I Can’t Do Much in the Pandemic. But I Can Give Blood

·4 min read

Donating blood started as a small rebellion.

It is the only new thing you can do in Alberta when you turn 17. It would be one more year until I could legally drink alcohol, I’d already gotten my drivers’ licence the year before, and I was itching to be closer to adulthood.

So a week after I turned 17, a friend and I swung by the blood donation clinic at the University of Alberta. I felt grown-up walking on a campus I was applying to study at, and was barely fazed as they tested my iron levels, checked my ID and siphoned away about one-tenth of my blood supply.

Later that evening, at a party I drove us to, my bandage was a conversation starter. I wasn’t drinking anyways, but it gave me a good excuse and a fun story to share.

More than a dozen donations later, giving my blood means something much more than what little rebellion it offered me then.

And these days, it’s about all I have left to give.

Reporting on the pandemic as it unfolds in B.C. often feels like an exercise in self-delusion. You hear about a problem, you talk to people about it, and you write a story that you hope anyone who has any power will read and act on. You tell yourself it is useful. And repeat.

I had begun to feel this way about health reporting even earlier, while writing a feature on organ transplantation in Alberta for the Edmonton Journal.

I interviewed family and spouses who had made the difficult decision to donate their loved one’s organs and the people struggling to breathe every day awaiting a transplant. When I found out one man had received a set of lungs just after publication, I cried. Out of happiness, but also for all the people I had spoken to who would not have the same opportunity.

Small slivers like these keep you going.

But so much right now is out of anyone’s individual control, and writing about it often confronts me more with the enormity of the challenges we face than comforts me about our ability to overcome them.

Hearing the stories of frontline health-care workers inundated with COVID-19 patients often makes me feel useless. Speaking to peer workers who respond to multiple overdoses per day, or the loved ones of those who have died due to increasingly poisoned drugs makes me wonder why I am in here writing and not out there learning to do what they do.

Feeling helpless sent me straight to the blood bank in May, exactly 84 days after my last pre-pandemic donation. It had been another anxious day at work, and I needed to do something.

I often looked forward to donating blood, going with friends when the clinics came to my universities, racing to see who could finish their donation the fastest, going out for a beer later that evening because we were all cheap dates for the next 24 hours.

This time it was a lonely experience. Gone was the small talk with people in the waiting area or snacking before you were called in. The place was empty, not just due to distancing but because many regular donors were avoiding the clinic out of fear of the virus.

When I recoiled from the needle, unusual for me, I realized the woman tending to me was the first person besides my partner who had touched me in more than two months.

But leaving the clinic that day, I felt a little bit accomplished. And 84 days after that, I went back.

And in November, 84 days after that, sitting in my chair as blood pumped out of me and into a hi-tech Ziploc bag, I felt a little bit less terrible as Global News blared and announced a new record high of cases.

Giving blood has become one more way I can do my part in this pandemic. It has returned a small sense of control over the uncontrollable.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Canadian Blood Services says it is busier than usual, appointments are booked out months in advance, and they’ll just as quickly give yours to someone else if you don’t confirm you’ll be there fast enough.

The resumption of surgeries demands more blood, and they’re urging people to donate over the holidays even as many provinces tighten restrictions.

Donating blood is still a privilege many don’t have due to discriminatory guidelines with no basis in the evidence. My year-long ban due to travel last year is nothing compared to the essentially lifelong ban men who have sex with men and sex workers continue to face.

And I’d never suggest this is the only way us workers-from-home can do something.

But in a year that has asked for so much trust in one another, I want to be someone who earns it. Who admits she can’t do anything about a lot of things. Who recognizes that journalism is essential and also mostly keeps safe at home. Who gives what she can and does what she can.

And at this point, my blood’s all I’ve got.

Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee