I’m a nurse that doesn’t like blood. Ok, maybe I should clarify that. I like blood. I think it’s great, in fact. It keeps us alive. But I don’t enjoy the sight of it and I definitely don’t enjoy people taking it from me.
So giving blood isn’t top of my list of things to do, particularly in a country like Laos where, instead of having a needle in my arm, I could be hiking up the side of a waterfall, visiting a temple, or eating delicious street food.
However. Volunteering at the hospital in Luang Prabang, I regularly see patients who need blood transfusions, but there are times when the blood bank runs dry. Families donate and staff give blood to help make up the shortages. The expat community here is also incredibly supportive and responsive to pleas for blood donations. However, it is still not enough to meet demand. The Lao Red Cross states that 60,000 blood donations are needed every year, but only 30,000 are made. Our guidebook encourages tourists to give blood whilst they’re passing through, and if every traveller did so it would make an unbelievable difference. No doubt, life-changing for some.
So, I decided to suck it up and go and give blood. After all, I could hardly harp on at everyone to donate if I hadn’t done so myself.
The process is incredibly simple, although potentially not what you’re used to if you’ve given blood in the UK. The blood donation centre is underneath the Lao Red Cross Sauna and Massage Centre, an unassuming white and blue house opposite Wat Visoun which is a short walk away from the main street.
After a big breakfast and copious amounts of water, I cycled over, filled out my form and ticked all the boxes that needed ticking: the questions are similar to those that you’re asked when you give blood in the UK, although your answers will most likely be different. For example, I was asked if I’d had any vaccinations in the past few months, which most travellers will have had, but I was still able to donate. I had my blood pressure taken and then was taken over to one of the two beds they have set up. I lay sipping my free water, distracted by a bizarre Thai-dubbed Chinese fantasy/horror film that was on the TV, whilst the nurse expertly found and, more importantly, got a vein on the first attempt. Fairly painless, very quick, and on your first donation you get a goody bag to say thanks. I’m going to be honest, whilst the knowledge that I’ve potentially helped a patient today makes me feel good, what makes me feel even better is the free, synthetic yet delicious coconut cake in the goody bag.
So, I would say to anyone visiting Luang Prabang, whether it’s for a day or a year: if you’re healthy and able and willing, head to the Blood Donation Centre.
You could save someone’s life. And that’s a pretty incredible memory to take away from your time here.