Today I arrived upon a milestone like no other.

I was awarded a small pin, whilst lying on a thinly padded bed, semi-circle pillow, fluro lights humming above; to commemorate my 10th donation to the Australian Blood Bank.

Donating blood is an appointment that I hold close to my heart. Excuse the pun.

My mother received a kidney transplant in the late 80’s, and lived on with her two kidney’s, and one extra kidney, for thirty one extraordinary years. She was one for the record books. And over the years, as her health waxed and waned, through so many other complicated health journeys, that were always weighed against her constant tsunami of anti-rejection pills, she would have received just. so. many. blood transfusions, from people like me, with mums like mine.

I walk through the process of donating blood like perhaps some would attend their place of worship. I fear that’s an ugly comparison to make, considering I’m a straight up heathen, and how dare I compare my blindness to their relationship with a God, but still… It is my three or four monthly procession through the walk of thoughts that go with giving back to someone like her.

The finding my blood donor card, poised in my phone case incase that was ever needed in a time of need, the forms and the weighing in conversation i have with my self and my weight. The blood pressure band, wrapped around my upper arm, squeezing me tight and releasing in those slow gentle increments of the automated machines. I love that squeeze. Like a hug to my health, a check of the blood thats holding me up. The blood going in and out of my heart- you can check that by hugging my arm? No way. And at the same time it brings me the memories of watching and watching and watching my mums health ride. Watching her blood pressure readings, like an eagle on a mouse, like a raven on a snake. Once I sat and wrote her blood pressure readings every five minutes. The nurse looked at me like I was crazy – “…there’s a machine literally doing that”, but taking notes gives you something to do when all you want to do is fix it, and you can’t. Worried out of my brain, serene calm on the exterior, in another maze-like hospital… each ward built in a new decade, the oldest one- more maze-like than the rest.

The words I learnt. The terms and tribulations. Did you know your blood could be septic?

That the treatment for a stroke is an aspirin. A measly, innocent, pathetic unassuming aspirin? Amazing and mind numbing.

The test of patience of being a patient. I guess the test of patience of being a doctor too.

Trying to recap a lifetime maze of health issues to a new Doctor in a bigger hospital each time the problem was bigger than the last.

The pin prick of an iron test, a tad low last time, great this time. But since that one I’ve learnt there’s different forms of iron in your blood. Different levels? Different bits, different tests to find out which is which and how much. Far out, Iron, I feel like I’m loosing at golf.

Then, the lie down, where they assess your arms. If I’ve drunk enough water my veins are perfect, not enough and they aren’t big and fat and ready for the picking. Mum’s slow kidney failure meant she had a very limited amount of liquid intake. It had to be exact. What the little kidney could handle. Mum’s veins. The stories they told. Learning about a central line scared the willies out of me. I was miffed to say the least, that she didn’t get a glorious palliative soiree of food and drinks dancing past her daily. I imagine a Gin Spider, dammit. Like when you’re pregnant, eating for two like a gorging swan, though probly not on Gin. Graceful tasty oblivion.

Now both our beloved parents have passed, my siblings and I recollect and contemplate the stories within our lives… As I recall, I remember my dad telling me mum’s donor kidney had come from a healthy man, who’d died in a motorbike accident. This very small and short story, we think now, was perhaps fabricated to teach many a lesson to our young minds, because in actual fact, I don’t think you get to know much at all about the absolute bloody goddam son-of-a legend that ticked yes on their donor card when they got their licence. But I guess my dad saw an opportunity in the incredible situation he found himself in.

My little eight year old face, looking to him… to teach?

That being an organ donor would save a life somewhere.

That riding a motorbike would or could kill you…

That the kidney wasn’t brand new, off the shelf. It was second hand. It had been around the block, and it already had a few k’s on the speedo, which now are added to the precious years she get’s to live with it. Thirty-one as it turns out. So very much, and never enough.

We had kidney parties. It would have turned 33 on the 10th of December this insane 2020 year. It’s nearly Christmas anyway, any reason will do.

Then the needle, and gently squeezing your fist to pump the blood to the donation bag. Needles don’t make me squirmy. I guess my psyche tells me its from growing up around a dialysis machine, but I was almost too young to remember that massive, amazing, bizarre 80’s robot beast that we built a new room on our house to hold for her. Maybe it’s just the 31 years of hospital trips with her and some of my own.

Nurses chat, shoes click, pleasantries exchanged. Lovely, respectful, focused, amazing people; it’s good to have that kind of person around you in your life really isn’t it. You say your full name and date of birth several times from start to finish. She named me this, She made me on this day. Checking you are you and your blood is yours, and you are fit and healthy and ready to give. Yes.

This thing. This little bag. I watch it walk away, blink my eyes in farewell and best wishes. That it will fly off, and I assume gets poked and prodded and tested and readied, to be on call to offer to a person in need, in this extraordinary thing humans have figured out how to do. I slow my mind and meditate on the future travels of my blood to a person in the near future. To that persons daughter or loved one sitting beside them, holding their hand, wearing flowers in their hair, to bring a smile to their day cause they need the colour and cheer.

To the days they’ve had finding a carpark and navigating the hospital, eating the food in a basement cafeteria older than time; to the elevator rides and stair climbs; to the killing time for someone to rest; to buildings full of angels doing their best. To that someone in pain. A pain so large I can only write about me and carparks cause trying to write about what they’re feeling fills me to the brim with a compassion so grim.

To the people who can’t donate blood, for all the reasons, I got you.

To the heading home, and the back we go.

To the over grown gardens and pets and waiting homes.

To the generations of stories I can’t clarify.

I donate my blood, with a tear in my eye, and sign up to the next available, plus some; take some iron, and head home.

Lotsa love, mum, I got a pin for doing a thing.  🙂

xx shelly.