Bloody heroes

Michael Munnik showing his bandaged arm after a platelets donation, next to a sign encouraging donations at Christmas timeOne of the reasons my wife and I were happy to emigrate to the UK nine-and-a-half years ago was to enter into a different way of living. We love Canada, but some things about it rub at us, and one of those is the car culture. Investment in public transit is lower than here, and roads proliferate like replicating aliens from a cheesy horror movie. Big, fat ones, too, that force people into large, noisy metal boxes and then devour them. The scale is just wrong. I remember driving down the West Coast after high school from Nanaimo all the way to Ashland, Oregon with a friend. Our return journey coincided with Seattle’s rush hour, and we were jammed on the I-5 when we noticed that the bus and carpool lane was open for vehicles with two more more occupants.


I need to separate that to emphasise it: that’s how low the bar was. So we two, at the back end of a camping and theatre jolly, sped our merry way, passing all these legitimate commuters in their one-apiece cars, driving out from work to their impossible personal footprints.

I was happy enough to sell my car when we moved over here, and for nine years, we haven’t needed it. Correction: for nine-and-a-half years, we haven’t needed one. Gotten on fine with buses and trains, of course bikes, and hiring a car wen we have a longer trip to take.

But when we visited old neighbours now moved to the north of Italy this summer, part of the deal was to buy their old people-mover and drive it back here. At that point, we’d either keep it or sell it. For the time being, we’ve kept it: it proved useful for getting visiting grannies around, and it did give me some spontaneity and flexibility when seeking a new guitar.

Something else it has done is allowed me to return to a very helpful practice that has actually been an important part of my life for a few years, now. When we lived in Edinburgh, my office was right next door to the Scottish Blood Services building, and during one of my blood donations, I learned that they were in need of platelets and that it was something I could actually help with. Not everyone is at liberty to give an hour and a half every month in the middle of the working day, but I was just messing about with my PhD, so I had that flexibility. I did some good, met some good people, and heard some impressive stories.

Just as a brief synopsis: your blood has red and white blood cells, plasma, and platelets. Platelets are the bits that create scabs, stopping the blood from continuing to flow after you’ve been scratched or stabbed or whatever. Haemophiliacs have a naturally low platelet count, and some people undergoing specific treatments need a boost. Doctors can spin the platelets out from a pint of donated blood, but that gives about a quarter of a usable unit. By giving platelets (and having the rest of my blood returned right back into my body!) I can give two or even three units in one go. And since most of the blood goes right back in me, I can donate more frequently – about once a month rather than once every three months.

When we moved to Cardiff, however, I learned that the only centre in the entire nation that takes platelets is in Talbot Green, north-west of town past the M4, near the historic village of Llantrisant. (Those of you who care for such things may know that Henry V’s longbow archers came from Llantrisant.) It was not practical for me to get there once a month or, really, at all, so I slid back to giving regular whole blood donations. Still good, still helpful, but…

…But now that we have a car, I have determined to get back on the wagon. I inquired after my donation in the autumn and was scheduled for an assessment in mid-December, just after teaching was done. Out I went last week, gave a blood sample, had a nice chat. And the very next day they called: my blood profile looked really good – the computer said I was good for a triple. Can I come in soon, like before Christmas?

Wow – what a great call! So on Christmas Eve Eve, I hooked myself back up to the machine, ate two mince pies and didn’t get a coffee or tea because it was my first platelets donation with them or in a while generally and they needed to monitor how I was doing. And voila, I could imagine over Christmas that three adults or twelve children had an easier time of things because of me.

I am aware that cars are a blight on the planet. They’re noisy, they pollute the environment, and they draw on our resources through insurance, parking, fuel, and repairs whilst upending the built environment so that streets aren’t as safe for pedestrians and cyclists. But they can also be tools for doing good. I’m not a quants guy, so I can’t figure out the balance sheet here. But I am glad to be able to give platelets again.

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