go on, get out into the world, meet new people,” I urged it but to no avail. Was my blood donating career over as soon as it started?
“We’ll try the other arm,” said the blood nurse and lo and behold, there gushed forth a veritable waterfall of crimson liquid. After all this time, this is a phenomenon that I have never come to grips with. Surely your blood is coursing through your veins constantly, starting at your heart and performing a complete loop around your body before being reenergised back in your heart? At least, that’s what I remember from my biology classes apart from incubating frog spawn and the explicit diagrams on page 73. Your blood doesn’t say “No, I don’t think I’ll bother with the left arm – too much of a detour and the traffic can be dreadful.” The blood nurse’s explanation of “It happens,” doesn’t quite satisfy the scientific probing of my mind but there you have it. This is probably what political commentators call ‘The Arms Imbalance.’
Apparently, for I have no way of confirming it, I have Blood Type O. At first I was a little disappointed in this, having hoped for an exotic blood group that only a dozen people in the world have, thereby being put on a worldwide data base and called into action to fly to Venezuela at a moment’s notice.
However, it was patiently pointed out to me that it was far more useful to society that I had the most common blood group, as there were potentially so many more people that I could help. And also if I urgently required a transfusion myself, they wouldn’t need to disturb Jimenez in Caracas on my behalf.
The thing about giving blood though is the tremendous amount of well-being it brings you. I don’t know who said that there is no such thing as a truly unselfish act (possibly Lionel Ritchie) but the psychological benefits of giving blood must rank almost as high as the physical effects of receiving it. You’ve given up an evening of slouching in front of the telly and made a huge difference to someone’s life – maybe even saved their life. And all because you’ve made the huge sacrifice of sitting in a classroom and lying on a bed.
On about my ninth or tenth visit, I was lying on my bed in Blanchardstown IT filling my bottle (intravenously I should add) when I was approached by a blood nurse in the manner of a raincoated man recruiting for the CIA.
“Psst!” she hissed, through gritted teeth. “You ever thought of giving platelets?”
I assured her that, far from the action being at the forefront of my mind, I had no idea of what a platelet was, no idea of what one looked like and no idea that I had any to give, not having progressed much further than page 73 of my biology book.
A quick biology lesson ensued, wherein it was pointed out that platelets are an essential component of blood, along with red blood cells and white blood cells and lord knows what else. They are particularly of benefit for leukaemia patients and premature babies and, as I had a particularly high concentration of them lazily breast-stroking around my veins, I considered it somewhat selfish of me to hang on to them, when it was a matter of life and death to other people.
So now every month, I go to St. James’ Hospital and spend a very comfortable 45 minutes to an hour attached to a centrifuge, while I try and make as many words as I can from the nine letter word square in the Independent. Being strapped to a machine sounds dodgy but in reality it is extremely relaxing. You lie on a bed and can watch telly or a DVD – Quentin Tarantino movies I find are particularly apt – or simply watch the Luas glide past outside the window. Occasionally you might get a bit of tingling on your lips but that is all.
The other big thing – though possibly not such a big thing for people less egocentric than myself! – is that you get two points for every platelet donation and, as you can donate every 28 days as opposed to 90 days for blood, your tally mounts up really quickly. Together with our partners, we were all brought out for a lovely meal and presentation night in the Burlington Hotel, when we reached 50, and I am already licking my lips as my 100th donation approaches.
So perhaps monkey fondling does have a down side.

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