Picture this scene:
Date: Saturday, 31st December, 1988. Time was around 10.00am. I just met up with my cousin Richard Harding, at his parents’ home in Petaling Jaya (1), as I usually would do when he comes back from the estates. Richard was a planter for one of the Socfin estates in Batang Berjuntai. (2) We’d usually go out for breakfast or brunch. That morning he said, “I’m going to U.H. (University Hospital) to donate blood for Vince Vasudevan”. Vince and his family are very dear friends of Richard’s parents.
Vince, suffered from a severe gas tank explosion accident in his house and was admitted to the “Burns Unit” of U.H. (rated to be the best in Malaysia at that time). He was in critical condition. So, Richard was going to the hospital after we had breakfast and asked me if I would like to donate blood, too. I immediately said, that I would give it a skip as I was never comfortable with hospitals and blood and all that stuff. But I would join him for breakfast.
We had a good breakfast at the corner restaurant in Section 11, PJ. They served delicious roti canai with dalcha and fish curry, tosai and chapati that came with fish curry, white coconut chutney and another type of mint chutney. (3)
When we had finished our breakfast, Richard said that we had to go to the hospital first as the blood bank closes at 12.30pm. I can’t remember if this was a mischievous plan of Richard’s, i.e. to have breakfast near the hospital, then rope me in to go to the hospital with him since we were in the area.
So, here I am, at the blood bank, just having completed my registration. This area was full of people waiting to donate blood. Richard had gone in to the next room to proceed with his donation. I move to the next chair, next to the registration, where the nurse asks for my hand, holds on to the tip of my middle finger and pricks it with a little device causing a sharp needle-like pain that shocked me out of the chair. Everyone in the room burst out laughing. I didn’t think it as funny. The nurse extracted a couple of drops of blood from it and dropped the blood in a little container with a blue solution in it. The blood sank to the bottom quickly. I think this showed that my blood was red enough.
The nurse then motioned me to go to the next room, where I saw several people including Richard; lying on beds; donating blood. I was asked to lie on one of the vacant beds. Before long; I had a group of 5 young doctors gathering around me. One of the doctors took my hand and started searching for a vein to put the blood extractor needle in. Then another doctor and another… all looking for a vein.. “I found my vein”, another said, “I found my vein”…this went on for a few minutes. Then, I said in a stern voice, “excuse me, this is my hand, so these are my veins”.
I tried not to look at the big needle, or the bag collecting my blood and any other things like that. I have to state here that I was not very comfortable with needles in the first place, and the huge ones they used here were ones to d.. er… well… let’s just say they were scary looking and made me cringe. And to think that this whole needle was going to be shoved into my hand. The donation was over in 15 minutes. Rested for 10 minutes, then, went to the registration room where I was served a cup of coffee and some biscuits.
Every thing went well, I thought that this act of donation was a good gesture, that one day a member of my family may need a blood donation. So, I decided there and then, that I would commit to this once-in-three-months donation. Which I did.
In mid-2007, I was invited by the hospital to become a platelet donor since I was already a regular blood donor, having donated over 60 times with no complications. They put the invitation out to me much earlier, I think after my 30th donation; on several occasions but I turned them down because the whole process looked complicating. This time I accepted.
Donating platelets differ from donating blood in several ways, except for the needle; that remains massive. The blood is extracted from your vein as per a normal blood donation by a machine with several tubes running through it. Usually, the nurse will take a couple of samples from the initial blood drawn and run them through tests, mainly to get the platelet count. The results are out in a few minutes. From this information, they would also be able to estimate the amount of platelets they would get and the time it will take for the donation. This machine is then set to draw the number of cycles based on the test results. This machine separates the platelets from the blood and saves it in a bag, at the same time returning the blood back to your arm. This is “1 cycle”. This process is repeated several times. An average of 300ml of platelets is collected in 4 cycles of 1 donation of a donor with a good platelet count (usually over 220). This takes about 30 to 45 minutes. I have on several occasions had a high platelet count which resulted in a donation of 510ml.
While these donations took place, entertainment was tv movies from the 1980s. Since we had no where to go…. These movies were so old that the color was fading off them. One of them was a hero / monster movie… must have been inspired by Ultraman.
A few days after one of my regular donations sometime in 2008; I received a phone call from a doctor at the hospital asking me to come to the hospital urgently. I rushed to the hospital, quite worried that the blood sample test may have shown some health problem. When I got to the doctor’s office; I was greeted by the doctor-in-charge of the blood bank and another doctor. I was asked to sit down. Then, they began questioning me about my health and whether I answered the health screening form (which was required to be filled in) truthfully. (4)
At that point, I was beginning to develop a cold sweat. All sorts of thoughts were flashing through my mind. What was happening? What were these doctors trying to imply or get at? I told them that I was healthy and not on any medication. They kept asking me whether I was sure of this, and I said, “yes”.
Then, the other doctor said that the recipient of my latest platelets donation, a 7-year old girl; had broken into cold shivers, gone into shock and is in intensive…..to be continued
- Petaling Jaya, is a city in Selangor, Malaysia. First developed as a satellite town just out of Kuala Lumpur, it is now a bustling city.
- Batang Berjuntai is a small town in Selangor; surrounded by palm oil and rubber estates.
- Roti canai, dalcha, fish curry, chapati, coconut chutney, mint chutney – delicious Indian food.
- No, the scene was not in a dark room, with a spotlight shining directly on my face, and the doctors with cigarettes at the side of their mouths and ash about to drop. That’s a scene from either a Humpfrey Bogart or Al Paccino movie.