Monday, June 24, 2013

In Death : The Gift of Life

We are a strange people.

We are born with stuff,  our DNA, and the Almighty gives us.  Then we spend a lifetime, trying to improve upon the original, because someone somewhere keeps bombarding us with  methods of improvement , so we can fall in line with what someone else  decides , is the norm. So many go under the knife to change their God given attributes to man defined standards, with the least concern for the cutting, stitching and chemical treatments.

 It isn't that you couldn't breathe, but noses suddenly look straighter;  your hearty laugh is now augmented by a man-made dimple, and a worried forehead suddenly looks smoother, with the worries intact. And renovations below the neck are simply too many to enumerate.

It's all about taking in and grabbing for yourself. For someone that prefers to install all kinds of chemicals and structures in the body to enhance appearance, you make yourself scarce around blood donation events, even though they happen with the best facilities and most scientific methods and care, because who knows what is on the tip of the disposable needle?  Similar to the one they used to give you Botox ? Never mind. The sight of blood stuns you, and the idea of giving it to someone else impoverishes you. Someone tells you you need to take leave for 3 days after blood donations (to recoup your precious blood) and you believe that and excuse yourself, despite knowing someone who went to work directly from the blood donation camp. Never mind.

We continue this even in death, by abhorring and spreading myths about things like eye donations, and skin donations.

Yes, we are a strange people. Particularly my generation. Because we have too many facetious choices and we abuse them.

The older generation to mine, lived differently.  They accepted the way they were born and made the best of it. They were comfortable in their own skins. When society changed, they judiciously  partook of somethings that would benefit them, and would be useful for future generations. Unlike us,  they did not run after the herd. They had an ability to ignore superficial and facetious changes. The entire spectrum of societal change across which they lived their lives was mind boggling.  And they had an amazing ability to pick and choose that which would enable future generations.

Like my parents, who introduced us to the concept of blood donation as students. We knew and observed the various safeguards, and learned to donate at camps conducted under the most rigorous and safe conditions, without getting hyper about things.  Today , my children , donate blood, according to specified rules, in consultation with our family doctor, almost every year or more.  

Like an aunt of mine who recently passed away. Her husband was an educationist and professor who taught college for years in one of the smaller towns in Maharashtra. He passed away when her 3 daughters were very young, and she soon shifted to Pune to be amidst relatives and  ensure a good education and opportunities for the daughters. Her strength was her belief in her self and the values she had. She faced all kinds of calamities like the Pune floods in 1961 when the Panshet Dam burst, and water came rushing in torrents to her doorstep and inside. Except for the youngest, the other daughters were at school, and unable to reach home. She handled this all alone.  The daughters were all academically excellent, and she encouraged them in their postgraduate studies in the face of advice from some that told her that she was missing out on good marriage prospects for her daughters.  This was not easy in those days.  It so happened that all 3 of her daughters today excel in their chosen professions, and have found their own life partners. She was a proud mother in her old age, watching her daughters, one a gynaecologist, another a chartered accountant with her own practice and another who is a doctorate and works with a leading NGO. All happily encouraged by their respective husbands.

The older generation had a great sense of importance about giving.  You celebrated your own sense of well being and comfort by ensuring that you changed lives of a few by helping those in need. With medical help. With fees. With the cost of textbooks and implements they needed. With recommendations to others.

She was bedridden for a few months, mentally very active though physically not so good. Last week , one early morning, she quietly faded away, leaving 3 distraught girls.  In the midst of their sorrow, they remembered to do something their mother would have appreciated.

They donated her eyes to an Eye Bank, and skin portions to a Skin Bank. 

This post is being written, not just to applaud this, but to highlight and emphasize, to those that are interested, the technicalities.

There  is no disfigurement of the departed.  You must call the authorities within 6 hours of the death.  I have myself had this experience when we had occasion to donate he eyes of my late parents and in laws.

The personnel  come very respectfully with their implements and stuff in a bag. They work behind closed doors for a short time, and  walk out again, quietly, getting you to fill the donor's details on a form. When you see the departed person again,  there is no sign of any surgery etc.

I now understand that skin banks operate much the same way. The medical personnel arrive , and work behind closed doors.  Whatever skin excisions are done, are perfectly bandaged , and are often under areas covered normally by the clothes.

It isn't just enough to sign forms  in your lifetime to declare your intentions. You must sensitize your offspring regarding that.  So that , even in traumatic family times, these wishes are remembered.  If the donation happens in the premises of a very large general hospital as happened in my late mother's case, it is possible, that a needy person shortly gets the gift of sight.  (We were informed about this, by letter, a few days later, without breaking any confidentialities).

Eye banks have been around for a long time, but skin banks are a more recent phenomenon.  Dr Madhuri Gore, then Head of Surgery and specializing in burns treatments  at the LTMG Hospital in Mumbai, started the first Skin Bank . There is now another one in Pune at Surya Hospital.  So many lives of unfortunate women  burn victims, and accident victims have been saved because of the availability of skin banks.

Efforts are now on, so that families of the departed can now call a single number (instead of keeping track of separate agencies) and donate.                 

 I wish some corporates as part of their CSR,  arrange to show stuff on television, small clips about blood and organ donation, on a regular basis to educate and sensitize folks. 

I know it is difficult, in the face of Fair, Lovely, White, Straight, Soft , Silky, Good-smelling, fast driving, roaring  stuff, that we are bombarded with day in and day out.

But giving someone unfortunate a new useful life, would be the ultimate tribute to someone who has left you after teaching you so much ......    



  1. I donated my mother's eyes. I did not know about skin banks ... will look into it. Yes, its the best donation to do. My sons regularly donate blood, and one of them is O+ which is much valued. I have been forbidden now .. but was a regular blood donor.

  2. Was present during the death of both my maternal grandparents. It was their last wish that their eyes be donated. We felt it was the least we could do.

    But I had no idea about Skin Banks. Let me google it up.

  3. Maybe, I should be an organ donor, too. We'll see.

  4. I didn't have any idea about skin banks.. will check about it. But I am planning to pledge my eyes... let's see how it goes. an informative post.

  5. We should promote organ donation, too. A single person's donation could save as many as 7-8 other lives. But the general public have little understanding about its value and procedures.

    Social conventions obstruct such donations. Have we heard about such donations from our doctors and hospitals?