By Loh Su Jean (19A01A) and Loh Lin (19A01D)
Photos courtesy of Celine Chua (19S03H)
On the Wednesday afternoon of 25 July, an antiseptic hush descends upon the Innovation Centre. The usually empty space is now unrecognisable. A dozen reclining chairs have taken over the room, flanked by standing trolleys of medical tubing, bags, and bandages. When we arrive at 3 PM, six students are already occupying these chairs, arms outstretched and fingers curling around foam pumps. The blood donation drive is smoothly under way.
Donating blood for the first time seems — no, is — daunting, but the process is faster and less painful than one would expect. The entire process takes about forty minutes to an hour, with the actual collection lasting no more than ten minutes. The two of us separate here: one of us makes a beeline for the green privacy curtains while the other, unable to donate blood, hangs back and surveys the room.
A seasoned staff member takes my blood pressure and checks the size of my veins. They appear a little problematic, but she handles the situation with an unruffled ease that comes with being a medical worker who has probably seen everything there is to see. Refusing to give up, she rubs my forearm vigorously until she is satisfied with the blue-green knot that appears beneath my skin. While filling in an extensive questionnaire to determine my eligibility as a donor, I am offered a can of 100plus to drink.
The staff administer a quick finger-prick to check my haemoglobin levels: a minimum of 12.5 g/dL is required for female donors and 13.0 g/dL for males. I have never been bitten by an ant before, but this is probably less painful. Before there is time for second doubts, I am ushered to a chair and the collection process begins.
I grimace as the staff dabs at Su Jean’s arm with alcohol before injecting local anaesthesia. I reach for her hand, although it is more for my sake than her’s. The glint of the thicker-than-usual needle makes me slightly anxious, but looking around, few people seem to share my sentiment. Stretched out on reclining chairs and surrounded by friends who came to offer support, most of the donors appear unperturbed, sipping the drinks provided by the RCY Blood Drive Team and chatting away easily.
My attention soon returns to my fellow reporter, who stills herself in anticipation of the needle. It pierces skin in a flash, and the blood collection begins. The staff reminds her to keep still for ten minutes, then moves on to repeat the process with a waiting donor. I blink, then ask Su Jean how she feels. She blinks.
“I didn’t feel anything. It’s a little anticlimactic.”
It really is anticlimactic.
Noticing that I am a first-time donor, the staff member makes easy conversation with me as she cuffs my arm and swabs the crook of my elbow. I try not to look at the collection needle that is nestled amongst the basket of tubes and bandages, but cannot resist the temptation. It winks menacingly in the afternoon light, and is noticeably hollow.
Anticipating my apprehension, the staff member pats my hand and produces a much thinner needle containing a small quantity of local anaesthesia.
“This is the most painful part. Afterwards you won’t feel anything.”
The prick of the needle is over before it begins, and stings less than your typical flu jab. She leaves to let the local anaesthesia take effect, and I share a look with Lin, who has her brow creased in an expression that I am simply unequipped to decipher.
Before long, the lady returns. She prods my arm; it is fascinating to register the movement visually but feel nothing. I am marginally more encouraged.
Though the idea of needles doesn’t paralyse me with fear, I decide that it’s best to look away as she lines the collection needle up against my vein and tells me to take a deep breath. I quickly try to think of distractions (Is the plural of mongoose mongeese? Who came up with the word ‘oligopoly’ anyway?) and brace myself for- well, nothing. There is no sharp pain as the needle pierces skin, only a dull, tugging pressure as she adjusts the angle and deftly tapes the tube to my arm.
She unclamps the plastic tube, and its translucent length is quickly coloured a deep, rich, red by my blood. A small machine cradles the collection bag at the base of the chair, gently rocking it back and forth until 350ml of blood has been collected. They give me a foam ball to squeeze every five counts and iron tablets to take for the next week.
There is nothing much else to do now but relax with some pamphlets – did you know that the blood volume donated will be replenished by your body within 72 hours?
We both laugh at Su Jean’s lack of reaction, although I am still eyeing the cotton pressed to her arm. Leaving her to rest, I notice Carina Lee (19A01A) on a fully inclined chair with a blanket over her. She meets my curious gaze levelly out of the corner of her eye, and turns over in my direction as I make my way over. I soon find out that this isn’t the first donation attempt that has left her reeling: in an earlier blood drive this year, her haemoglobin levels had dipped too low, causing her to almost faint before the full amount could be collected.
This does little to frighten her away, evidently. She offers an easy smile in response to my query of why she has decided to try again.
“If you can help in some way, you should. Besides, there’s no lasting damage.”
Did it hurt? “A little”, she shrugs, “but it feels the same as falling down, and the latter isn’t productive.”
Many donors share her conviction in contributing to the cause, but most of them wave away the back-breaking sense of righteous nobility good deeds usually shoulder, remarking casually that “it doesn’t take more than an hour anyway” and that “if I can help save a life, why not?”
Mrs Yeo Yew Tin, the teacher in charge of Red Cross Youth, reaffirms this with a gentle, unfaltering smile. I had approached her tentatively, unsure if she’d oblige to an interview with the pressure of the needle heavy in the flesh of her arm. Instead, she beams at me, and settles back into the lumbar support of her chair in anticipation.
I inquire about her experience with donating blood, to which she reveals that this is her 14th time doing so. She shakes her head at my wide-eyed wonder and gestures to another staff member nearby, informing me that she has already donated blood a total of 37 times.
“[It’s a] good cause,” she quips, “so why not? The banks need all the blood they can get!”
When I ask if she has anything to say to readers, she leans forward eagerly, mouth set in a tender but resolute line: “I would encourage the readers to donate whenever the opportunity arises. Blood is re-circulated […] anyway so you won’t lose anything! Might as well.”
All the donors at the drive made their efforts seem so easy, like it was just another part of their daily routine, which is what Red Cross Youth has been trying to convince us of all along. Saving a life doesn’t always involve death-defying acts of self-sacrifice; something like sitting through a quick injection and enduring temporary lightheadedness (however ordinary in comparison) fulfils the same purpose.
Most of us know someone who has needed blood transfusions due to illness or accidents, and some of us might even be that someone in the future. Blood is a precious, but sometimes elusive, life-saver. But it doesn’t have to be so — by donating blood, we increase the odds in this lottery of chance, and give others (and perhaps, ourselves) a lifeline to hold onto amidst the unpredictable waves of life.
John, a student donor who wishes to remain anonymous, knows this. “I’m from the A- blood group and it’s quite rare so anyone with this blood type won’t be able to get the help they need if there’s a shortage.”
At the end of the day, underlying this common compassion is just the simple desire to make a difference and the nerve to see it through. It doesn’t take more than an hour of our time, but for people on the flip side of circumstances, it could give them a new chance at life.
While the RCY blood donation drive has ended for this year, look out for next year’s donation drive which will take place twice throughout the year: once in February/March and again in July/August. You can also make a blood donation at Red Cross Singapore’s blood banks or community drives here, but do note the prerequisites of being a blood donor.