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The bloody truth

Ignorance is where the problem began. In a conventional blood donation, the blood bank technician inserts a needle into your arm and drains one unit of blood into a plastic bag, writes Nandini Iyer.

india Updated: Sep 16, 2010 23:33 IST
Nandini Iyer

When I read in the papers that hospital blood banks across Delhi were running low on their supply of platelets because of the number of dengue cases flooding the capital, I was taken back to a cold January day over two years ago. My father, in the last stages of cancer, was admitted to hospital because he had had a brain haemorrhage. The doctors couldn’t operate because he was running low on platelets. The next two days were spent trying to find people who were willing to donate platelets.

Ignorance is where the problem began. In a conventional blood donation, the blood bank technician inserts a needle into your arm and drains one unit of blood into a plastic bag. For platelet donation, you have to have a sufficient number of platelets to be eligible to donate. So it means a little nick on your finger to check the platelet count. Most people have around 200,000 or more platelets. To be eligible to donate, you must have well over 200,000. If you’re found eligible, you’ll then have to be strapped to a centrifuge machine where, through one needle, your blood exits the body. Then the machine extracts the platelets and the remaining blood is sent back to your body through a second needle. It takes the body about two to seven days to replenish the platelets extracted.

Most of my colleagues, friends and relatives were tested but weren’t eligible for platelet donation. Almost all of them donated ‘whole blood’ anyway. About five people were eligible. But the minute they heard that they’d have to be strapped to a machine for two hours, the fear of the unknown kicked in. And the fear was visible on their faces: ‘Blood in and blood out could equal HIV/Aids’.

One potential donor remembered that he had had jaundice six months back, another had an urgent meeting the next morning. A third remembered that he had taken antibiotics last week, after a helpful friend told him that the process was very painful. (It isn’t). One friend plaintively asked me why he couldn’t just donate the blood from which the hospital could then extract platelets. He didn’t want the leftover blood to be sent back to his body. The doctor explained that extracting platelets without the centrifuge process takes too much time — something that my father just didn’t have.

The blood bank technician wouldn’t consider even testing my sister or me. He was of the considered opinion that women are squeamish about blood donation.

But we did get lucky. We found three people who were eligible and not squeamish. But by then three days had passed. And less than 30 minutes after the platelets were extracted, my father was dead.

Not every one is blessed enough to be eligible for platelet donation. So please do go and volunteer for blood donation. And if you are able to donate platelets please, please, do. It could just as easily be your father, or your baby who needs it.