This year I donated blood for the first time. After making a booking online, I went on a sunny Saturday. 'Ask what your blood type is,' my mother said to me. We didn't know, but I had always been curious. Who did I take after? Was I an O or an A? When it had come up in conversation I always admitted I didn't know.
At the desk I was asked if I was a first-time donor and was given a glittery sticker that I wore the entire time. I had googled and done my research. I knew beforehand what would disqualify me from donating — cold, recent tattoos, recent trip to the dentist. I filled out the questionnaire, eating some potato chips and waiting until I was called into an office.
Because I was donating for the first time, a nurse and I chatted as she looked over my questionnaire. When we were waiting for some results, she asked me about my degree, which as a refreshing change, she seemed genuinely interested in. As I pricked my finger like Sleeping Beauty, I asked whether I'd get to know my blood type. I was told not right now, but it would be on my donor card.
I sat down, got hooked up and watched the blood — darker than I expected — flow out through the tube. Since the TV was in front of me, I ended up watching a segment with America Ferrera on the TV show Who Do You Think You Are, learning about an ancestor who was a revolutionary.
The whole blood donation was over faster than I expected, it only took about an hour at peak time. I walked out of the centre eating a cookie and feeling good. And yes, I can confirm — the biscuit from all the ads tastes quite nice.
A month after I donated, I received my donor card in the mail. I was heading out, but turned around and went straight back into the house. 'Moment of truth,' I said to my mother. I opened the envelope and turned the card around. Type O. I did a little dance and song, 'My blood is useful'. My mother was a little disappointed I wasn't Type A like her. I told her she always had a chance with my brother.
I'm not exactly sure why I was so interested in learning my blood type. Part of it was practical because knowing your blood type is good in an emergency.
But I think part of it is trying to figure out my hereditary code. I have my mother's red hair, but my father's shade of blue eyes. It's another way to help pin down who you are and what you're made of. I'm a person who feels comfortable with labels, so not knowing my blood type, a part of me, seemed like a huge gap in my knowledge.
"Pope Francis calls organ donation 'a profound act of love for our neighbour' and I think blood donation is much the same. It's giving someone in need part of yourself."
And stepping back from just me, blood connects us all. Literature often romanticises the concept of 'lifeblood'. Symbolically, life can begin and end with blood, there's a reason vampires steal life from drinking blood — by giving blood, you're literally and symbolically sharing your life force. Pope Francis calls organ donation 'a profound act of love for our neighbour' and I think blood donation is much the same. It's giving someone in need part of yourself.
Heading into the winter season, blood donation centres take a dip in donations as about 1000 donors cancel appointments with cold and flu symptoms. This means that every donation is really valuable this time of year. Blood and plasma donations can help with surgeries, anaemia and treating trauma, cancer and burn patients.
I'm happy to say that I'm pretty close to an ideal donor. I have a willing arm and good blood pressure. I'm glad I could help and now know my own blood type, but this is a system that works best when everyone who can pitches in. Giving blood is simple to do, feels good and is desperately needed. Though the blood service estimates that nine million Australians are eligible to give blood, only 500,000 are currently doing so. There must be other ideal donors out there waiting.
Neve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.
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02 June 2017
Neve, it is a very fine gesture to donate blood. Although I've had many blood samples taken for medical purposes, I haven't given blood for altruistic reasons. My husband, who is the same blood type as me, has given close to 100 donations though. I'm very proud of him because he has had a number of health issues, and hasn't always been able to give. Maybe I should accompany him next time!
02 June 2017
Well done Neve and timely too, as donors do tend to drop off in the colder months for the reasons you stated. I'm a regular plasma donor (almost 200 donations now) and donation is not a painful or unpleasant experience. Not everyone can be a donor. People living in the UK in the 1980s during the "mad cow" years are one excluded group. But I would like to support your call to encourage those who can be blood donors to have a go. The stats I heard were that only one in 30 people who can donate is actually doing so, but one in three people will need a blood transfusion or blood products during their life. High demand for blood products will always be with us, but we can do something to help the supply side. If I can put in a plug, people who want to know more can contact the Red Cross Blood Service on 13 14 95, or go to the website www.donateblood.com.au for more information.
Roy Chen Yee
02 June 2017
O negative is the universal donor, at least for emergencies. AB is the universal recipient. Someone tell me why the blood type on the Shroud of Turin is AB, not O. Surely, if there is no higher form of art than God and aesthetics is inherent in art, the Saviour's blood should be O.