Until his death, my grandfather donated blood as frequently as he could – every 12 weeks, I think. He knew all the nurses at the Red Cross Donation Centre. He loved the free milkshake reward. Most of all, he loved giving of himself. An intimate and generous act in a clinical setting.
I wonder how many lives his blood saved.
I’ve given blood a few times. Not as often as I should considering I am O Negative. It’s the only blood that is universal, meaning it can be given to anyone of any type. In an emergency, when there is no time to ask questions, patients are given O Negative.
The last time I went to give blood, I became faint and pale and they immediately stopped the procedure. I was seeing stars. “Don’t feel bad, it happens sometimes,” said the nurse. I did feel bad. I felt like I had let Grampy down and haven’t been back since.
Blood is the ultimate life saving elixir. Liquid life. It heals and repairs and nourishes. Or potentially, it is poison. If it’s infected and contagious. It can be deadly.
In great volumes, it is a sign of trauma, devastation, death. Like the pools of blood on the streets of Paris (the ones we viewed in horror on the TV news, in pictures online). Streams of red staining the gutters. Street cleaners scrubbing the pavements, removing any trace of it. Life, and then none.
Then in the days that followed, lines and lines of Parisians flocked to donate blood. Queues of people measuring hundreds of metres long. In their helplessness: What can I do? How can I help? What do I have? Blood. The only answer was blood.
I have never received someone else’s blood into my own body. It is something that seems so profound and pure. At the same time, so very revolting. A vitalising substance created by someone else, channeling through every inch of their body, coursing through their very heart.
Take it out.
Pump it into someone else. Through the chambers of another person’s heart.
Do you receive a piece of the donator along with their blood? Just temporarily, perhaps. A memory? A personality trait? An emotion? A sentiment?
I imagine my grandfather’s blood would have been warm and light, like relief and sunshine flooding through your veins.
I am sharing my blood at the moment. I’m sharing it with my son. He kicks after I eat and especially after I drink some coffee. He thrashes sometimes too for no apparent reason. I have plenty of blood to share with him at the moment. Throughout pregnancy, my blood volume will increase 50 percent. My heart has to work harder. The rate increases and the strength of each heart beat is stronger. My body is working hard to carry blood and life to my son.
The thing about blood that amazes me to no end: it is so very revealing, a secret health informant. Blood can tell us (just about) everything…
You’re tired because your iron is low. You’ve had WAY too much to drink. Your thyroid is working fine. Congratulations, you’re pregnant. You have an infection, HIV, hep C, cancer. You have glandular fever. Your kidneys are functioning perfectly. Your liver is in order. Your heart, calcium, electrolyte levels, cholesterol. You’re under the influence of drugs.
Those are just some thoughts about blood.
Featured picture credit: http://karmasnap.com