I donate blood. Not for money, not for a love of pincushions, but because I know it makes a difference. (The Australian Red Cross Blood Service also gives chocolate milk, juice and TimTams to donors afterwards, which is admittedly a sweet deal, but not my only consideration). Because I am such a fantastic bleeder, I now donate plasma – a component suspended in everyone’s blood that is literally liquid gold, precious and needed. The process is impressively simple: a needle into the vein, a tube from the needle to the centrifuge, the centrifuge spins when full, pushing the plasma into the waiting translucent bag.
Then, while I’m tucked up in a reclining chair, snuggled under a soft blanket, saline is mixed back with the remaining blood, and piped back into my arm. The cycle repeats three times, by the end of which I’ve read a good chunk of my book, have kicked back for about half an hour, and can see the sparkle and heft of 900 straw coloured millilitres (30 oz) waiting to be spun into saved lives.
Blood isn’t thicker than water. You need water for your blood to shove around your body, to be hydrated, to think clearly, to make it easier for your heart to actually beat and for your blood to move. The saline replaces the volume I lose in donating, and I’m always impressed at how faint a blush the tubing can hold, carrying my blood and salt water back to me, back to my heart. Salt water is just as important to your body as your blood is, and in my case today, I have extra salt water inside and out.
My grandfather is dying. Cancer is laying siege to his spine, attacking northwards and consolidating their sneaky outposts around his body. He went straight from diagnosis to palliative treatment, from normal routine to a hospital bed at home. This is not my Grandpa.
My Grandpa taught me about cryptic crosswords, introduced me to dry humour and quick witted conversation, and taught my seven year old self the complicated way to the local corner store to buy his morning paper (with 20 cents extra “in case you need it”). He bought me my first ever tape deck – a bronze brick of a single cassette player – for Christmas when I was twelve and told my parents to let me be so I could read. He and Grandma would argue over which of their families gave me my red hair, then each pull me aside later out of the other’s hearing to tell me it was their sister/aunt who also had red hair. “Red hair is in our family, Kel. Doesn’t matter where it came from exactly… But it came from my side…”
My Grandpa met me the week before a wedding. His son was marrying my Mum, and I was the orange haired, bobble-headed toddler that came as part of the package deal. I didn’t find out for decades that blood played no part in our relationship. Instead, I grew up confident I was his favourite and oldest grandchild, with no evidence to the contrary. Even when the truth was revealed to me ten years ago, and I broached it with Grandpa and ‘ma, they just said “We love you, so who cares?”
People care. Last week, after ten days of being softly and deliberately left out of the loop by those related “by blood”, I rang him.
“Who? Kel! Oh Kellie, how are you?” curled in my ear and eased the frostbite of fear. He knew me, was delighted to hear my voice, asked after my sons and my life. At different points in the conversation we each wheezed and rattled, but his love for me flowed through the line unchanged and unaffected by DNA strands and diagnoses, thicker than blood, more vital than water.
Blood isn’t thicker than water. You can’t live without either. Salt water of every kind is involved with all of us, in the families we choose, that we make, in the families and people that we lose. Some people give blood. Some people give love.
Blood isn’t thicker than water. The heart just wants to be full.
Which is thicker, blood or water? Why?