Monday, March 21, 2011

Giving Back

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the sweet e-mails and messages for my birthday! You guys are the best, and I had a lovely, productive, grown-up-feeling day. :)

So there was a mild freakout among all my friends when I cancelled my birthday party, and I thought that I should explain the decision with a little more detail, because clearly, my last explanation wasn't enough for many.

See, two weeks before my birthday I had a This Is Your Life Moment.

I was comparing last year with this year (a self-destructive habit I know I'll have to break soon or it'll make for a very depressing year!); last year I had 30+ friends at my birthday party at this really cute venue that served fantastic food, where a really handsome DJ hugged me, bought me a drink and got the whole restaurant to toast me, where the really handsome DJ's handsome friend tried to impress me, and most importantly, I announced to everyone that I was moving to Spain. I was working three jobs while finishing school at the time and it was very, very difficult, but it was for something wonderful that I was really looking forward to.

This year, many of my best friends weren't even in Toronto for my birthday and I just felt like I had nothing to look forward to. All of a sudden, the next few years of my life stretched out before me. I could see myself slogging through the daily grind (provided I can find a hopefully decent job soon, that is!), trying to pay off my student loans and my car, not travelling anywhere, spending as little as I can... It was such a depressing thought. I didn't have a Next Big Thing to look forward to. I felt - and still feel, truthfully - trapped in my hometown when all I want is to be somewhere else. All the time.

So I cancelled my birthday party because I wasn't in the mood to celebrate and instead just set out to make it as much like any other day in the year.

I had two work interviews scheduled and although they turned out to be a bit of a waste of time, at least I was being productive. I realized at 12:00am on my birthday that I still hadn't donated money to Japan yet, my favourite place in the world, so I did that. Which, by the way, don't even get me started about how impressed I am that there's no riot there, that people are behaving so peacefully, and especially how in awe I am of the courage of the people who take turns going into the nuclear plant to try to fix things, putting their own lives on the line for the greater good.  (To make donations - please do if you can afford to and haven't yet! - please visit here or here.)

And I booked an appointment to give blood for the first time.  All throughout university I wanted to give blood, because I used to walk by the clinic at our University Community Centre all the time.  However, I chickened out twice because I was (and am!) terrified of needles, which earned me a very cold, verbal slap in the face from my aunt, who told me that my split second of pain could save someone's life.

So this year, I decided to bite the bullet and do it (after I got bailed on twice by people who were to accompany me).  No more waiting.  I was ready.  And what better day to do it than on my birthday?

It was actually much less traumatizing than I'd thought.  Canada Blood Services has a really helpful hotline staffed by very nice people who will schedule you at a time convenient for you at your nearest clinic.  The nurses at the clinic I went to were absolute angels.

I was really afraid of getting my finger poked, but that happened right off the bat and wasn't too bad because it was done with this little mechanism that pokes you when it senses pressure.  It didn't hurt THAT much on contact, but my finger throbbed for a bit afterwards, and then I realized that I couldn't get the manicure I scheduled for later, but that was okay. :P

Then they had me answer a really lengthy questionnaire.  You have to answer the first 13 questions outside, and then the next series of (quite invasive) questions are answered one-on-one with a nurse in a private room, after she takes your blood pressure and makes sure that you're an eligible donor.  They ask you things like whether you've paid to have sex before, whether you've had sex with someone who could possbily have had sex with another man, whether you've taken illegal drugs, etc, and the magic year seems to be 1977 - they want to know if you done any of these and other things since 1977, which I guess was when AIDS really broke out in a massive way.

And I must say, answering the first set of questions really drove home how fortunate I am that I could be in a position to give blood.  They ask if you have or have ever had all kinds of scary illnesses, and being able to check off No in every category made me feel really blessed. 

Then it was showtime.  I must have been very obviously nervous because the nurses kept checking up on me and reminding me to breathe. :P I was especially apprehensive because two of my best friends, who are nurses, told me that my left arm was a good arm to use, but I ended up getting stuck on my right one.  I also made the mistake of looking at the blood dripping into the bag, but a few moments after I averted my eyes, I was fine again.

It didn't take long at all - 15 minutes for the gory part, but about an hour for the entire process of a first appointment.  And I am really, really, REALLY glad I finally did it.  It wasn't that bad at all, I really hope my blood will help someone, and I feel really lucky to be able to do this.  I will definitely be donating again and I'd encourage everyone who reads this to donate blood, too!

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