I guess I’ve been able to call myself a ‘regular blood donor’ for the past 5 years. Sure, I always to travel to places where malaria or dengue fever or some other potential disease that prohibits you from donating blood for a long period after you return home, but I always remember to book in for another donation as soon as I can. Today was no different. I was willing to gift myself the pleasure of donating blood again after not being able to donate for 4 months because I went to Indonesia.
As usual, the receptionist tells me they are in need of more plasma donors, and I reply with my usual response – that I simply cannot bear the thought of them shooting something back into me. She nods, but tells me to seriously consider it.
Then it’s the usual one-on-one interview to make sure you’re eligible to donate. Haemoglobin’s still good. Blood pressure’s still good. The chat’s still my favourite part of the day – seriously, the people who work at the blood centre are some of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet!
As usual, the nurse checks my arm and pronounces: “Wow you have such small veins”. I nod. I haven’t even told her my blood flow is also very slow! Thankfully, she tells me my small veins make me unsuitable for donating plasma. I’ll be able to tell the receptionist that next time!
As usual, I have to squeeze the sponge ball really hard to try and get the veins up to the surface. The nurse rubs that iodine on me that always looks a little too orange. She then gets a heat pack to put underneath my arm, and massages my arm towards the place where the needle would be put in.
When she puts the needle in, she mutters: “I’m sorry I’m hurting you!” Yeah, this hurts more than usual, and the pain lasts for longer than usual. Then, I realise she can’t actually get enough blood flowing. She yells for another nurse, Craig, who walks up and exclaims: “Wow we haven’t seen you in a long time”. We chat about my travels while the first nurse bandages my first arm and Craig starts setting up for my other arm.
The same process is repeated on my other arm – squeezing the sponge, putting on more iodine that’s too orange, more massaging. As Craig puts the needle in, he quietly mutters: “It’s either yes or no.”
The answer was a no. And then Craig told me I needed to drink more water than I already do. For somebody with such small veins, I probably need at least 3L/day in the days leading up to the donation, and on the day I’d probably need 5L. Funny, my friends always tell me: “For someone who drinks so much water, you don’t go to the bathroom very often.” I know I drink a lot of water regularly, and I know I definitely drank more than 2L of water today. This was the first time it hasn’t worked. Why?
My first nurse came back and kept apologising. And the next thing I knew, tears were coming out of my eyes. They weren’t just drops of tears, but strings of them, like water spilling from a dam. I profusely tried to wipe my eyes, but the tears just kept coming. Were they tears of self-frustration for being stupid enough to not drink enough water? Were they tears of empathy for the nurses who spent so much time and effort on a Saturday afternoon for nothing? Were they tears of disappointment that I shouldn’t call myself a ‘regular blood donor’? I wasn’t sure. All I could articulate when Craig asked me why I cried was: “I feel bad.”
I still needed to lie down for at least another 15 minutes, as my tears were just unrelenting. That’s about the same time it takes for a whole blood donation! The nurse told me I could book for another donation soon, and that I should still eat something, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t feel like I deserved the cookies or the milkshakes. I felt embarrassed that I’ve had countless donations and this had never happened before. I felt like I had to perform a walk of shame when I walked out.
I’ve always been so passionate about donating time and things rather than money, which is why I’ve always been a huge advocate for blood donations. While I’m still contemplating whether I’ll book for another donation soon, I realised something. Sure I may be really passionate about the cause, but there comes a point when it’s too much. When you’ve given so much of yourself that you’re the one who’s deprived. When you care so much that you forget to care about yourself. When you might be altruistic, but all in the wrong ways.
So for now, I will continue to contemplate over whether to make another donation or not. At the same time, I will try and find more effective ways to be altruistic. Meanwhile, I’ll still be a huge advocate for the Red Cross. I’ll still encourage people to donate blood. But maybe that’s all I need to do. Maybe I’m not suitable to donate blood. Maybe that’s ok.
“Don’t sacrifice yourself too much, because if you sacrifice too much there’s nothing else you can give and nobody will care for you” – Karl Lagerfeld.
Have you ever had a failed blood donation? Did you ever have a lesson on ‘effective altruism’?