Mister, Can You Spare A Pint?

Red Cross locations I gave blood for the first time in my life.

I've meant to do it for a long time, but never got around to it. Many times I've walked past the Hong Kong Red Cross office, thinking I ought to donate, but I never stopped to investigate. Hell, I don't even know my blood type.

I was on my way home from running errands, when on the spur of the moment, I turned off the sidewalk and walked up the steep flight of stairs into the clinic, and asked to donate.

Wasting no time, the nurse at the front desk asked if I'd ever donated. As I hadn't, she handed me a questionnaire which probed my history in depth. I'd expected that; it's a good thing I'm not a junkie. The questions surrounding my sexual history didn't offend me in the least. I knew my medical history well enough that I breezed through the form in a couple of minutes. The nurse asked if I'd eaten lunch. When I replied that I hadn't, she asked if I'd eaten breakfast. I told her I'd eaten twice and that I was fine.

"I know I'm white, but not so white as to be labelled anemic."

Another nurse invited me into an office, closed the door and asked a few more questions to clarify some of my answers. Again I was asked if I'd eaten lunch, and she wanted to know if I was going to exercise afterward. She mentioned rock climbing. I knew some people have a problem maintaining consciousness when they give blood, but I expected no problems; I'm hardly a lightweight. I assured her climbing wasn't on my list of things to do.

Next came the fingertip pinprick. A third nurse swabbed my third and fourth fingers with alcohol. Using a simple customised needle encased in a plastic sleeve, she grabbed my ring finger and squeezed the finger pad while pressing the tip of the plastic sleeve against it to engage the needle. She was so good at the procedure I hardly felt it. She then took a long, slender tube and collected the blood that seeped from my fingertip. It was fascinating. She did a quick test to determine the level of iron in my blood and pronounced it good. I knew it would be; I eat vitamin and mineral supplements daily. I know I'm white, but not so white as to be labelled anemic.

I was led up a short flight of stairs to the donor area. I sat in one of several comfy recliners and noted I was the only donor in the centre. Yet another nurse asked if I'd eaten lunch. I had the feeling they were about to run downstairs to McDonald's and grab something for me to eat before they tapped into me. At no time were they anything less than pleasant. The clinicians were friendly and polite, as though they were afraid I'd change my mind and flee screaming from the building. They must have had a lot of skittish donors, but I'm neither squeamish about blood nor needles.

· ƒ ·

The Red Cross Before the blood extraction, the nurse asked me which arm I wanted to use for the donation. Now that's courtesy. Being left-handed, I chose my left arm as it was stronger. A male technician wrapped my bicep with a blood pressure cuff. I was curious to learn whether my BP had changed since the last time it was tested. The nurse pumped up the cuff, and in a few moments had the answer; it was the same as it has been for years, despite my weight: 120 over 70. She seemed surprised, but I told her it was because I was active: I walk a lot, work out and practice Tai Chi.

Having completed the reading, she asked if I wanted a local anesthetic before inserting the needle. I told her I wouldn't need it unless she intended to jab it down through my elbow. She didn't get the joke, so I said no. She then cleaned the skin over the veins with iodine and alcohol. Once the blood bag was connected to the catheter and hung in place, she slid the metal tube into my vein. She told me to squeeze and relax my fist for about 3 to 4 seconds each time. I must have had good blood volume, because it didn't take long to fill up that 450ml bag.

"... a broken neck wouldn't be good for business."

After crimping the tubes to seal the bag, she removed the catheter from my arm and pressed cotton over the hole. She asked me to press down for five minutes to make the bleeding stop. She handed me a sheet of paper which listed post-donation advice, including admonishments to drink extra fluids, avoid strenuous and dangerous exercise, and avoid lifting heavy weights with the arm I'd used for the donation. I had visions of doing curls in the gym and then watching with embarrassment as my vein opened up and sprayed blood all over the equipment. I assured her I had no intentions of exercising, other than maybe walking. I hadn't been planning on rock climbing, hang-gliding or scaling Mt. Everest.

I went downstairs, where I was given a cup of tea and some soda crackers. They wanted me to stay for 15 minutes to ensure I wasn't about to pass out, or worse, swoon and take a header down the long staircase to the street. Having a big white guy on the sidewalk with a broken neck wouldn't be good for business. I was fine; I felt better after giving blood than I did when I went in. I stayed for 10 minutes and drank the tea, but as I was on a diet, I skipped the crackers.

I was told I'd receive my donor card and blood type in the mail in about six weeks. Provided there are no issues with my donation, I'll be able to give blood again in three months. I felt good about having donated, knowing that someone might live because of the pint I gave. I hadn't expected to experience such a high level of satisfaction from giving blood.

It's funny I had to move halfway around the planet to do it.

October 15, 2002

Next Tale: 15 Miles of Manhattan