Canada’s blood supply is at its lowest level in five years, according to Canadian Blood Services. The reason is simple: Canadians just aren’t rolling up their sleeves to give. It’s a troubling issue, especially going into a long weekend, when demand typically spikes.
But even when Canada Day celebrations are over, we’ll still be looking at donation rates that are nothing to be proud of. Most people simply can’t be bothered: “Too busy,” is one of the most common excuses. In cities with the best rates, including Portage la Prairie, Man., Lethbridge, Alta., and Corner Brook, Nfld., the annual participation rate is about 7 per cent of the eligible population. That’s the best we’re doing. The worst cities, including Toronto and Vancouver, have participation rates of about 2 per cent of eligible donors.
On some level, we all know there’s a need for more. Ask yourself: When was the last time you gave blood? Maybe back in high school? Maybe never?
But here’s something a lot of people may not know: Giving blood is easy. Sure, you have to give up some time, and you may wince when the needle goes in. But in terms of things you might have to do to save someone’s life, it’s probably the easiest on the list. The entire process from beginning to end takes about one hour. That one hour can save up to three lives. I don’t know where moral philosophers draw the line at what counts as supererogation – going above and beyond the call of duty – but surely giving up 60 minutes of your time to get poked by a needle and to slurp down a juice box afterward is on the easy side of it.
It was nothing more – and nothing less – than my lazy person’s sense of moral obligation that saw me pick up a phone and make a donation appointment at a clinic near work. The New Year was still fresh, as was the attendant feeling that I really should be a better person. Giving blood seemed like a simple way of fulfilling that desire. I’ve now gone twice and have a third appointment scheduled for July. (A healthy donor can give every two months or so.)
The process is simple. A nurse pricks your finger to test your hemoglobin levels; then you have to tick off boxes on a questionnaire with queries that include: “Do you have a flu today?” “Have you had a vaccination in the past three months?” “Have you been in jail or prison in the past 12 months?”
Then you’re sent to another room to answer another set of questions, including whether you have ever tested positive for AIDS or HIV, if you’ve ever taken money or drugs for sex since 1977, and whether you’ve taken cocaine in the last year. Which could be pretty awkward if you’ve gone along to a clinic with a group of friends or co-workers, who might have eyebrows raised at your early exit. But discretion is key. You can inform Canadian Blood Services not to use your donation: When the attendant leaves the room, you can discreetly place a sticker on your form that ensures your blood won’t enter the supply, no matter how you’ve answered all those questions. Or if you prefer, you can simply leave.
If you stay, you sit in a comfortable leather chair for all of 10 minutes with a needle in your arm. It hurts, a little bit. But if you’re a grownup, I’m sure you can take it.
When it’s done, you’re ushered to a small room for juice and snacks. An attendant will treat you like someone who stepped up to the plate to help people in need, to maybe even save a life. Because, really, you just may have.
Follow Dave McGinn on Twitter: