Why I donate blood (Part III)

In the final part of my reflection on blood donation, I bow to the memory of the victims of the Kenya Airways tragedy that struck our land a few years ago. I was on that plane a few hours earlier and the thought that I would now be history had it happened earlier in the day, still paralyzes me with fright. But, what has this got to do with blood donation? A lot. 

A few years ago, a terrible tragedy hit our land. A Kenya Airways plane from Douala to Nairobi crashed shortly after take-off in very bad weather. No one survived. I felt that tragedy deep in my heart, not because I lost anyone in it, but because had it happened a few hours earlier, I could have been one of it casualties. I had flown on that same plane the morning of that day en route from India through Nairobi to Douala. It had been a very smooth flight.

I remember looking out the window and admiring the thick forests of Equatorial Africa that look from the air like a huge, green carpet unrolled over the land. I also remember wondering, as I’m sure just about everyone who flies over those thick forests does, just what would happen if that plane suddenly plunged into those trees. Would they carpet its fall and hold it hanging onto their branches until rescue arrived, or would those huge branches, holding up that massive carpet of greenness, simply tear our plane apart? Unsettling thoughts, indeed! I felt my fingers tightening their grip around my Rosary!

Thank God, nothing happened and we arrived safely in Douala. The plane was fairly empty and when some of us dropped off in Douala, the few remaining passengers and crew flew onto Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The next day, Saturday, we heard of the terrible tragedy that had befallen that plane in the early hours of the morning on its return flight to Nairobi. That tragedy touched me deeply. I felt a part of me had gone down with that plane into the swamps and tears flowed freely from my eyes. God alone knows why he spared me from that tragedy. Perhaps he still wants me to continue to give freely of my blood to the poor and the needy.

Empty blood bank

I remember a month or so after that plane crash I was called to the Laquintinie Blood Bank to donate blood, and what I saw there that day was truly lamentable. People queued up to receive blood but there was not a pint of blood available anywhere. One gentleman, in particular, stood a few feet away from me and kept skipping from one leg to the other, murmuring to himself inaudible words, occasionally stretching out his arms to the air in complete despair. Others expressed their frustration in louder voices, some even threatening to harm the staff if they did not give them blood for their loved ones. But the truth was that there was no blood!

I asked one of the nurses what was wrong with the gentleman, who seemed visibly on the verge of a mental crisis, and she said his wife was at that moment in the emergency ward between life and death, and needed blood as a matter of urgency. But why not give him the blood he needed? I inquired. That was when she flung open one of the deep freezers near her and showed its content to me: zero blood! Not even a pint of blood anywhere in the blood bank.

And why not? That is when I learnt that all blood disappeared with the Kenya Airways plane crash. The nurse explained that when it became known that the Kenya Airways plane was missing, hospital officials had quickly done what was expected of them, that is, put together blood from all blood banks in the city in anticipation of possible survivors from the plane crash, who could need blood urgently. In fact, the nurse in question gave her bosses a pass grade for that action. “We did just what should’ve been done, that is, get ready with blood to rescue the survivors. That’s great!”.

But then, the problem arose when there were no survivors and the blood that was taken out from the city blood banks somehow never found its way back where it belonged. Intrigued, I asked what had happened to it. She looked at me with a knowing smile on her lips, and said, shrugging her shoulders: “On est au Cameroun, non!” Then as she walked away, she pointed to a man, visibly a high-ranking official of the hospital medical staff, “That’s my boss,” she said with disdain, “go and ask him. It’s they, the doctors, who know where all the blood has gone”.

It would seem that when no one survived the plane crash, the pints of blood taken from government, and perhaps other private hospitals and clinics in the city, developed legs and probably vanished into people’s private clinics. It’s no secret that many doctors of government-run hospitals in our land have their own private clinics and hospitals. The blood that some of us contributed for free to the Laquintinie Blood Bank to save the lives of the poor, must have ended up in the fridges of private hospitals and clinics.

Right there, before me, I watched helplessly as a man skipped from one foot to the other, murmuring impotent words of despair as his wife lay bleeding after a botched operation, her life hanging in the balance for lack of clean, tested blood. Even the blood that was being drained from the two or three hungry-looking individuals this man managed to bring in, or most likely managed to hire to sell him their blood, could not be used without being tested for parasites. According to hospital sources, a sizeable amount of the blood received from donors ends up being junked because of contamination from all types of viruses (HIV, STDs, Hepatitis, etc).

Not that long ago, the Honourable Minister of Public Health was in town campaigning for volunteers to come forward and donate blood to save lives. Had he not been talking about a matter of life and death, I would have laughed my lungs out when I heard him lamenting the low level of blood available in government hospitals in the city. But this is no laughing matter. Did he know that government hospitals in the city of Douala lacked blood because doctors had apparently disappeared with pints of blood initially earmarked for possible survivors of that tragic accident?

I continue to donate blood to the poor.

That is, of course, not the kind of news any official of any hospital wants the ears of honourable men and women of the government to hear. And since no one cares to ask the views of mere nurses, the people who knew what happened to the blood that went missing after that plane crash, those honourable ears never heard the true story.

The theft of blood from our blood banks notwithstanding, I continue to give my blood, for free. Hopefully, it does give a poor person, who cannot afford to buy blood, a new lease of life, just as the blood of generous volunteers gave my sister a second chance to come back home to us. Because of you, Monica, I will continue to give my blood to the poor and the needy, even if it ends up being hijacked and pumped into the veins of the rich by unscrupulous doctors for a high fee.

As I donate my blood for you, Monica, I remember vividly that first time at the Shisong hospital when I watched those intimidating tubes plunged into your arm and that small pocket-like bag with blood in it hanging over your head, and the blood gradually dripping down that tube into your vein. That blood came from people we did not even know, and who never knew you, but who made it possible for you to come back home into the bosom love of your family.

The Good Lord did later call you to Himself to receive your eternal reward for a life well lived but as I continue to lay bouquets of tears on your grave, in memoriam, I will continue to share this precious liquid of life I received for free. It was given to me without charge, I will continue to share it without charge. Hopefully, it will save someone’s life so that no poor man may again skip from one leg to the other, waiting in vain for this precious liquid to save the life of his loved one, who is fighting for her life in a hospital operating theater. May my blood continue to give life where there is despair. Amen.

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