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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I want your blood!

Well, not me, exactly. I want you to give blood!

There is an acute lack of blood donors in Oslo these days and several people are also quarantined over the summer because of trips to foreign lands with risk of different diseases.

In today's news, reports are in over a Norwegian man who was born in Argentina - and who for that reason is unwanted as a blood-donor. He feels discriminated against.

I cannot stress enough how silly this sounds to a person who has been there and asked plenty of questions every time. It's a shame that this is picked up as a case in the news. Well. I want more openness around blood-giving to encourage people, but this is not a good point. People get turned down for a number of reasons. Pregnant women and people with small children are taken off the lists for a few years because of time and exposure to children's diseases. It's just easier to call them back when things have "calmed down" health-wise.

If you are turned down, try to remember that it says nothing about your health or the quality of your person. They have these screens that filter out way too many people who should be eligible, because the risk factors are hard and expensive to screen for. It is easier to find a new person without these risk factors than to test every possibly-eligible person.

I give blood, and I would like to share the experience and recommend that unless you are currently deemed unfit (for any number of reasons I will get to), that you register too.

I was recruited at school. The so-called blood-bus travels around the city, parking outside large offices and basically brings the event to you. It's a wonderful thing that really eases people's giving. Less time away from work is less worries about being away from work. I filled in a card, and after a while, I was called up and recruited for a start-up interview.

When I arrived at the bloodbank, I was greeted and given a form to fill in. The questions were quite digging and some are things I expect some people to fell uncomfortable about answering. There were questions about travel, living abroad, medications, sexual preferences, sexual activities (for example if you change partners often) and so on. The first time I filled one out I felt quite bothered, and thought about if the nurses would judge me based on my answers.

After handing in my form, I was called into a small office to discuss my answers. A nurse went through all the questions, asking follow-up questions, and filling in details.

Since I am in a steady relationship and have not lived abroad for too long periods at a time, i was approved. They really stressed that being approved is not necessarily an indication that you are healthy, only that you meet their special criteria. There are many diseases which do not affect blood in the way they prepare and use it. It is still important to go to the doctor if you are unwell.

After that, they took some blood samples to test me for HIV, Malaria (since I had been in Kenya the year before, even though incubation time is six months) and several other diseases. They stressed that they did not think I had any of these diseases, but it was extremely important to be completely sure. I accepted this.

After a new while I was called in to give blood. I went there and filled out the form again, this time with a little more ease. At first I was surprised that I was asked the same questions as last time, but people do change their behavior. All the questions may seem strange, inquisitive and unnecessary to you, but to the person on the receiving end, these questions are vital. They single out any risk-factors and allow follow-up.

The first time I went, I had a bit of stomach-trouble and was a little stressed because exams were coming up, so the nurse recommended that I wait another while before giving for the first time. She said that being stressed was not a good idea, and my minor tummy-ache may be something that could be passed on, so they would rather be sure.

I felt embarassed. Not fit to give blood! After considering it for a while though, I came to my senses and realized it was all for the best. They want you to be comfortable (which you may not be if you're stressed out or tired) and they certainly do not want to pass anything on to people with reduced immune defenses. Which is common in blood-receivers.

The next time I went back, I felt fine, and had also felt fine for the previous two weeks and since the last time I was there (one of the questions!). After completing the form and the interview once again (getting comfortable now), I was given a bottle of apple juice (or choice of soda) and taken to a reclining chair. I sat there as a nurse stuck a needle in my arm. I was fascinated. She attached the needle-thing (Kanyle/Cannula) to a tube leading into a large bag, and the blood was flowing. I was encouraged to drink to keep my bloodsugar and fluids at good rates. The bag filled slowly. I am one of those people who don't get sick at the sight of blood, and my strong interest in science, medicine and the natural world meant that I liked to look at this strange red fluid coming out of my arm to be stored. I had to twist my neck to see the bag though, so if you are faint at heart, you have nothing to worry about.

After they stopped and put a cotton swab on my arm, they gave me a little timer and asked that I sat until the timer pinged. It was set to 20 minutes, since it was my first time. They actually take 10-12% of you blood volume, so many people feel light-headed after giving. The first time, they are extra careful. I've felt really hungry and thirsty for the rest of the day after giving, but that's it.

I walked over to a desk to sign out, and I was offered a present. They have a large selection of things you can choose every time you go, or you can choose do donate a small amount to a good cause. Since it was my first time, I decided to get a nice glass. They also have spices, wine-glasses, backpacks, and other knick-knacks.

All through the experience, the nurses have been extremely courteous, thankful and generally nice and gentle. They know all too well that this is something that you do out of the kindness of your heart, completely altruistically, and they show their gratitude. They are very careful to make sure you are comfortable all through it, and remind you during the interview that they go through this several times every day and have met all kinds of people and stories. They just want to screen you for danger for the recipient. They don't care about your particular story in other ways.

All in all, giving blood is a good experience. The nurses are my everyday heroes, and being reminded of the ways to help people in need is good.

A few notes on giving blood:
- You get called in once every three months or so, and can easily call in and change your appointment.
- The whole ordeal (filling in the form and being "tapped") usually takes around an hour. There is usually some free food and drinks if it's your lunch break and there are plenty of papers and magazines to read.
- You get a free gift every time you show up, even if they decline your blood that particular time for any reason
- If you travel a lot you may be quarantined for a few weeks per destination.

Things that might make you uncomfortable:
- They ask about you sexual encounters. Just keep in mind that it's from a medical perspective.
- You might get turned down for any number of reasons. Try not to take it personally, and remember that your immune system is awesome, while some other people's may not be. Not giving blood that time is a courtesy to them, not a critique of your health.
- You go through the inquisitive form every time you are there. You get used to it. And it's a good thing they have it. That form screens out many things that you may not be able to detect without expensive and extensive tests.

There are several people who are turned down. Here are some of the criteria. More questions can be answered if you take a trip there (I usually go to the one at Ullevål Sykehus) or call in.

I sometimes try to recruit people, but I find that people are often uncomfortable talking about risk-factors that may not allow them to give blood. Therefore, a simple, "I give blood, and it's a nice thing to do" is often preferred to the more confronting "You should give blood! Why don't you?". Several people are also afraid of seeing blood or needles in general and that's fine. I am just trying to encourage people with set sexual behaviour and overall good health to register.

Remember that they need all blood types. The receivers are distributed in the population in the same way that donors are.

You can read more about giving blood here or by googling "Gi blod" or "Blodbanken" in Norway.


  1. So you think it's OK to reject someone who's been born in Argentina, even though he hasn't been there for over 6 years, while someone who has _lived_ in Argentina for over 6 months has to wait for 6 months before giving blood?
    I've read about T.cruzi/Chagas disease. I think they could have explained it to the guy why he was rejected. After all, when traveling to South America, one can end up in a hospital and get blood transfusion there from someone who is born in Argentina. I understand the security measures in Norway, and that testing everyone is expensive, but they could have some brochures for those that get rejected, that explain each reason for rejection.
    I myself am from Bosnia and I see that my partner has to be in a relationship with me for 5 years before he can give blood. And I'm wondering why is that. Am I more likely to have loose sexual behavior than people from Croatia (where a girl got impregnated with two babies each from a different father)?
    It's nice that you write about your experience and encourage people to give blood, but the way you start your blog, looking down on the person that felt discriminated, not understanding his feelings at all, and then continuing talking about your own positive experience, completely avoiding to reflect or even try to understand the person you are looking down on in the beginning, just doesn't make any sense, and it lowers the quality of your blog. Sorry, dude - try to understand before you judge.

  2. Yes, I realize I came off as a bit too harsh. Thanks for your input. I absolutely agree that he should have gotten better information about why they do it the way they do.

    Many of the rules do seem arbitrary and odd, and I definately could have noted that in my post. For example, I had no quarantine after being in Croatia, even though I was there visiting my dad in the hospital where he contracted MRSA. I told them this, and I was still approved that time. (I did test negative for MRSA, but I can't remember if that was before or after giving blood.)

    I was a bit quick in writing that up, I just really wanted to make a positive article on donating blood, and I understand your criticism. I'll be more cautious in the future.

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