Last week I gave up something important. Something I have done all my life. I stopped being a blood donor.
I could see it coming. My initial screening had disqualified me as a donor in my last several attempts to donate. I was turned down.
Canadian Blood Services, ever the optimistic bunch, wanted me to make another appointment for September, but I declined. It wasn’t that I didn’t want another turn down; I knew I had a medical issue and after talking with my doctor, I knew the reasons why. I had made some lifestyle changes which were very good for other parts of my health, but the down side was that I no longer met the requirements for being a blood donor.
I was disappointed. I didn’t want to stop. As long as my health was good, I was prepared to keep on giving blood. But it will not be. I can accept that.
I stared giving blood at the age of 17. I was in high school and the Canadian Red Cross, who ran the blood donor system back then, had a clinic in the school. The incentive was that you were able to skip a couple of classes. I went once and I kept going back.
I kept it up for forty four years. There was one period of time when I lived too far away from a donation clinic, but once I was back near one, I returned to the rhythm of giving blood every two months.
I have seen lots of changes in the blood donation system. What started as a general “Are you feeling well today?” and a cursory check of your vitals is now a very intentional and thorough process. The questions are personal. But not once did the nurse ever bat an eye when she asked “Have you ever exchanged money or drugs for sex?” as I sat across the desk from her wearing a clerical collar.
In my lifetime I made 79 donations of whole blood. I have no idea how the blood was used. In my hospital visiting I have seen many people hooked up to a unit of blood and being transfused. Some were very, very sick people. But the blood they received made a huge difference. I occasionally imagined that it might have been my blood they were receiving and gave me deep personal satisfaction to see the other end of that gift of whole blood.
Giving blood is a very solitary act. You might know the people who are donating alongside you, but there really isn’t much time for conversation. You move from station to station in the process until you are finally on the recliner and the technician prepares your arm.
That’s changed, too. It used to be a few swipes with alcohol. Now it’s a timed, sterilization of a surgical field; after all, they are putting a needle into your vein.
You lie there, not feeling very much for the few minutes the actual donation takes. And then it’s over. You get a nice bandage and a cup of tea and cookies.
Perhaps that’s the biggest thing I will miss. The Legion, where our local clinic was held, had the best tea.
No, that’s not true. The biggest thing I’ll miss is the deep personal satisfaction of giving up something that came from me to help another person. Blood is always freely given and freely received. There is no other feeling like that on earth.
Becoming a blood donor isn’t hard. I encourage anyone interested to contact the Canadian Blood Services and find out more. That’s especially true if you are a young person. That’s how I started. It takes about an hour of your life, five times a year. There’s even an app for that. Check with Canadian Blood Services.
I have a nice certificate for what I have done. I appreciate that. But my life as a blood donor has come to an end.
Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County, Cable 53.