long live the good samaritans, god save the samaritans

ujjwal kanishka utkarsh

5/12/20217 min read

long live the good samaritans, god save the samaritans



With my father in hospital for a few days the doctor suggested that we go for plasma treatment. For a disease or virus that is still largely unknown, there are these eXperts, and there are these methods of treatment. A lot of it is just trying out things, that make sense to that particular eXpert. Somehow, in just over a year we have covid experts. Experts who not just have the pressure of having to deal with so much of the unknowns of the virus at hand, but also to play the role of the eXpert. Because we need to know. At every point, it seems there are things that we just know. And then one after another things that we know gets obviously disproven.

The amount of information that Indians seem to know of about corona is astonishing. OXymeters have really become household thingies, and people all seem to understand what SPO2 percentages mean. When you can’t trust the state to take care, you have to take charge of it yourself. So the headlines and discussions are revolving around specific medicine shortages, around treatment plans, and this is true for the general discourse also.

A lot of coverage in the media, is also revolving around the heroes of this fight against corona. This is true not just for domestic media, but I have realised is true for international media coverage of the situation in India as well. Of all these people who are out there doing good. You will commonly find messages, about home food tiffin deliveries for covid patients. So when I searched for plasma sourcing, of course there was a plethora of websites, groups, that popped up. Some of my friends figured out telegram and whatsapp groups that were helping people find plasma and other necessities.

And so began the hunt. The first few phone calls to some of the blood banks listed in some of these support sites, didn’t deal with this at all. They just didn’t even do plasma eXtraction thingy. Contacting friends there were few prospective donors that emerged over the neXt few hours. The next morning the dozens or so sites where I had left a request for plasma started calling back. And re confirming I needed the same, blood group, hospital, so on. A particularly enthusiastic donor was contacted through one of the groups. Another advantage was that he was very close to the blood bank where the process had to be done. So I requested him to head over there, and sent him a copy of the requisition from my father’s hospital. There was a requisition that was already made last evening, but when I asked the duty nurse of the ward, she asked me to wait, and made me another one, with of course a test tube of papa’s blood. And then I got the one that was made the previous evening, with another test tube of his blood of course.

The system wasn’t very clear, and the nurse was telling me the process, since I wanted to arrange the plasma myself. I didn’t want to do it! but it seemed to me that there was no option! Anyway, by the time I reached the blood bank, I had around 10 missed calls from different people including the donor I had requested to head towards there. Most of these calls were from people giving me leads, or reconfirming my requirements. On telling them that I was already reaching this blood bank to check the availability there, the question was almost always as to if I needed plasma or not. And of course I did, and there was nothing certain at teh bank I was in.

Another person told me that some plasma had been booked and blocked for me at another blood bank. But I needed to decide soon, so that if not needed then the plasma could be released for someone else. I had NOT asked for the plasma to be blocked. I told this person my situation, that I had just arrived to this hospital’s blood bank and that they would need to check the sample and cross match it with their availability or figure out if they could give me the required sample.

I gave in the sample for processing and the same would take over an hour or so. Through this hour, there were several others who called me offering me for donating, that there is plasma availability here or there or something, and of course that guy who had blocked it out for me at this other hospital. I needed to decide and decide soon, because otherwise what if other people need them. But how in the world am I supposed to make that decision. I had no sense of how critically this other patient needed it, or even if there was such a patient needing the same.

And I was supposed to make this decision?

On what should I make that decision…

should I toss and see?

How critically was the plasma needed?

for my father?

or for this abstracted notion of a patient…

And meanwhile my really helpful and generous donor in his enthusiasm was calling and updating me every 2 minutes. He was now waiting after having given a sample to check the haemoglobin and so on. Because the situation was seemingly so dire, I had of course contacted many lists, many websites, and all those calls were coming in, checking in with me as to if i still needed plasma. Of course I did, what if the cross matching that has to happen didn’t work out in this blood bank.

I was trying to be as honest about the situation as possible, but it was only annoying a few ppl. They were getting confused as to if I needed or not. Some others were more understanding. But of course all of them wanted to help.

After about two hours or so of doing this, and really being on the edge of the seat, and feeling under immense pressure to make a decision if the plasma that had been blocked in the other hospital was needed or not, they finally told me that the cross matching had happened and it worked out. Phew. So before asking them to release the plasma from the other place, I just wanted to check once more with the administrator at this blood bank. She was like wait for a bit more, because there’s still no clarity on the amount of plasma that could be given.

tick tock. tick tock. tick tock.

One blood bank guy called me and told me that he had found some more plasma at some other place. And I told him that we already have cross matched here and so on. His suggestion was to get as much plasma from as many places as possible. Because one never knows. And then later it could be returned back to his bank, so that it’s not wasted also. And I was like, really?

Another set of calls that came in, would start inquiring me about the situation at the blood bank I was in, and of course I would try and help them and give them the info I could. But finally after all of this, they gave me the required amount of plasma. And message was passed on to all of them that were holding on for us. The sense of relief was manifolds, because all the plasma could go on to other people, and we were not blocking it out for other people.

Of course the last guy who had asked me to collect as much plasma as possible, was like ‘but what if more plasma is needed later’. And then we will see then, is all I could think.

Rushing back to the hospital with the plasma, was such a sense of relief. It felt like that was the aim, that that was the ends, whereas it was just the means. Each of these tasks becoming a herculean task also makes you myopic to just focus on them. And at the end of the day, you are dead tired and then thinking what will you have to do neXt.

As I was reaching back home later that evening, and really tired ready to crash out. I noticed a number of missed calls I had got while I was riding back. I was pretty sure that these were all donors, or well wishers whom I could simply tell the situation finally, and thank them. As it turned out, the good samaritan groups, somehow my number had been swapped to a blood bank’s number. Maybe it was because I had helped out some such queries while I was at the blood bank. But it took me straight to the day before, when I had started calling on the list of blood bank numbers, in many of these groups, most of which didn’t even deal with corona plasma thingy.

Some phone calls have continued to come in. One in fact came in right now. It is not so many and not so annoying, but each of the calls is just heart breaking. People looking for plasma for their loved ones. And in desperation calling any number that is given to them. And the process goes on.

Am really grateful that there were people were around to help me and others like me. That these networks have emerged. I was chatting to a friend, who is in delhi who was talking about the same thing - about how there have been so many people who have risen to the occasion, and it is on them that things are still running a bit. And of course we love to celebrate these narratives.

Reminds me of the annual Bombay flood. I was stuck in the great one in 2006, (or was it 2005) and I remember the celebration of the great bombay spirit. We love to do these every year. Of people who would distribute food, of people who will give shelter. But why don’t we work towards a system which is capable of dealing with it in the first place.

Why is it okay for the whole medical infrastructure to basically rely on all these people doing volunteer work of all these people. The Maharashtra CM correctly pointed out that we are relying on infrastructure built by nehru. But why hasn’t more been done.

I got a call the day before at 2 in the night, of a person looking for plasma. I apologised to this person that they had gotten a wrong number. And they were apologetic of course. But why is it okay for this to be on benevolence of others. And each of us feeling the need to be obliged to the good samaritans. When the state can not be relied upon we build these networks ourselves. And it’s a pity, and a joke when you then talk about the great Indian spirit. It’s not because we are generous, but because we have no option.

I wonder if this model good samaritan is so different than the model moral vigilante.


Sarita Narayan

25/3/2022 06:14:28 pm

There is no dearth of good people who genuinely want to help ,,,,nicely written


Madhu Ranjan

25/3/2022 06:41:08 pm

I was the fortunate plasma recipient, and am indebted to the Good Samaritan, the donor. The panic, the confusion during the second wave is very well expressed by Ujjwal.