‘Be Nice to Me, I Gave Blood Today’

Why we talk about blood donation in the language of altruism

Rose George

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Photo by LuAnn Hunt/Unsplash

There is a TV, but mostly I just watch my blood. It travels from a needle stuck in the crook of my right elbow, the arm with better veins, into a tube, down into the clear bag that is being hugged by a cradle that rocks, then jerks, agitating its contents, stopping the clotting. Rock and wiggle. Rock, then wiggle.

I am giving away almost a pint, and it feels like it always does: soothing and calming. I watch the bag fill with this red rich liquid, which amounts to 13 percent of my blood supply. I am comforted to know that nine pints — eight, now — of this stuff is moving around my body at any time at two to three miles per hour, taking oxygen to my organs and tissues, removing carbon dioxide, keeping my heart going, keeping me going.

People have different rates of flow, so the machine beeps with alarm when the output is too low. Today, mine has been acceptable. Once, my veins were judged too small and the National Health Service Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) turned me away, and I was insulted, as if the rejection were moral, not medical. For a material that has been studied for thousands of years, blood still manages to run from rationality, even at walking pace.

Donating doesn’t take long. I’m done in 10 minutes. Female, A-pos, time bled 11 a.m. Now I’m due to get thanked. Gratitude is the main theme here: The Wi-Fi password is “thank you.” This is the main donor center in Leeds, England, my hometown and a city of three-quarters of a million people. A bright, well-staffed place on one of the biggest shopping streets. Over the road at the Red Hot restaurant, you can buy all you can eat from any cuisine in the world, all at once. One hundred dishes. Here, you can lie back and do not much — though clenching your buttocks helps keep your blood moving — and help three people, all at once. Give blood, and your donation can be separated by NHSBT, the public health agency that operates blood and organ transplants in England and Wales, into several lifesaving, life-enhancing gifts. By “gifts,” they mean components like red blood cells, platelets, plasma, and other useful fractions. Such details are available in NHSBT literature, as are phrases like “date bled.” In the early days of the blood…

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Rose George

Rose writes books and journalism about the unseen, ignored or under explored. Topics: refugees, sanitation, shipping, periods, HIV, all sorts.