Bloody Tradition


My fascination with blood goes back a long way.

Possibilities of me being a valiant warrior type being absolutely nil, my first awareness of blood happened when, as a child of 8 or so, I witnessed an accidental injury caused by someone who was running around with a paper windmill on a stick, and managed to
pierce my brother in the ear with it. Shock and awe at the expanse of red, growing by the second across his ear, we recovered fast enough to rush to our neighboring doctor with him, where he was examined and correctly treated, as a result of which, he has no hearing problem, till today.


Mercurychrome, in school, was a kind of "desired" accessory. You played hard, you stumbled, streaks of blood appeared, and a bunch of overexcited kids hovered around, and there was a lot of hissing ,as your teacher applied a lashing of mercurychrome. For some reason the bandages never stayed in place, and the orange yellow stain on the knees was a highly prized prestige item. Our school had plenty of sports, and growing up in a family with a male majority, I learned to be fairly nonchalant about blood; mine, that is. 

Voluntary community events were the norm in my childhood, and we were encouraged to participate , more when it was about giving, than when it was about getting a certificate or prize.

Staying away from home in college, one got engulfed in extracurricular stuff, and one day found me at the College Blood Donation camp. It was the Simple Sixties in Pune, a fairly conservative traditional town then, and going for this camp held in one of the halls in the boy's dorms, was a challenge enough. While some conservative types, acted as if we were entering the portals of Sin City, a bunch of us went, and were happily welcomed by the doctors, nurses, and organizers. Basking in a sense of systolic and diastolic importance, as they checked our blood and fitness, we admired those who single mindedly poked into our veins, to, as my friends said , "fix the tap and get the pipes going".

Eureka! We gave blood!
Arose. Nothing happened. All visions of stumbling across the hall, eyes dimmed, hands outstretched, supported by nurses etc, came crashing down. We were offered crackers and some beverage, asked to relax, The only excitement came when one of our classmates fainted , possibly out of seeing bags of blood getting slowly filled with this really dark stuff, and folks lying on tables.....

One more belief that immediately  hit the trash was the conviction that transfusions happened like they showed in Bollywood movies : two desperate chaps lying on two beds alongside each other, with an actual pipe leading from one guy to a bottle of blood, from where it was delivered to the other guy through another pipe, as assorted relatives, villains, molls, former enemies et al, stood around with miraculous looks on their faces. We started hearing about packed blood, platelets, plasma and the like.  Life went on. My friends and I donated blood several times after that  Happily.  And the  folks organizing these camps were grateful and appreciative.  

By and by , we all got busy with children, careers, and family matters, and voluntary donation of blood , kind of took a back seat.
But blood remained somewhere in the subconscious.  Organising  requirements of blood , for a friend's husband , scheduled to undergo major heart surgery,  and various people at work started crossing the road when they saw us approaching.  Applauding the concept was one thing. Actually getting poked and drained was a different thing altogether." And think of the diseases. "  
The Internet had just begun, and although Google hadn't been born, Yahoo must have then  been swamped with bloody searches from certain IP addresses.

But we tried.
A lot of people listened.
 
The hospital authorities were overcome with the sheer number of people who came. A lot of young people , students , donated blood for the first time, and felt good about it. Some of them even insisted on donating blood for other patients in the hospital who needed it,  now that my friend's husband's need was fulfilled.  I went up to do my stuff, and came back a disappointed person. I was told my blood was not rich enough in iron, and needed to improve before I could donate again. 
 
But age was catching up. If haemoglobin didn't get me, age would.

That's where the children came in. Both were now adults. In a world with glitzy contraptions,knowledge factories ,dot-coms, MTV and charmed lifestyles, there needed to be a realization that giving was "cool", more so, than acquiring. And so they came one day, to a blood donation camp with me, and learned how to be useful, while I struggled to understand why I was being rejected , yet,once again. Poor blood. (I don't get published anywhere, but certainly know what a rejection feels like).

 I now  have a year left before age  debars me from donating blood. I recently went with my daughter to a blood donation event on campus. Wide smiles, roses being presented, and incredulity that both of us wished to donate.(With sideways glances at me . Hmm)
 
I was coming after years. The gentleman who did the preliminary checks, nonchalantly pricked my finger, and dropped a drop of my  poor old doubtful blood into a beaker of copper sulfate. Peered at it, and motioned me to go ahead.
I had made it ! The Haemoglobin was behaving itself. After so many years , I was lying on this couch, hands outstretched, and several folks were trying to look for veins, which hitherto had been fairly visible in my arms. 

The mind was at peace. My blood wasn't special, but it flowed on, right into the pack that collected it, and soon joined a large set of anonymous blood bags in the bank maintained by one of Mumbai's biggest public hospitals.
My daughter and I, were both pleased. Me due to my haemoglobin, and she because she was given a special bouquet in honor of being the first woman donor that day. All donors that day received wristwatches with the logo of the company sponsoring the days activities at the hall. I am not sure this commercial intrusion is a welcome thing; but it is a clear indication, that blood is sorely needed by blood banks, they are trying to attract the younger crowd, and there are some folks who are pleased to help to publicize everything.... 
Over the years, I have had occasion to rush around trying to organize blood for a sick little child as well as for an elderly parent scheduled for a major surgery.

In Mumbai, they will release blood from the blood bank, only if you organize an immediate substitute donation, to keep their supply replenished. Its either you, if you qualify, else, you seek out donors within the available extended family.  But if you have donated blood earlier, and received a data card regarding that, this saves you time, as blood may be obtained against it. What is even nicer, is that this card may even be used  by someone else if you have no use for it .

They will disqualify me in a year. The haemoglobin will find it harder and harder to reach the correct levels. But one thing is certain. There will be some folks within the family, to carry on , er, this bloody tradition......


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An article by Suranga Date aka Ugich Konitari who blogs at Gappa

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