Feeling moved by the spirit of Christmas to give something to someone other than myself, I went down to the blood bank at the Health Sciences Authority today to give blood. They obviously value donors: from the very start to finish it was a charm offensive all the way. I've never had so many nurses smile at me before. I bet even when I was an infant-in-arms they scowled at me. The receptionist was unsuually cheerful, calling everyone 'dearie' and gleefully handing out forms to fill in. Of course, given the recent cases of men being charged for donating HIV-tainted blood, all this charm has a dagger behind its back should you compromise the system. And all the literature (innumerable pamphlets that would later take turns to slide off my lap when I reclined on the chair) stresses this point, while never failing to be enthusingly grateful for the volunteer's donation.
But all that aside, my other primary reason for going down was to accustom myself to the feeling of a canula into my vein in preparation for the dreaded medic course I'll have to go for next month. With respect to sharp objects poking into me and the sight of blood, I was not to be disappointed. After the medical interview (wherein I found that I had gained 5 kilograms from the last time I checked), a nurse came (or rather I went to a nurse) to do a haemoglobin test, which consisted of stapling my finger to draw a drop of blood into a capillary tube and then shaking that drop into a beaker of blue solution which already had several other drops of blood floating within. The nurse who performed this procedure was an extremely pale lady, and it didn't help her complexion that she wore a light yellow blouse with a white disposable medical gown over it. When she put on her white latex gloves she seemed almost bloodless. After conducting the test she retired again to a small, dark anteroom. One wonders.
In the donation room itself were rows of reclining chairs lined up, with a few people already giving blood. I was seated down and a few nurses, finding that it was my first time, came to fawn over me. It's okay, a senior one said, it's just like an ant bite, not pain. Yes, ant bite, said another who was ministering to the donor in the chair beside mine, elephant ant; Godzilla ant. She laughed and quickly added, no no just joking, see this man? Your first time but this he has done this 28 times already. Not pain, right? He nodded, no, not pain. I suspected conspiracy. I felt a cool prodding on the inside of my arm, could this be it? I faced away and closed my eyes. She was reassuring: don't worry just swabbing your arm with disinfectant, to kill the germs, I explain to you what I'm doing. It's okay, I replied, just don't tell me when you stick it in, if I don't know I won't feel anything. You don't want me to talk to you, she asked? No, I clarified, just don't tell me when you stick the needle in. Okay, I won't.
Some time later I looked at my arm again and saw that she was preparing a syringe, this had to be the anaesthetic. Okay I need to inject you now, local anaesthetic so you won't feel the pain, look away now. I felt a prick and the usual odd feeling of having something shot into you and very soon the area was numb. A few moments later and she seemed to be pressing a pad onto my arm; was it done yet? I looked and saw the hugeass needle waiting to be stuck inside and quickly looked away. Goodness, what have I done? Okay, done now, she said to me cheerfully and patted me on the arm. I looked. The joint between my vein and the tube was covered tastefully with a piece of gauze, so I was spared the distressing site. I was given a ball to squeeze regularly (like this, she squeezed the ball gently, not like the way you did just now, she crushed the ball) and left to ponder the consequences of my actions. My right arm occupied I couldn't do anything but ponder the post-donation pamphlet. Their hotline number was circled: if at anytime you have doubts and wish to withdraw your blood from use, please call this number. They stressed that it was anonymous. I considered the fact that of the men who were charged, surely a few had come to this same centre, seen the same jolly cheerful faces, been given the same free calendar and milo. Perhaps one of them might have even sat in the same chair. I turned back to look at the tube carrying blood from my arm to a bag quickly being filled below. Blood, in such quantity, seemed less red than purple, a thick opaque syrup being drawn out of my body by a pump somewhere behind me. I looked at the bag and wondered if I were shot or slashed how much blood would I lose? If the blood in the bag which I've donated today were taken out and splashed around, how blood-spattered would the room be? How much blood need a man lose to die? (Say if the needle got stuck, the bag were leaking, and I fell asleep.) The tube ran over my hand before looping downwards to the bag. It was curious to feel the warmth of the blood, my blood. Somehow my subconscious expected it to be cold or at room temperature, not warm, so obviously ex corpori vivo. It's warm, I told the nurse. Of course, she said, it's from your body. My arm felt cold from the air conditioning. When it was all done (I winced when she pulled out the needle but I felt no pain, only a strange soreness) she let me feel the heft of the bag of blood in my hand. See, she told me, it's warm. After pressing a piece of gauze into the puncture wound (I still hadn't seen it, only when I went home and removed the dressing would I see it was a small nondescript puncture with barely enough space for a scab.) for five minutes, it was dressed up with a bright green dinosaur compress and I was good to go. I said goodbye to the veteran on my left and looked for the exit. While having my free hot milo at the cafe just outside the door, I looked at the list of veteran donors from the '80s and '90s, on a board hung on the wall. Curiously enough, not a single female name was to be found! Hopefully times are a-changing. In the room with me were two makciks quietly going through the process, regulars I suppose from their lack of fuss. The nurse asked me if I'd be back again. Considering how painless it was, perhaps I shall. But the next time I'll do the other arm, for symmetry's sake.
Those who are interested in donating blood can check out the HSA's website. The blood bank is located in the HSA building, opposite the road from Outram Park MRT. Closed on Mondays and public holidays.