I give blood every 4 months. I never preach about anything really; but this is the only topic I get vaguely on a high-horse and stroppy about and that is just because I cannot comprehend why anyone capable, would not give blood. I know there are some strict guidelines (that I don’t agree with particularly) that can hinder lovely, blood filled eager people doing it. But if you are eligable to do it, and it’s really easy to check here, then why wouldn’t you? I just don’t think any excuse can stand up to the ‘but you might save someones’ life?’ arguement.
Anyway a very reliable survey of 5 (grumpy/distracted) work colleagues delivered the following extremely scientific results: I’m scared, I hate needles, I hate hospitals, I would probably faint, hit my head, and then need the blood transfusion myself.
So; since I went to give blood this week and it’s fresh in my brain (just the the big sticky pint of my O+ rushing around someone elses body right now!) I thought I’d just write down exactly what happens. Because if you’ve never given blood and are scared of the unknown, then a really honest play by play might help?
1. Book an appointment. You can just rock up to your nearest donation centre, but you have to queue behind appointmented people and therefore could have a long jittery wait. It’s very easy to book either online or by phoning – and wherever I’ve worked there has always been a donation centre within 10 minute walk.
2. Before you go, drink loads of water. It makes you more likely to be able to give a full donation quickly (weirdly so does hot weather) and also make sure you have a nice big munch on something like sugary pastries or krispy kremes (not official nhs advice, just.. mine). Don’t go if you have a cold, are sick or have taken paracetemol – because you don’t really want to share those nasties with someone already in a bad way. Also wear something with short sleeves so that it’s easy to reach your inner-elbow where the blood gets taken from. Don’t make my mistake of usually forgettitng and wearing an un-removable dress with a million and one fiddly buttons to negotiate around.
3. When you walk in, you’ll be greeted by a nice receptionist. He/She’ll give you a double sided form to fill out, but it’s all easy things and then lots of yes or no ticky-box questions mostly about who you’ve bumped uglies with of late and where you’ve traveled to. They are quite hardcore questions, but asked in the most polite way and cleverly written in nice happy colours.
4. Hand the form back in and sit back and read a magazine and scope out the other people who are there to donate. There is always a nice smug-noble atmosphere and lots of knowing, youre-a-good-person-too nods & smiles going on.
5. A nurse will come and call your name. They won’t be one of the taking-blood staff members, their job is just to double check you are in a good state to donate. They take you into a small office and go through all your answers to the forms and then take a small blood test – which is to check your iron levels are healthy. They use the tiniest needle in history to prick the side of your pointing-finger. I wouldn’t lie to you – you actually can’t even feel the needle go in, let alone any pain. They squeeze out a little drop of blood and put it into a tube of blue liquid and if it sinks, you’re good to go. If it floats you might be a bit anemic and not be able to donate that day. If you aren’t squeamish you should watch it happening because the blood forms a neat little ring as it floats down. Don’t panic about this, I eat so little fruit&veg that it’s a miracle I don’t have scurvy and also the only exercise I do is running for the tube – so I’m sure your iron levels will be tiptop too.
6. You are then shown through to a bay of beds. It does look all medical and hostpital like, which I know is un-nerving, but better than it looking like a casino or nightclub or something. There might be a few other people already at different stages of giving blood, but you will usually have your own nurse looking after you. You just lie down on the bed and get asked to confirm your name, address and DOB. Then the nurse will quickly prep your arm – all they do is rub it with a very-cold wet wipe that numbs it and cleans it all one go – ta da! Next the nurse may ask you to clench your fist to help your veins raise to the surface.
7. Then the grizzly bit. It definitely can’t be described as fun, and obviously it is a tiny bit nerve wracking, but just look away and think of desert islands, Josh Hartnett & peanut butter, a happy place etc. The nurse will use that cheerful phrase that makes you want to punch them (just a short sharp scratch!) but I guarentee by by the time they’ve got through “short sharp scra…” the needle is in and you are away on your blood giving mission. Yes it hurts a tiny bit but by the time you are pouting and grizzling about it, it’s stopped hurting and you are instantly distracted by remembering how awesome you are for doing this.
8. I know it’s hard to believe but whilst you are donating, the needle doesn’t tug, hurt or sting. You could basically be sat on a sun lounger, it’s not painful. Sometimes you can feel a bit woozy or faint – usually if you’ve been nervous so you get a rush of adrenaline at the start when the needle goes in, it’s a totally normal reaction and if it happens the nurses will give you a pep talk and help you back to normality.
9. Donation time can be anything from 5 to 15 minutes depending on how big your veins are. I helpfully have the worlds smallest veins (ok not world record breaking small, but small enough for me to only be able to provide a full donation every other time I go) and if you do too, the vein might stop playing nicely half way through and there is a small chance the nurse will have to come and jiggle the needle around and help things along. It might just be me though. The nurse will chat to you if you are nervous, and if you’re not she will never stray too far away which is really re-assuring. If you are brave, you can have a look and see the blood filling the plastic medical pouch. I’m always surprised by how un-cartoon-red it is. It’s the exact shade of my Number 17 Cocoa Cabana nail polish in fact.
10. It’s all over quicky, they remove the needle (a bit sore and throbby for a second) and then the prospect of a nice cup of tea and some biscuits will help you quickly get over it. You have to put a small dressing over your inner elbow which you leave on for six hours. It’s not because you will bleed or anything gruesome, more just to stop any infections or your coat rubbing. So now you leave the bay of beds, and go to a small tea room section where someone congratulates you on donating and then makes you a nice drink. They give you a few advice leaflets on bruising and then after checking you are feeling fine and unfaint, after ten minutes you can skip off the wherever you like. (If you’re me, straight to Starbucks for big creamy, chocolatey frappucino as big as my head, go on.. you deserve it and need to ‘build back your strength’) and after that? Sometimes it’s normal to feel slightly space cadet and light headed but nothing that would prevent you doing a normal day work or whatnot. If you drink alcohol that day, you might get pretty smashed pretty quickly and be able to blame any bad behaviour on being 470ml down on blood! So booze with caution. It takes just a few days for your body to restore your blood levels so it cannot be used as an excuse for long, sorry.
And that’s that. It really isn’t traumatic, or scary or even particularly exciting. Just a really good thing to do with your time. In total, you are probably in the centre for under an hour – even if you have a ten minute wait at the start. That’s all I have to report, well except that the last two times I have been to my local Soho branch; the nurse has told me they’d just had a break in. Which created the following reaction: First – dismay at why on earth anyone would want to steal from such a worthy, nhs centre? Second – ohmygod! actually, who would want to steal blood? There’s only one rational explanation. Vampires must really exist! True Blood, Being Human, Twilight… They all go it spot on and now I know the truth and they are robbing my blood bank and wow…. Third: On no wait, drug addicts need other things they have here. Syringes, needles etc etc, and it’s slightly more likey they exist on the mean streets of London.