Be a Real Life Hero

by Greg Beck

Yesterday I donated blood for the third time since coming to Japan four years ago, and I know I can do more. It sounds like a cliché, but donating blood really does save lives. In America I used to donate blood about four times a year, but the first time I donated blood in Japan was by chance. I was wandering around Kobe one morning with nothing to do while waiting for a friend to arrive. I saw a blood drive bus and thought “Why not?” I had no idea at the time that I would find donating blood in Japan to be cool. Here is how it goes down.

Step one is the most painful part of the entire process: paperwork. You go in, sit down, and fill out a two-sided form with lots of questions in Japanese. Most of these are about your medical history, what countries you’ve been to, and if you’ve done any drugs (legal or illegal). The people working at the blood drives are always very friendly, and the whole experience is about saving lives, so even if you don’t speak Japanese don’t be shy about applying.

The dreaded donation paperwork

The reverse side of the sheet is your personal info: name, address, phone number, birthday, blood type, etc. If you don’t know your blood type they will find out for you. Once you fill out the back side of the form your first time you never have to again! Instead, they’ll create a donor card that, like a Mister Doughnut point card, gets updated with your blood type, how many times you have donated, what prefecture you donated in, and when you can donate again. After that, you are on to the next stage.

Next, the staff reviews your information. They ask you how much sleep you had the previous night and when your last meal was, and then they take your blood pressure. That’s it! Step three is when you finally see your first needle, but they only take a tiny amount of blood from the arm that you are not donating with to check your iron content and for testing later. There was literally no pain, no flinching, and no problem, and I am by no measure a “tough” guy. I had enough iron in my blood so I was all set for step four!

Blood donation card and paperwork in a lovely pink folder

The time to be a hero had finally arrived, and that meant getting on a bus that has been re-fitted with beds! The driver welcomes you on and, if all the beds are full, there are seats where you can wait for your turn. You are asked which arm they will be using and shown to your seat where you take your shoes off, kick back, and relax. The staff confirms your name, blood type, and birth date, and your arm is disinfected. Once that dries they choose a good vein, put the needle in quickly and painlessly, tape the tube to your arm, and then cover up the needle so you can’t see it.

Getting ready for the needle

This time I donated 400ml, but you can also choose to donate 200ml. Generally, 400ml takes only five to ten minutes and, if the nurses are not busy, they love to chat. Yesterday I timed myself and filled my bag in only four minutes! Consider that an open challenge, and please let me know if you can beat my time!

Throughout the entire process you have tea, water, or a sport drink available to you, for free, and no one tries to rush you out. Even when they are busy, they will ask you to stay and sit awhile. About two weeks after you have donated, you also receive a letter in the mail with all of the results of your blood tests and an explanation of the levels.

In the process of donating blood

On a final note, if you actually go to a donation center (instead of one of their buses), they have tons and tons of free snacks, free vending machine drinks, and gifts for after you have donated. It is like a magical house for tea time. But if the blood drive comes to you, snacks or not, I hope this has helped you get ready to hop on that bus and be a hero. How often do you get the chance?

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