“Do you consider your blood safe to donate?”
In January 2016, I went to donate blood, and as I ticked ‘yes’ to that question, like I’d been doing for about five years, I wondered if all the years I’d been donating blood, I’d been doing it for the wrong reasons. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t think my blood was safe, I was pretty sure it was. The problem was, even if I hadn’t been pretty sure, I probably still would have ticked ‘yes.’
I’ve been told I can’t donate blood quite a number of times. The first time because I was 12 years old and really quite small, sometimes because I hadn’t had a meal 4 hours prior to when I wanted to donate, most times because my iron levels just weren’t high enough because I’m slightly anaemic.
Each refusal just made me more and more desperate to donate. I’ve since learned to incorporate iron-rich foods into my diet, but I’ve also learned to just say the things I know I’m expected to say so I can be given the green light.
For the first time that year, I asked myself if I had been donating blood because I really wanted to help people, or because I just liked being able to, or liked having the “badge of honour” of saying I donate blood. For the first time that year, I had to tell myself my “good intentions” alone would not make my blood safe.
Last week, I wanted to donate blood. Actually, no, I needed to donate blood. The Namibian Blood Transfusion Service people had been texting, and on Thursday they actually called me( yes, I kinda sorta count as a regular donor, so we’re cool like that, hehe) because kuti there’s an extreme shortage of blood in the country. And I’m O+, so I can donate to anyone and everyone.
So I said of course I’ll donate. I was being very healthy on that day, and I made sure to eat some good beef liver and onion before I went, you know, just to give the levels a little boost. Alas! I got there and I was told my iron levels were 0.2(I don’t know what the unit of measurement is) shy of what they should be and so I couldn’t donate, and can’t for 3 months, and in those 3 months I should work on getting my iron levels up.
They gave me a pamphlet with all these “iron rich” foods I should eat, iron rich foods I know off-head by now because I’ve received that pamphlet quite a number of times.
I was pretty bummed that I wasn’t able to donate blood. I usually dread the iron test, like I dread most tests, really. I can’t help feeling that like most tests, it’s designed to make me fail, make me feel like I’m not good enough, my blood is not good enough. As I was walking out of the NABTS, I thought how if there was any way I could have cheated on that test, I totally would have and I guess in a way, that’s exactly what I had tried to do by having the liver before going to donate.
As I complained to anyone who would listen about how heartbroken I was that I hadn’t been able to donate blood, a friend suggested that I try again this week and I told her that I couldn’t try to donate again for 3 months. 3 months is how long you’re supposed to give between donations as well, I know this because once I tried to donate about a month after I’d donated, my iron levels were ridiculously low then and I told the guy testing them, “But I donated just last month and my iron levels were fine then.”
That’s when he let me know that I needed to wait 3 months between my donations. I’m pretty sure he could have looked into the system to see when the last time I’d donated had been, but he hadn’t, he asked me, and I remembered that and when my friend suggested that I try donating again this week, I actually thought about it. I thought about how no one at the NABTS would know that I had just tried and failed to donate blood last week. I could even go to a different testing centre.
And that brings us back to the question of why I donate. Donating blood shouldn’t be something I do because it seems posh, or cool, or whatever. It’s to save lives. And what good is it that I go to extreme lengths to donate blood, if the blood I’m donating isn’t safe and healthy blood? What is the point to my donating, if in the end I’m doing more harm than good?
I’ve had one of the guys testing me at the NABTS once tell me my blood was “paper white!” something my mother actually said to me years ago with regard to how pale my palms were. Her prognosis at the time was that I was too thin. Of course I now know that I’m just anaemic.
We’ve been at this up and down dance quite a while, my iron levels and I… Sometimes they’re okay, other times they’re painfully low. Sometimes I make the conscious decision to eat more iron-rich foods, and other times I just forget, because it’s taxing. I’ve tried supplements, but they gave me constipation and messed up my menstrual cycle, so that’s a no.
Anyhow, this growing stuff is interesting. It’s interesting to see me have such serious conversations with myself. It’s interesting to hear me tell myself to focus on being healthier, especially if I want to be a worthy blood donor.
Featured Image: BBC