Friday 12 July 2013

Why giving blood makes me see red

I believe people are naturally drawn to certain charities and causes - they select you, not the other way around. Along with a passion for recycling and supporting animal shelters; donating blood is one of my big ones, which is why I'm so ashamed to admit that last week was the first time I've given blood in almost eight years. I knew it had been a while, but wow, eight years! What was even sadder than this though, was despite the better part of a decade passing by since my last visit, I found the experience of giving blood to be just as frustrating as ever.

Let me be clear, I'm not talking about the opening up your vein part and I'm definitely not having a go at the Australian Red Cross. They do amazing work in all kinds of areas (not just blood collection), and we would be lost without them. Unfortunately though (as is the case with almost all non-profit organisations), they are drastically underfunded and understaffed, and blood donation is of course a tricky business which requires many highly organised processes and skilled staff. Because when you're extracting vital bits of the human body with the life-saving intention of giving them to someone else contamination-free, well there just ain't no room for cowboy operations.

I used to be a very regular donor, rolling up my sleeve every three months and sometimes even more frequently for plasma and platelet donations (where they separate out your blood cells, only take some of them and then give the rest back to you - don't worry it sounds worse than it actually is). Every time I went I made sure to book an appointment beforehand to reduce the waiting time, but just like the toilet queue at a music festival, every time I would end up waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

The normal one-hour process would usually take around three hours all up, including travel time. It would make me so sad to see others who just couldn't wait any longer get up and leave without donating (I only did this once). There are so many people in our country who are ineligible to give blood (due to things like illness, overseas travel, nationality, pregnancy, new tattoos and piercings, to name a few), and of the ones that are eligible, most can't be bothered or don't want to. So it's heart breaking when the ones that do walk in the door ready to give away their precious red stuff end up walking out again without leaving a drop because they just can't wait any longer. What a waste.

I did become used to the long waits though and even looked forward to them, blocking out several hours of my day to catch up on reading when I was due for a donation. This worked fine as a student and casual bar-maid still living at home, but became near impossible once my working career kicked off and then totally vanished when I started my own company. Looking back now I know I should have made the time, but then I felt like I didn't have a spare second to scratch my own backside let alone get it off to the blood bank for three hours. And then came children - two rounds of pregnancy and breastfeeding, meaning yet another big chunk of time when I wasn't able to donate.

So, last week I broke the drought and headed off to my appointment with a local mobile unit on a day when my oldest son was at Kindy. Unfortunately I had to take my one year-old with me, but figured he could sit next to me in his small stroller eating lunch quietly while I did my thing. Fat chance. The stroller wasn't allowed in the van even though there was room, and my son was too upset to be minded by one of the kind staff members who offered to hold him, after already sitting with me for over an hour while I filled out my questionnaire and had my pre-donation interview. I ended up having to call my husband to come and collect him who luckily was off work on holidays, meaning I thankfully didn't have to walk away untapped. I was not a popular wifey that afternoon however.

Ok, I'll admit it was stupid of me to think I could bring my baby with me to donate blood, but I was just so desperate to start donating again. And until my children go to school it's going to be difficult for me to give blood regularly again - it's not just about getting someone to mind my kids, but trying to find several hours of time amongst my freelance work, stay-at-home mum duties, doctor's appointments and a million other things.

I applaud the fact that Australia has a blood donation system that works and is better than most around the world. But I personally also find it incredibly frustrating that the whole process isn't faster and easier for willing donors - something which I guess might be possible with more funds to allow more staff, mobile units, equipment, better facilities and other elements - creche anyone?

In the meantime, I'm just going to have to accept that right now I might not have the time or freedom to give blood every three months, which is fine. I am sure as hell going to try, but if it only ends up being once or twice a year, like a dental check-up, then that's ok too. It can still make a huge difference and is better than not donating again for another eight years!

Maybe I've just been incredibly unlucky with my blood donation visits. If you've had similar experiences, or in contrast have whizzed through in record time I'd love to hear about it.

Either way, please don't let lack of time or other factors deter you fit and healthy, non-Cow Diseased individuals from giving blood. Over 27,000 blood donations are needed in Australia every week, so if like me you have kids, or an annoying boss who doesn't let you out of the office, or are generally time pressed - don't beat yourself up about it, just go when you can but make sure you do. 

And a word to all healthy students, unemployed people and retirees who have a lot of time on their hands - get your chops into the blood bank, now!

Want to get on the blood bandwagon and save some lives? All the info you need is here

photo credit: andyi via photopin cc


  1. Aaargh! I feel guilty. I have never given blood and my excuse is that, because I have an extremely rare blood type, it's not that necessary. Lame-O.
    And now that I'm massively stretched for time, I have another convenient excuse... ahem. I will get there one day, I promise!

  2. Don't feel guilty! If you want to do it, you will one day - maybe when the kids are older perhaps :) FYI donors with rare blood types are in high demand cos' there aren't many of you to line up! Same goes of course though for common types where there is a constant need for supply


Thanks for sharing your two cents with One Woman Circus!