Then it finally happened. By accident, almost.
The Red Cross was looking for blood donors at my university.
This was an opportunity I could simply not miss.
The Art of Doing
So I filled out the paper work, weighed myself, and checked my height. Then I sat down in a squeaky chair and waited for them to call out my name.
One hour later, I lay down in a hospital bed.
“What a juicy vein you have there,” the nurse pointed out to me. I feigned a smile; it was the polite thing to do. I closed my eyes before she stuck the needle in my arm.
I’ve never been a fan of needles. It just doesn’t feel right right to have them pinch a hole through your skin and suck your blood away. They’re scary but necessary creatures with a life of their own.
But today I chose to ignore my fear of needles. Today I donated my blood for someone I loved.
I remember the day I followed my mother to the hospital for the first time.
It was a crisp morning and we walked with heavy steps on our way to the hospital. She was there a lot because there was something wrong with her and the doctors didn’t know what it was.
The uncertainty haunted me as I couldn’t steer my thoughts or emotions in any meaningful direction. Instead, I just had to let them float around in a vacuum. It was stressful.
The doctors had to do more testing. They needed more of her blood. They even consulted a specialist.
My mother and I went to the cafeteria before our meeting with the specialist. We were told that he might have the answers we were looking for. At this point, my mother asked me to sit down and talk about my fears.
“If you don’t learn to ventilate your fears, you’ll grow weaker while they grow stronger,” she told me whilst sipping coffee.
But I didn’t have anything to say. It felt too unreal and I rejected her illness.
No words escaped my tongue and silence took over. Silence did most of the talking as it carried the message of my heart.
My mother nodded. She understood. Together, we waited.
When we came to see the specialist, he had managed to diagnose the illness. We now had a name for the evil that tormented my mother’s body.
It was called polycythemia vera.
The word shook me. I had never heard of it and we always fear what we don’t know.
When I came home, I rushed to the computer and looked it up online. This was how the Medical Encyclopaedia defined it:
“Polycythemia vera is a bone marrow disease that leads to an abnormal increase in the number of blood cells (primarily red blood cells)”.
Basically my mother produced too much blood and if she wasn’t tapped, she would die. They emptied her for weeks afterwards and still do to this day. It prevents her blood from clotting and it’s what keeps her alive.
During our session at the hospital, my mother said something I would never forget.
“If only my blood could help someone else”.
That thought stuck with me and I spent my final year in high school obsessing about it. I was so fascinated by how blood tied everyone together. Deep down, blood teaches us that we’re not so different after all.
I rested for 10 minutes before I made my way to the table with all the drinks and food.
I thought of mum and how she had to go through this treatment for the rest of her life. How weak I felt now! I admired her strength even more now. She never made it seem this difficult.
My head was groggy and I cursed silently under my breath. I had come unprepared; I hadn’t drunk enough water and my body was weak and confused. But I was standing and a few blood donors weren’t, so I thought I was doing OK. I joined the others in the line to the orange juice and muesli bars.
But as they delighted over snacks, black dots filled the room. A feeling of nausea hit my stomach and I wanted to throw up in the darkness. My face faded and my body collapsed to the ground. It had nowhere else to go.
Once again, I was lying down. Only this time I was on the floor, and in pain.
A nurse came to rescue me almost immediately. She cooled my forehead with a towel and breathed fresh air into my lungs. As my condition worsened, I made my way back to the hospital bed – now the only place where I felt safe.
The nurses handled the situation professionally. They checked my pulse and blood pressure, and quickly covered my face with an oxygen mask. My brain woke up and I felt alive again.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in the hospital wing. I had learned my lesson. Never give away blood without being prepared to pay for it. Be careful, and take it seriously.
Yes, you want to help people, but you must always look after yourself. You can’t help others without helping yourself first.
Then I smiled because today I had made a difference. Today I had saved a stranger’s life.
The Miracle of Life
You can save someone’s life too. In fact, I know you are destined to help someone. It’s what makes the world go around.
Without these tiny everyday miracles, the world would be a worse place.
But don’t stress. Focus on what little things you can do. Share your knowledge and support those around you. Be brave and find the courage to conquer your fears. It’s difficult, but it saves lives.
It’s the small victories that matter in the end.
What is your gift and who do you serve? Think about what only you can give away. Then start giving. Listen to your heart and do what needs to be done today.
Flickr Photo by Lel4nd
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Elvia Magazine.