I was reading this post by the redoubtable Ugich Konitari, about her experiences with blood donation and blood banking, and my own experiences of blood donation came whooshing out of my memory bank!
The first time ever was when I was a few months short of eighteen, the official age when you can donate blood.
My mother had been hospitalized and needed several units of blood. My father and my sister were the first to donate. One cousin came forth. His older brother didn't come, allegedly because his wife said "What will happen to our daughter if anything happens to you when you give blood?"
Given that more blood was needed and I was a willing volunteer, my blood group was tested, haemoglobin levels were fine, and I went through my first experience of giving blood. I do remember feeling a little light headed when I sat up, after it was over, but once I'd consumed the carton of juice and biscuits that were given to me, I felt fine and that was that!
After that there was no stopping me. Any blood donation camp in college would find me in the forefront, and it was nothing out of the usual for me to donate a unit of blood every few months.
After completing my Master's degree, I went to work as a lecturer in a college in a small town in Uttar Pradesh. Among my colleagues was a physiology teacher, married to a doctor. It was a women's college, with perhaps a dozen or so lecturers. When a blood donation camp was organized in the college, we needed at least one staff member to volunteer, in order to encourage our students as well as reassure them that it was perfectly safe to donate blood. Of this dozen odd women, some were too old, some were underweight, and a few were anaemic. The physiology teacher and I were both fit to volunteer, but the lady refused to do so, because she had children!!!!!!!! I was appalled- on what basis was she teaching physiology to her students if she had no fundamental knowledge of the physiology of blood, and how soon it regenerates. That she was married to a practising physician made it even more annoying. We had a successful drive, nonetheless!
Marriage and childbirth happened. A debilitating illness also occurred, in the course of which I was hospitalized and also received two units of blood.
As the years passed, the regularity of donating blood went down, but I was always willing to give blood to friends and family members who needed it. After an interval of a year or so since my last donation , a notice in our daily newspaper caught my eye, in which an army officer required my particular blood group for his ailing mother. It seemed to be calling out to me, so I went down to the army hospital and met the officer, and he escorted me to the blood bank. To my utter chagrin, the nurse couldn't find the vein in my arm. I was utterly disheartened, but agreed for the nurse to try a blind prick. You can imagine my joy when a vein was found and the blood emerged! The officer's mother recovered, and I received a very warm letter from him subsequently.
Many years later, a family member required large volumes of blood and plasma for a major surgery. I can never forget the kindness of those strangers who donated blood for this dear one.
Giving one unit of blood may not be a huge act for the donor, but for the recipient it is often the gift of Life itself.
There are, sadly, some religious communities which prohibit blood transfusions. A few months ago I heard of the highly preventable death of a person from such a religious background. I wish that their beliefs could be revised.
I'm now unable to donate blood because I'm on medication for various conditions and am probably too old as well. But if you are of the right age, are not anaemic or underweight, please do donate blood. You give just a little blood, and gain immeasurable good will. You are also given a card that entitles you to receive blood, if you need it for yourself or your family if you are a donor at a blood bank.
It is not difficult. Find out if you are fit enough to give blood. If you are, please do so. And do encourage the people you know to donate blood too. Think about it, talk about it, write about it. Each bit of information will help.