I'd like to think that millions of people in the western, and indeed eastern world donate to charity in some way. I have friends who have a sum of cash automatically transferred to their chosen cause every month. In this house, we donate to 3 charities, 2 are pet charities saving animals who would otherwise be put down or are subject to cruelty. The 3rd charity for me is an important one, a charity for which I am willing to go above and beyond "just a cash donation". I give blood. More specifically, I donate platelets.

Platelets are cells in the blood plasma which aid clotting. Not just if you cut yourself, but also help fight infection by ushering out anything nasty found in there. Some people are lacking platelets and require "topping up" often due to chemotherapy to treat cancers and Leukemia, burns victims or other reasons. It's not an overly complicated process, but it does take about 2 hours of my time, every 3 weeks. I do it because I can and because not enough people do. I am healthy and also have "good veins" in both arms, which helps. and for me, it is akin to a pampering day at a health spa. The nurses are nice, I get looked after as if I were a VIP with drinks, food, conversation etc and after all there is nothing like a little blood letting to ease the pressure. Not everyone can donate platelets, you need to be in goood condition passing a number of blood tests, you need wide veins as a machine will be drawing from, and reinjecting blood in to your arm. Your blood/fat levels need to be low as the machine which separates the platelets cannot distinguish platelets from fatty cells. This does not mean I'm not fat, I am. It means that I avoid fatty foods for a few days before donating, for example curries, red meat etc... It also helps to drink plenty of water on the day of donation, before and after.

So what happens? Well, I drive to the clinic and fill out a health questionnaire which asks questions like "Have I been to an area infected with Malaria in the last 12 months?" and "Have I paid for unprotected sex with a man?" then I am weighed and take my place in a reclining chair. The nurse then swabs my arm and inserts a canular (needle) and takes 3 small phials of blood which will be tested for infection, liver function and blood type amongst other things. Then the canular is connected to "the machine" which mixes a little anticoagulant to stop the blood from clotting, then draws about a cup full of blood, spins it in a centrifuge to filter the plasma containing the platelets, finally returning the blood to me. The cycle means that blood is flowing in and out every 30 seconds or so and over the course of 90 minutes, virtually all of my blood, 5 litres, will have passed thrugh the machine. It does not take all of the platelets, but it will half fill two blood packs, probably about a pint of a browny yellowy liquid with visible swirls in it, (like a settling Guinness.) The cool thing is that my body replaces this stuff in a matter of days, if not hours. Once in the packs, the platelets will be used within 3 or 4 days, maybe at a push and with more anticoagulant and a cleaning process 5 days. This short shelf life and the need for healthy willing subjects means that I often go to the clinic and its almost or completely empty. If nothing is donated, there will be nothing for the people who need it. Is it 1 in 3 who get cancer now? You see my point and why I'm writing this?

The good, the bad and the ugly. Good? Apart from what has already been said, to be honest, once the needle is in, I can generally ignore what is going on. There is a good crowd of nurses (male and female) who can all have a laugh, plenty of food and snacks, the tv is on hanging in front of me, there is an open wifi for me to connect my phone or notebook to. A quick look at the machine will tell me how long I have left. Bad? Yes, there is a needle in my arm, Oh My God it hurts, it hurts so bad, it's like through my skin and everything!!! ;). The anticoagulant can cause issues, the amount mixed in to the blood is based on your weight and it's in the blood's interest to put as much in as possible to stop the platelets from clumping. This stuff comes back to me and if there is a little too much, I can start to feel a tingling in my lips as if I have been blowing rasberries for 2 minutes, I need to tell the nurse if this happens so that they can lower the dosage slightly. If they dont, the tingling spreads to my feet and eventually my whole body, by which time, I will be rather sick. Other issues are that there is a small chance of me fainting, obviously, as I will be loosing blood the chance is there. Hence the nurses stay close and keep me company, it has not happened to me yet though. Ugly? - the worst thing that can happen is that the machine, for a number of reasons shuts down. It is filled with safety sensors and the least little thing can alert it to a problem. Sometimes I feel a fluttering in my arm if it cannot draw enough, the machine senses this and if it happens too often, it will stop and alert the nurse who slows it a little. However if there is any other issues like, oooh I dont know, I accidentally pull the tube out of my arm, or a power cut, the machine will stop and shutdown. This means that any blood left in the machine will not be returned to me and as the production of red blood cells takes longer, I will not be able to donate for 12 weeks as is the case in a whole blood donation. BOOOO!

Bottom line? It makes me feel good, mainly mentally, as if I'm doing something really good, each donation saves 2 adults and 3 kids who would otherwise die, simple as that. I will admit that sometimes for a few hours after I feel a little light headed, not drunk per se but actually a calm feeling of de-stress like I used to get after a workout but without the aches and pains. I can certainly drive home either in the van or on the motorbike without any problems.

To sum up, I would recommend this to everyone who is able. I have often been there when the place has been empty. Which is a sobering thought. You do not have to go the whole hog to give platelets but giving blood is a fantastic thing to do and donating a pint (or very nearly an armfull as Tony Hancock put it) of whole blood can take as little as 3 or 4 minutes. Everyone is close to a blood clinic and they often do a roadshow kind of thing with a fitted out trailer in supermarket carparks.

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