Thursday, 18 April 2013

... Indochina: Blood. It's In You To Give!

My alarm was set for 430am. Now whilst that sounds a little insane when one is on holiday, and may be even when one is not, I had good reason. I was soon walking, along with a considerable amount of others for such an ungodly hour, towards Angkor Wat in the dark. This is the crazy thing you do when you are hoping to watch a sunrise and this ain't my first rodeo where that is concerned (Machu Picchu, Valley of the Kings). It looked quite promising at first. The dark black turned into a royal blue and there was a glimmer of hope that the clouds would indeed disperse in time for the 612am predicted sunrise. Alas it did not. This, however, did not stop the Mosquitos in their relentless attack and whilst those around me cursed I thanked my lucky stars that a friend had advised me to slap on some Deet. Mozzies seem to think I am tasty otherwise.

Even though I didn't get to see the sun it was still kind of magical to be there as the darkness turned into light all around you. A little while after sunrise the sun did manage to burn through the clouds and the mists lifted giving you a spectacular view. It was well worth getting up for.

After returning to Siem Reap for some breakfast I was returned to Angkor to visit two of the less visited temples. It was a nice way to dodge the crowds. The temple of Bat Chum has been undergoing restoration work and the job thus far is impressive. Even though the Khmer kingdom was dominated by Hinduism when it was constructed, this was built to be a Buddhist temple making it incredibly unique. Ta Keo is possibly the first to be built entirely of sandstone. It boasts some impressive towers arranged in a quincunx, a geometric pattern consisting of 5 points arranged in a cross, and the trek up the stone steps to view them is quite the workout.

Nerd alert: the inscriptions found on the door jambs allegedly contain ancient "No parking here" signs requesting elephant owners not park there to prevent damage.

My return visit to Ta Prohm was a lot drier than the previous day. Unfortunately the better weather also meant crowds. Famous because of movie scenes yet unique because of the large banyan & silk-cotton trees and their reptilian-like roots. Unlike the other temples before there are fallen rocks and inaccessible paths. It looks the most original and least restored, although some restoration is occurring. You had to queue to take photos at most places within, namely where the huge tree roots have taken over the buildings. But if you like not playing sheep it is possible to wander off on your own and walk to parts where you will be the only one there in the same temple. It is a must see visit but, unlike many of the ignorant visitors, be mindful that the trees are quite brittle so no sitting or touching.

Siem Reap likely has a little of something for every traveler. Temples, swimming pools, coffee shops, many many restaurants, nightlife, markets, massages & spas... to name but a few. There's also something else you can do here that is far more worth while and involves a total yet trained stranger sticking a few needles in your arm to drain a small but invaluable volume of liquid. That liquid is blood. When an average adult human has between 4-5 litres of this stuff coursing through their arteries and veins, what's giving up about a pint of this stuff?!

28% of Cambodia's population live below the poverty line of $1.25USD per day meaning few can afford to pay for health care. Since 1999 the non-profit paediatric teaching hospital Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) has provided top notch free health care to impoverished children helping over 1 million of them! However, they face a critical shortfall in blood supplies which are vital for operations and transfusions. A horrifying one out of every twenty Cambodian children is likely to die before they reached the age of five. There are many with blood cancers and HIV. The hospital is also fearful for the coming monsoon season which raises concerns about an epidemic of dengue fever every year. Your donation of about a pint of blood can help save a child’s life in Cambodia.

I've never actually given blood before. As a Brit in Canada I've been advised I'm not allowed because 1). I don't weigh enough and 2). Being British they assume the risk of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) aka Mad Cow Disease despite the fact I can't remember when I last ate a British burger... Now I may be mad but....

You’ll find the hospital on Samdech Tep Vong Street, behind the Central Market, and donors can drop in at any time between 8am-12pm & 2-4pm every day; no appointment is necessary. An English-speaking phlebotomist took my medical history details and then performed the first procedure gently and professionally in a spotless room. I didn’t even feel that he had stuck in the needle when he took a first sample to type my blood and measure my levels e.g haemoglobin, hematocrit, RBCs, WBCs etc. I got to watch my blood get typed, something I've never known, which was also really quite neat having studied all about it in Anatomy & Physiology class. I am O+. They wanted my blood.

For the actual blood donation, I was hooked up after my blood pressure & pulse we taken. My bp, as always, was low (thanks bradycardia!) but the Dr. cleared me after some more questioning and I was checked in on during the procedure every few minutes to see how I was doing. I had to laugh at how sluggish my flow was but that just meant I got to lie back and relax longer. The sound of the whirring of the mechanical tray to agitate the bag to mix my blood with anticoagulants was kind of soothing. Weird I know. No-one is going to blast huge bubbles of air into  your veins like they do in Bond movies. Speaking with the phlebotomist as he tended to me whilst I was donating was interesting too. He told me most Cambodians are afraid to donate so only do so when relatives are hospitalized and are in dire need of a transfusion. It's just not a custom here. A lot of males bring home diseases (guess the kinds) to their partners and so are unable to donate. I was the 5th donor of the day and he told me this month has so far been good for donations, lots of tourists had stopped by the hospital. Yay!

Brand new needles and other sterile equipment were used, and the whole experience was really as worry-free as it’s probably going to get when someone sticks a huge needle into your median cubital vein. Seeing the young child sat on a bench with various tubes hooked into her cuddling with her mum made sure there was no going back at any stage in any case. At the end, the phlebotomist allowed me to rest for 10-15 minutes, before disappearing and coming back with snacks, a soft drink, multivitamins and my very own T-shirt. I felt groovy! Not even light-headed. Still, I aired on the side of caution and took it easy for the remainder of the day.

Blood. It's In You To Give.

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