A blood donor since the 1940s
Salme Pohjola is a long-serving blood donor. She gave her mother blood, vein to vein, before the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service was established in 1948.
"I was fourteen and had just started secondary school; it must have been the autumn of 1943 or 44. I was sent to Sweden as a war child and learnt to speak Swedish there. My mother was keen for me not to forget the language. Our family had very little money, but somehow my mother managed to send me to secondary school, directly to the second year, no less.
One day I was walking home from school in Orivesi and up the hill to visit my mother in hospital. I was climbing the stairs to the first floor when I heard two men talking at the top of the stairs. One of them said something like this: "Let's try the girl, maybe her blood will do".
I didn't realise they were talking about me, but I was taken to the operating room. My mother was lying in one bed and I was placed in a bed next to her. A blood tube connected us. I wasn't really scared at the time, as my mother was dying.
I didn't feel much at all, and afterwards they just told me I could go. I think I stumbled a little on the stairs and had to grab hold of the railing. Only then it did it occur to them that perhaps they should give me something to eat. After all, it was war time at its worst, we were short of everything. No other blood had been suitable for my mother, but after this, she began to recover from severe anaemia. In the end, she lived until the age of 70.
Birthday card ends donor's career
After that incident, I didn't give blood for a long time. I was underage, after all. But perhaps it left a spark because in 1949, I went and gave blood with a fellow student in Helsinki. I still remember us country bumpkins, looking for the Finnish Red Cross hospital in Töölö. I studied social sciences and municipal administration; new legislation meant that municipalities had numerous vacancies for officials.
In the 1950s, I had four children one after the other and wasn't able to donate blood, but after that it became a life-long habit. I would probably still give blood if I was allowed. I was very disappointed to receive a card from the Blood Service on my 70th birthday. In the card, they praised me for all my donations but said there was no need to come any more. The nurses also said that I needed all the blood for myself now. Well, I suppose they have to draw a line somewhere.
For me, it was always obvious that I should give blood, it was a part of life. It never once hurt, quite the opposite. Of course, if they missed the vein, it would hurt, but the Blood Service nurses were not like that. Giving blood always gave me a light feeling, somehow. Maybe it's because my haemoglobin level has always been high, or maybe it's just that giving blood makes me feel good.
My way of helping
Throughout my adult years, I gave blood in Hämeenlinna as often as I was allowed. Sometimes I also gave blood in my hometown of Hauho, when the Mobile Blood Services visited the church hall. I never counted the times I donated, but I think someone once said that I had donated 156 times. I got to know all the nurses; they were all really nice.
Donating blood has been my way of helping. I have also taken my husband and children with me, although they haven't been as many times as I have. Some of my grandchildren have also given blood. In 1994, I was given a badge for my one hundredth donation, and we had a small celebration in Hämeenlinna. There was coffee and flowers, and the local paper wrote a story".
Text: Minna Kalajoki / Mediafocus
Photos: Matti Rajala