27 July 2009

A Bloody Breakfast

When I went to Pantai Hospital one morning to donate blood for a colleague's mother who had fallen ill, I did not expect that a masked woman would come from behind the tinted front entrance glass, point a gun 3cm away from my forehead and pull the trigger right when I walk through the front door.

As it turns out, I passed the thermal screening test for H1N1 and am allowed to proceed after being given a red dot sticker on my clothing by an assisting fellow who looks like a security guard in a turquoise mask (and that's probably what he is, ready to jump on you should you decide to make a run through the hospital, sneezing over both shoulders in an attempt to infect everyone).

The funny part is that when I came here yesterday on Sunday (not knowing that you can only donate blood Monday to Friday 9am-5pm and Saturday half-day), people were watching a muted display of soldiers chasing prisoners with automatic rifles over a swamp full of grenades surrounded by what looks like Southeast Asian tropical greenery, on a flat screen with Malay subtitles - Rambo. Who chooses Rambo for visitor entertainment?? Also quite inconsiderate towards Burmese people in the queue for the registration counter nearby - one can only hope that there merely is ignorance behind showing this movie.

I walk past the granite and marble atrium to the block with the outpatient clinic where I am given the task to have breakfast. So early (or late) in the morning, I am forced to have breakfast at Starbucks (out of all places!) because the other two snack places are still closed. Given the choice between an obscene-looking sausage roll, monotonous pastries and over-sweetened carbonated banana choc muffin, I went for the latter. What irony that Starbucks should be where I would nurture my body to prevent me from collapse.

It's my first time I donate blood and I'm kind of enthusiastic about the whole thing - which is in truth, an understatement. I am nearly disqualified for having "lived in Europe from 1980 to the present for six months or longer" even though I did not "live in the UK, Republic of Ireland from 1980 to 1996 for a period of six months or longer". Many Europeans would think in a wash of haemosuperiority that "clearly", blood from Asians should be more subject to scrutiny than their own with the (more or less) exagerrated image of tropical diseases prevalent in Asia, forgetting that Asians can be afraid of "our" pandemics too. The Malay lab technician, an experienced older woman looks sadly at the encircled YES in the questionnaire and I ask her apprehensively why I cannot donate because of that. She thinks it might have something to do with the mad cow or foot and mouth disease to which I only manage to emit a faint "Oh...!", having totally forgotten about the whole outbreak already because Austria was not particularly affected all these years back. So I argue that no-one was ever diagnosed with that disease in Austria and that if I had been infected, I would probably not be in this very room with her, that Austria is very organised with food control and agro- and biotechnology that it was virtually impossible for an outbreak to occur and that I can't remember a single case (later I did that there was one suspicion of it where the whole cattle was burned down). Besides, if it really about the foot and mouth disease, then they should include people who lived in the UK after 1996... Interestingly, an internet research shows that Europeans or army personnel stationed in Western Europe for five years or longer cannot donate blood in the US either. She tells me to write my country of origin on the questionnaire and says, we can just ignore my earlier answer.

The needle is huge and my sadomastic vein makes my eyes bulge in a manner of an impressed exclamation of "COOL!!!" What was less cool but so entertaining I kept smiling excitedly throughout the process was that (as usual) my vein was hard to find so she stuck the needle in there and comfortingly said "Sorry!" while roaming around in my arm with the really long needle in hope of pricking a vein - in vain!, while I kept saying "It's ok...!" pinching my eyes together in delightful pain and smiling broadly. What a bizarre body experience!

Luckily, my other arm turns out to be the jackpot and I get a red heart-shaped stressball to squeeze and pump on. Before I know it, I'm 250ml lighter. I was looking at the needle, mesmerised (for I have never seen such a big one my whole life) and the Malay woman tries to distract me: She picks up a Hello! magazine (who BRINGS these mags??? The other was a Thai women's magazine with a girl barely looking 14 suggestively posing in a black lace corsage!) and asks me, "Do you know her?" - "That's Kate Winslet, when she won the Oscar!"- "You look like her!" I start laughing. I take it as a compliment for I like Kate Winslet (for a number of reasons).

It's an exhilartating and absolutely fascinating feeling to be put face to face with your own blood. Something you never think about but which is absolutely logical is that a bag full of fresh blood is so warm!

I'm so excited and bubbly, I keep using this opportunity to learn more about donating blood in Malaysia, or in general. Apparently, blood and plasma is stored separately in huge refridgerator rooms at the blood bank after it is screened for Hepatitis ABC, Malaria, HIV, TB and what have you else. So when a patient uses up blood, especially if it is a lot, their family and friends are asked to replace the blood in the bank as a manner of goodwill. Since I found out about the whole incident at work when an email was sent around for people to volunteer, many were confused if it was a direct transfusion or just to replace the amount of blood at disposal. The Malay woman said that in some private hospitals, they actually keep a money deposit for the blood used. I asked her if there were any religious issues attached to donating or receiving blood in Malaysia, for any of the many religions or if there are any special preferences and refer to orthodox Jews who would often rather die than receive a blood transfusion. She, as a Muslim, summarised simply that Muslims only care about preserving life, and that that is more important than anything else.

To commemorate the whole experience, I had the lady take a picture of me (might as well make it fun if it hurts, right?) and proudly receive the donor record booklet (which looks like a passport, so very official) as well as a fridge magnet (I've been secretely looking forward to a reward). I am offered a cup of Milo (a popular brand of chocolate drink in Malaysia) to replenish before I hop off to work (showing off two awe-inspiring very visible white pads on my arms) - business as usual!

3 courageous comments!:

Kat said...

I love you how you make a cultural experience out of donating blood :) - very fascinating, I had no idea of the fact that it matters where you have lived! Also, I admire you for doing this in such a relaxed manner - I nearly fainted after they took blood from me for a mere bloodwork (ok, it was a full one, but still far less blood was taken than they do at a donation).

Heidi said...

Haha, yeah I actually really enjoyed myself there all day long! There are pictures too - with the bag of blood, will show them to you after!

A friend of mine once had blood taken and she INFORMED the doctor that she cannot see blood and would faint. Of course, the doctor laughed it away. My friend came to consciousness later with a panicked doctor and a nurse hovering above her, administering her a sugar cube! ;)

Julie said...

Heidi!! bali pictures look amazing--i want to bike in the paddy fields!!!