“When was the last time I donated? I was afraid you’d ask that, but I can’t remember. When I was filling in the questionnaire, the sticker said this was my 49th donation.” Every three weeks, third-year Philosophy student Alex Becker donates plasma at the blood bank in his home town of Spijkenisse. As we talk, we’re asked six times round whether he really doesn’t want a drink. Alex opts for green tea, and they add a glass of water.

Full blood folks

“That’s why I keep coming back – for all the positive attention,” jokes Alex (33). “They take real good care of me here.” His blood is siphoned off through a tube to a device next to his chair. This filters his blood: so Alex gets back all the blood cells. The transparent liquid with a yellow glow, the plasma (820 ml of liquid and proteins), goes into a bag for donation.

People who give blood are called a few times a year; plasma donors are welcome to donate more often. They have to stay in the chair a bit longer too – easily half an hour longer than the ‘full blood folks’, as Alex refers to them. Alex’s red blood cells are returned to him a few times in the 45 minutes or so that he remains seated. “It feels a bit weird; you can feel that it has cooled off slightly.” The only thing left in the tray holding his blood a moment ago is some red froth.

Obligation

Alex sees it as his ‘Kantian obligation’ to donate plasma – as would any self-respecting Philosophy student, of course. According to the philosopher Kant, freedom and autonomy are inextricably connected with moral action. Which is why Alex decided to register with a blood bank after a discussion about organ and blood donation. After all, if he ever were to need blood, he would like people to donate for him too.

Meanwhile, they’ve asked Alex whether he wants a glacé. “Or maybe something else – a stroopwafel perhaps?” He politely declines: none of the items on the menu appeal to him as a vegan. “After being confronted with the abuses that go on in the meat and dairy industry, I couldn’t avoid becoming vegan,” he explains. “During my last donation, the Hb value1in my blood was so high that they remarked that I ‘must have eaten a lot of steak’. Effectively dispelling the myth that vegans are so malnourished they can’t do anything. I rather enjoyed that.”

Alex Becker
Alex Becker Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

After finishing, Alex feels ‘a bit drowsy, but fine apart from that.’ He often goes to the gym on Mondays, including after donations. Although he does take it a bit easier than usual: some cardio, no weights. In December, his time is taken up by his studies, some extra electives and the Logic exam: a second-year subject that he still needs to get a pass mark for. Studying, lectures, more studying and his weekly evening of board games with friends – that’s Alex’s schedule for the day.

Before leaving, Alex sets an appointment for his next donation: the big 5-O. He’s expected back at the blood bank on 23 December at 8:30 in the morning. It may take a bit longer before he returns for his 51st, because he’s planning another tattoo. After getting a tattoo, you have to wait four months before you’re allowed to give blood or plasma.

  1. Hb stands for hemoglobin. This protein, which consists for a large part of iron, is found in our red blood cells. ↩︎