Tuesday, May 15, 2007

375 ml of Life

Yesterday, I gave away about 375 ml and gained a good deal in return. I have a tiny medal to prove it!

We had a blood donation drive at the office. They had announced it a week ago so that everyone who wished to donate would be prepared. Mentally, more then anything. The blood bank technicians and the doctors came well equipped. 4 beds were laid out in the board room.... yes, the board room. :) One lady checked everyone’s hemoglobin in an adjoining cube and another handed over the collection bags. The whole process was very methodically and somber, but I found my little moments of hilarity even there..mostly as a result of my own actions. :)

I filled my form and sat down for the customary hemoglobin test prick. Ouch! A drop of red blossomed on the tip of my finger. She swiftly sucked it in a dropper and let a drop of blood fall in a beaker full of some blue liquid. As it descended with amazing rapidity, the drop broke up in the middle and the hole spread outwards to form a ring of red. She nodded in approval at that sight and asked me my illness history. I had trouble remembering when I had jaundice, or when I had my shots of hepatitis and its consecutive booster dose. The only booster dose I remembered was the one I had as a kid. She was mildly shocked with my sketchy answers but I guess that tiny drop she’d extracted earlier said it all. My recent history was clear of any medical misdemeanors. No BP, diabetes, or other persistent conditions too. Hooray!

Armed with the NOC, I marched in the board room and got my blood collection bag. Thereafter, I lay comfortably on a bed staring at the board room ceiling. A BP monitor was taking my count and simultaneously increasing the pressure on my right hand. I was given a soft ball to squeeze. That would pump up the pressure in the blood and all possible veins would pop up on the skin’s surface. I have never been horizontal in the board room before (oh alright, I have slept through some meetings sitting) and it was a nice experience. The circles of white light shining down from the false ceiling at specific intervals…..glowing but unobtrusive; the blinds that shut out any other light….the atmosphere was perfect for a siesta.

And then I saw the needle. It was meant for a thick skinned buffalo, I was sure, and felt the need to gulp in a large amount of air. Time to be truthful, I thought, and told the doctor of my reaction to all such pointy, prickly things. I usually get a feeling of faintness (without actually fainting, which makes it complicated as I am neither here nor there :( ). This feeling disappears in a few minutes if I just sit quietly and do nothing. After it passes, I am as fit as a bull. But for those few moments I am a spent bullet. She was ok with that and told me to lie down as long as I wanted to. There is one more thing; I said to her, I grimace very loudly when the needle is actually entering me. And in that process some expletives may be uttered. This elicited laughter from all my colleagues around. She was amused as well but ok with the arrangement.

My hand was sufficiently pumped up and she tried to find a suitable vein. They were all tiny and she slapped my hand a few times with result. I was going to be punctured now. (ohmigod! Gulp! Gulp! Ouch! Ouch!) She was skillful, yet I felt the needle enter and slide up my arm. Some *&^@+*”>:&%# followed. But no blood would come. I pumped the ball till I felt ants crawling all over my right hand, yet no luck. She removed the needle.

I felt the dawn of hope shine. So if my veins are tiny I won’t be able to donate, right?...... I asked her eager to escape the ordeal I had put myself in. We’ll try the other hand she said matter-of-factly. Mentally, I heard my hope crash into a thousand pieces. Just as I was pondering my fate, a tiny angel popped on my shoulder, much like it does for Tom and Jerry. “Shame on you!”, he chided me, “where has all that bravado gone? Who was so happy about being the only female to pass the hemoglobin test? Now pay your dues, be brave.” I could see him adjust his halo as he waited for me to raise my downcast eyes and make up my mind. There! The decision was made.

I shifted to another bed so that my left hand would be nearer to the BP monitor. She finally found a big enough vein after all the pumping, squeezing and slapping. Puncture time again, the angel very much in attendance and watchful. I gave him a dark look but felt really warm inside. Some more *&^@+*”>:&%#. This time the blood flow was instant and the bag started filling up. I lay watching the lights shining down on me. A few naughty sunrays had managed to avoid the blinds and had made their way in. I am sure they were there on purpose, to watch me and comfort me. :)

People passing by the room could see me inside and many gestured with a thumbs up sign. It felt good to be on this side of the glass partition. Our coordinator even took a pict of us, needles and all.

Finally, I was free of the needle. I looked at the full bag, all 375 ML of it. I had just transfused life and it was now safely stored in that bag.

They immediately gave me a pack of glucose biscuits and a cup of tea. I was feeling faint but that was expected. I sat down on the carpeted floor and began eating. The doctor gave special instructions to the technician to watch me at all times. I had gone quiet now and the feeling would not go away. The doctor did not like the look of it and immediately asked me to sleep on a bed. The watchful fellow got a glass of pure glucose and poured it down my throat. The effect was electrifying. I could feel energy surge through my veins. I closed my eyes in bliss.

I felt a sudden shake on my shoulder. “Open your eyes, open them”, said the doctor. They thought I had switched off like a light. Keeping my eyes open was a way of reassuring them that I was very much here. :) So I kept them open and dreamily thought of all the times I had spent in the board room, sitting upright and listening to spiels.

Time to go; I finished my tea and biscuits. They did not let me go till I had polished off the entire pack. There was more advice to come….tell everyone around your cube that you may feel faint so that they can come and call us…..don’t stand too much…..don’t sit on a chair if you feel faint at any time……drink some juice in a while……actually we don’t recommend that girls donate…and so on. I listened to all that well meaning advice in silence. They gave me a certificate, a medal and an informative booklet as a mark of their appreciation.

As I made my way back to my cube, I could see the pride in my eyes reflected in those of my friends. The experience had been insightful and extremely morale boosting.

There is no doubt that I will do it again, fat needles not withstanding. Legit opportunities for *&^@+*”>:&%# are hard to come by. :)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What's your story?

Its amazing how seemingly normal, otherwise-well-rounded people (yours truly included) find their way into physically taxing sports? Of course, there will always be those mysteries of nature who can burn up endless calories without even trying. But where does the rest of the pack come from? Say, how does an individual decide that doing push-ups for all 24-hours or swimming some incredible distance is something that they might be good at”? Or even scarier, how do they say - “Hey, that might be fun!!.” I’ve ask myself this question before. I feel like I can trace it all back to one mid morning hour when I was 16. I was at Rajmachi near Lonavala at an adventure camp. My mum, for want of other options to keep me occupied in the summer holiday months, had enrolled me in one. They promised activities like river crossing, rifle shooting, rappelling, rock climbing, zumaring, and finally a wilderness cooking experience.

The course was well planned as was each day at the camp. We had reached Rajmachi the previous night and were up early the next day. The whole day was dedicated to orient us with the rules, activities, facilities and the camp setting. Acclimatization was through an early morning 3 hour hike up the mountain next to the camp. That was to be followed by an rock climbing session.

I remember struggling up the ridge at about 6.30 a.m. Our suffering soon started to slip into audible abuse. After several long minutes of groans and grumbles, we all just stopped. Cut to silence and we looked at each other. I could see in the eyes of the other hikers the dead-end fatigue I felt in myself. I glanced up trail. The instructors words of encouragement fell on deaf ears. The ridge was no more than a half an hour away - and beyond that I imagined the wind-blasted ridge line, the final assault to the peak, and the inevitable sunrise over the valley. And so I said to no one in general, "Well, the hard part's over now. It's all mental from here." Somehow, I talked myself into believing that. The rest were too tired to argue or did not understand what I meant. So we marched ahead keeping each other company and terrified of being left behind.

At the peak, we were treated to piping hot tea and glucose biscuits. I sat beside ledge and watched wisps of pink clouds as morning arrived. The horizon was crimson. In the new clarity of daylight, I had a bewildering view of what seemed to be hundreds of little peaks jutting out from the valley randomly. I wanted to climb them all. And even stranger, I thought as I sipped tea, I wanted to start that second, from where I was. I wanted to climb the next peak, and then the next. As exhausted as I knew I was, I craved some sort of journey into the known unknown that had so suddenly revealed itself.

I think that's when I knew.

What's your story?