Brigid has a very good post up tonight about the importance of blood donation. In the light of her brother's severe illness, and what we learned from CoolChange earlier this week, it's a very timely reminder.
I used to donate blood in South Africa. I gave whole blood for several years, then was asked to go onto cell separation donation. This involved taking a unit of blood out of my arm and running it through a centrifuge. The desired elements of blood - platelets, or plasma, or whatever - were taken out in the centrifuge, then the remainder of the blood, plus an anticoagulant, was reinjected into my body. That done, another unit of blood was drawn and the process was repeated. It wasn't a difficult procedure - just boring, as the process could take a couple of hours.
After a year on the cell separation unit, I was asked to 'graduate' to the fresh-component team. This group didn't donate regularly, but was on permanent call. If certain emergency operations (e.g. organ transplants, or oncology-related surgery) needed particular blood components, and demanded that they be absolutely fresh and at full potency rather than refrigerated or otherwise preserved, members of the team would be called in - often in the small hours of the morning - to donate blood. I've spent many hours in a donation room a few doors away from an operating theater, watching my blood go through the centrifuge. As each cycle was completed, a nurse would rush the pouch directly to the theater, for immediate infusion into the patient. It felt good, knowing that one was directly and immediately saving a life like that.
Alas, when I came to the USA, the blood donation people in Louisiana looked at me askance. The exchange went something like this:
"Oh, you've donated before? How many units?"
"At least a hundred, plus at least fifty or sixty cell separation donations."
"Oh, wonderful! Where's your donor card? . . . Hey, wait a minute - this says 'South African Red Cross'!"
"Well, yeah - that's where I'm from. South Africa."
"AAAAAAHHHH! African blood cooties! Run for your lives!"
Sadly, I've never been allowed to donate blood over here, but I can understand the reason for that. I'm informed that if someone's not developed any immunity to some of Africa's nastier bugs (e.g. malaria, sleeping sickness, bilharzia and others), it can be dangerous to give them blood from someone who's been exposed to such evils. Since I've run into all those and then some, I guess I've been kicked out of the local donor pool. However, that's not an excuse most of my readers can use!
Seriously, friends, please go read what Brigid has to say, and consider donating blood yourselves. It's vitally important - and the beneficiary one day might be you. 'Nuff said.