Thursday, April 30, 2009


Last night we went to a blood donor party. Sponsored by Canadian Blood Services, it celebrated all those in the region who have reached an important milestone in blood donation. David has reached the 100 times milestone. I thought this was pretty impressive, worthy of a party.
Many of the celebrants were not present, still the room was a large one, and it was full of donors and their guests. First, they celebrated the 50-times givers. Fifty times is quite a few, when you think of it. Then they celebrated the 75’s, even more remarkable. Now they had reached One hundred, a highly praise-worthy number.
Impressive as it may seem, 100 donations is a mere beginning for some. There are people who have given blood 150 times, 200 times, 300 times, 400 times, 500 times, 600 times, 700 times, and yes, 800 times. 800 times! Before last night I did not know that such a thing was possible. What I did not fully appreciate is that there are different ways to give blood. You can give whole blood once every 56 days. You can give plasma once a week.
I attended the party as a guest, not as a donor. It felt good to be there, appropriate for me to enjoy the refreshments, at least for the first hour. After all, David was entitled to bring a guest, and it’s not as if I never gave or tried to give. I used to be a blood donor. I believe it is still in my nature to give, though I have enjoyed several years as a comfortable non-giver.
My comfort in not giving lies in my experience of the past. My memories of past donations are not particularly happy ones. I’d show up at the clinic with enthusiasm. But sometimes I would be too anemic, and sometimes the conscientious volunteers would fail to identify my lack of eye focus as being connected with blindness. Worried that I might be feeling unwell, they would rush to my side. It was off-putting. And then, in the 1980’s I was released from the obligation because I had a blood transfusion I had not planned to give again.
Some time in the middle of the party, I can’t say exactly when, it became clear that this was more than just a party. It was a hope event, designed to create a climate where the level of donations might actually increase. I was surprised. I hadn’t expected that, given that they were celebrating those already converted to the cause. But they had laid out a very engaging process.
It all started innocently enough. They had staff and board members there to thank the donors. Then they featured a thank-you speech by a blood recipient, a dashing young doctor who would have died 11 years ago at age 14 but for blood. They could have ended the evening at this point, but then they did even more. They spoke of the on-going need for blood, the fact that only one in thirty eligible donors is a blood donor. They asked the donors to raise awareness by speaking proudly about their donation record, maybe even bringing a friend or relative along as a companion donor.
At that point I was still quite happy, thinking fondly of David who trudges off at 7:45 every 8th Saturday morning. But I couldn’t go with him. I didn’t know it yet, but I was enjoying my last few seconds as a comfortable non-giver.
The evening was nearly over when they called Jim up to receive an honour. A generous giver, Jim was named last year as one of Alberta’s two official Caring Canadians. How did he earn the honour? Well, a few years ago Jim turned 71. He was the picture of good health. On that day he became, by legislation, a retired blood donor, a most legitimately comfortable non-giver. But Jim refused to be comfortable. He appealed to boards and lobbied doctors. He wrote to three successive prime ministers. He shouted and worked until the age limit was at last removed. Since then he has made 145 additional donations. Given the number of baby boomers about to turn 71, and our relative good health, the number of potential donations Jim’s discomfort has secured is almost uncountable.
David will some day turn 71. His health will likely be good. He’ll have plenty of time to donate, and he’ll most likely continue to be one of those one in thirty eligible donors. As for me, so long comfortable knowing that I am not one of the 29 out of 30 who could give but don’t, well, Jim has also had an impact.
Could it be that there are other possibilities? Suppose the rules had changed in the past 25 years and I was now eligible to give.! It really is possible. A lot of other things have changed. I also will turn 71 some day. And, given that it is 25 years since I last considered giving blood, I am beginning to wonder if I should check to see if I am an eligible donor. Like I said, it was more than just a party.

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