Thursday, March 10, 2011

Banking of a different type.....

Many years ago, almost 12 or so, my father was scheduled for a major surgery of the prostate gland. We were asked to ensure that a certain amount of the required type of blood was available. Most Indian hospitals and blood banks, at least then, had a system, where you mobilized ,for them, the required amount of blood (never mind the blood group), before they released the necessary amount of the correct blood for your surgery.

I had been a blood donor several times in my relatively younger days , in several blood donation camps, but this was the first time I was seeing how the stuff is used by people in need.

I went around the various recommended reliable blood banks, and offered to give blood. I should have remembered, that donated blood had to have a certain quality level. The haemoglobin level in my blood, was disastrously low, thanks to years of menorrhagiaic problems,. They summarily rejected me as a donor, my mother was barred due to her age (late seventies), and there was no one else .

I had to hunt around for blood donors in a hurry, and was gratified to find a nephew and his cousin, who promptly got on to their two wheeler, and rushed to the blood bank, to donate blood for my father. The entire blood donation went off in a perfectly ordered manner, I was given a receipt paper to present on the day that the surgery was and they would release the required blood.

In my childhood, my father, who was in the civil services, would be posted at various district headquarters as the head, and he and my mother would always participate in the various health drives, inoculations, and checkup camps that would be held, as a means to encourage others to do so, and to indicate that it is a safe thing. These camps were always conducted by well equipped doctors from well known hospitals.

I learnt from observing them, and have been a blood donor several times in my college days and even much later after the children happened. And it was very natural, that as adults, my children too continued this tradition. I have always gone along just to confirm the facilities, and organizer credentials, and generally be around.

Since then, my children too have followed up, and one of them, who is in India , donates blood every year.

The place where I stay, has a tradition of celebrating a Founder's day. A blood donation camp is always organized then. By those who are deemed second level employees.

Doctors from one of Mumbai's most well known hospitals conduct this event in one of our vast halls, and what is amazing is to see students, both girls and boys pouring in throughout the day, to donate blood. The ones missing are always older middle aged men and women, so many with sedentary jobs, many of them well settled in life. Some, of course, have a health problem and are aware as to why they cannot be a blood donor. Some stay away knowingly, some, knowing my enthusiasm for this, kind of cross the road to the other side when they see me, and some are just convinced that something terrible will happen if someone pokes them with a needle.

I write this to explain the whole procedure.

You fill up a standard form on arrival where among several other questions, you indicate if you have had any serious sicknesses in the past, and when; if you take any regular medication and if so, then for what ; if you are a woman, they also ask if you are pregnant. They take your weight. They then prick your finger and a drop of your blood is dropped into a Copper Suplhate blue solution of a known strength. The rule is that a drop of blood with haemoglobin levels more than or equal to 12.5, sinks in the solution. Which makes you acceptable as a donor. (For years and years in my fifties, I used to curse the red drop of my blood that refused to sink, and they would apologize and reject me . Now the drop of blood happily sinks in the solution, but they shake their heads and reject me due to age restrictions. ).

Once this is done, they give you a sterilised small test tube, which you take to another person, who makes some notings of numbers, names, and stuff, stores the test tube , and hands you, what, is a blood bag, marked with your reference details.

You are then assigned a doctor and a station where you lie down. After the necessary checks like blood pressure etc, the doctor sets up the blood donation paraphernalia, and about 300 cc of your blood gets collected in a short time in the blood bag. It must be added that this amount of blood does NOT impoverish your body, and is made up by your clever body in a short period of time.

There are several doctors keeping an eye and attending to the donors. Once the stuff is done, they clean the needle perforation on your skin , and put a decent bandaid , fold your forearm towards your shoulder (like you do after a blood test) and ask you to lie down, relax for a while, holding your hand in that position. You get up after a while, and they offer you refreshments tea, coffee etc, at a table, where you sit with the other donors.

The aforementioned test tube will later contain some of your blood, which will be tested for severe infections like AIDS, Australia Antigen Malaria, Dengue etc. Your blood will be accepted only if there are no infections found, and only then, will it enter the blood bank.

There are people who are frightened of needles, there are people who are upset at seeing blood. It's not a permanent condition, and it is possible to change this. The first effort takes a huge amount of initiative and guts, then it is very simple. Think of all those who join medical colleges each year. Many of them cannot stand actual cadaver dissections, and they faint, and throw up. But that changes, or you wouldn't have so many doctors passing the final year.

Then there are those who have been told that weakness pervades the body if you donate blood. So they don't. Typically, a worried mother tells that to her son. And he believes it, till he goes away to college, sees his friends donating blood, takes an initiative, passes the initial checkups at the blood donation camp, and never really looks back after that.

Then you have people who suffer from unimaginable excesses of superiority. So much so that they associate superior with pure and subordinate with impure. They doubt and suspect every cup of tea from the office canteen (because the hoi-polloi drinks from it), they make a huge fuss about cleaning and smells and stuff. Someone gives them a book and they wipe it with a disposable tissue , before they open it. They suspect all injection needles, all doctors except those at 5 star hospitals, and ignore the fact that disposable syringes, and other sterilised stuff is routinely used everywhere .....

These types often have exalted ideas about their own blood, and are given to making insensitive comments about adopted children. These folks run miles from anyone talking about blood donation, always claim to be busy, unless of course the conversation is happening with people who count greatly in the scheme of career type things. In general, these folks are not worth the trouble.

I have always admired the armed forces , the police and railways when they hold camps. Their top man comes to inaugurate , and then quietly rolls his sleeves up , lies down on a makeshift patient bed, and donates his share of blood. The subordinates follow the example, and you get a whole lot of motivated people; more important, large volumes of blood collections. There are photographs. Some appear in the press. And you feel good when you read that report.

But what gets me really upset, is some boss types, that come smiling into the enclosure with measured steps, walk around the layout, hands behind, minister style, observing the foolish buggers donating their blood. They nod their heads at the folks enjoying a tiny plastic cup of tea/coffee, with the standard glucose Parle G biscuits, in a plate on the table. They then sit down, a noticeable distance away, someone offers bouquets, then tea and coffee, someone takes pictures. No questions about the volume of donors this year, the details of the collaborating hospital and so on. No speeches. Due to a severe lack of interest and knowledge.

This time there was an old lady sitting away from all this, to one side, waiting for her daughter, who had just donated blood. The youngster was resting a bit and having a cup of tea with biscuits, and waiting to collect her certificate before leaving . That would enable her to collect a free bag of blood from the state blood bank, should anyone need it in an emergency.

The old lady has been going every year, so they know her. An elderly person from the organizers came up to her, and offered her tea and a bouquet. For being a regular, it seems.

She politely declined, saying this was not a free for all social event, and that it should be restricted to those donating blood. They insisted. Then she insisted. No blood, so no tea, and no bouquet.

The voice must have carried a bit. The elderly organizer's eyes twinkled a bit.

And then some folks quietly made an exit. Sedate, powerful, ministerial style......


  1. Wow, awesome usual..Yaa blood donation is something which is should be done regularly..I remember when the Kutch earthquake happened and later when the Gujarat riots happened, my friend and I went to donate blood..and would you believe we were the only girls on both the occasions who had come to donate and there were 100s of boys..and since we were the only girls we were definitely given more priority, while the boys stood patiently in a line (pretty surprising) to donate blood..we were a bit embrassed but the boys were sweet enough to tell you 'Tame aapi do, ame loko thodu timepass kariye - you girls give, we will do some timepass til then' but now after the baby, I dont donate anymore..after reading your post, I think I will start doing it again thank u so much for reminding :)

  2. Another connection. Donating blood is something I have always done, having a rarer blood group makes it almost a responsibility, I think. Recently, things are getting pretty well organized - someone I know actually cold called from a link to a internet accessible database, found a donor and things worked out well. Nice to know that there are some parts in our country that function smoothly! :-D

  3. That is a wonderful account of how times have changed, and how a sudden flash of the 'noble' past appears through a sudden act!! I wish there were more people like that elderly person, and less of ignorant asses around!!

  4. i've donated blood quite often till I started taking medicines for BP. my husband donated too till he turned 60 i think. But they say that blood donated has to be used within 21 days or it will be discarded. i wonder if it so and if all the blood collected at camps are really used?is is it not better to exercise some prudence and see to it that blood donated by willing volunteers is used and not wasted?

  5. Lovely post.. Ok let me boast a bit here .. When i started blood donating it was for a selfish reason ,, in 11th i was in colelge and i had lecture shortage.. Someone told me if i donate blood we get 5 days worth of lectures :) I only had 8 or 10.. So that was the firt time i donated blood..

    but in 12th class i joined NCC and in there a camp was held twice a year and I did then after that it became a norm every year twice giving blood this went on till i came to uk.
    Here also last year I gave but the blood not used cause of my indian background and they found Malaria something so i have been asked to wait till end of this year to do it again..

    Donating blood is a very good thing to do amd I would always encourage people to do so, it saves a lot of lives .. and my blood group is rare so if something happens to me I will need all the good people's help :) so please all do donate


  6. Lovely post - the noble act needs such importance in our everyday life.

  7. R's Mom, Sangi,writerzblock ,HHG,Bikramjit,UmaS Thank you, and so glad to see so many who support this. We really need to educate folks on this.

  8. I loved this post. It brought back many memories. I would love to do a post on my experiences with blood donation and link to this post.