January 30, 2011

Giving Blood

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 10:49 am

Ok, you’ve seen the adverts on TV, heard them on the radio, and you want to give blood, but you’re not really sure it’s for you… Does it hurt? Will I miss it? All these questions are floating around in your head, and you’re really note sure where the truth lies, or what you want to do… This post Sir/Madam, is for you…

I’ve been a blood donor now for seventeen years, and getting started, to be honest, wasn’t really my own idea. I got “guilted” into it by a friend I worked with in St. John Ambulance, who just happened to announce “Oh, and I need to call into a blood donor session – why don’t you come with me?”. He waited until I was in his car, in the middle of town, with the keys firmly in his possession and other friends in the car to spring this little surprise on me you understand… Playing fair wasn’t really where his mind was that afternoon.

The truth of the matter is though, once things were done and dusted, I was left wondering what the source of my trepidation actually was. I’d spent a fair amount of time in hospitals as a child, more than my share to be honest, so I’d gotten used to needles where they had to be done. I do remember, as a child, absolutely HATING having blood drawn for tests – maybe that had something to do with it. The truth is though, when the tea and biccies were done (donors will understand that reference), I was still here. I had 2 arms. I could walk, talk, and everything lol.

But why do it?

Blood is a very, very useful resource to the medical community. It’s used when dealing with trauma, it’s used in many, many routine operations, when childbirth goes wrong – all sorts of occasions. Now I’m not a doctor, but I understand the situation is often “when it’s needed, it’s needed…” – no ifs, no buts… So, it would be helpful if they had some when it’s my wife, my mother, or my mate lying on the table…

Unfortunately, donations aside, there really is no other way they can get their hands on the stuff. It can’t be manufactured, and this is literally a case of “accept no substitute”. So, if they are going to maintain sufficient stocks of blood, they really need the support of people like you to put yourselves to a very minor inconvenience. An hour out of your day, four times a year, to have a hand it saving someone’s life is quite a good deal…

What’s involved then?

Well, for a start, you need to find yourself a blood donation session. This isn’t really all that difficult – you can either telephone the National Blood Service on 0300 123 23 23, or you can visit use their website to do so by clicking here. You don’t need to worry about this step on future donation sessions, as the NBS, darlings that they are, will actually write to you suggesting appropriate sessions for your following visits. You can change them if they’re not convenient – no problems there…

Your first session will actually take a little longer than following sessions, because there’s administrative tasks like getting you onto their database etc, together with a discussion with a medical professional just to check that there’s no underlying reason why you really shouldn’t be doing this. Then we’re back to a standard session…

When you arrive, you’ll first of all have to check in with the reception desk, just to let them know you’re here… Then they’ll ask you to have a drink. Unfortunately, perhaps through a purchasing oversight, this doesn’t seem to involve a pint of mild, or a glass of Baileys – they’re rather keener on either water or fruit juice (which they supply, so you don’t need to take it with you…).

The pre-donation drink thing is a new idea, and although I seemed to survive over fifteen years of donating without it, they seem to think it’s necessary. So here’s the thing – just play along. Donation sessions follow a regimented process, and they’re trying to get as many people through the doors as possible – what they don’t need are people causing unnecessary problems. The people you’re dealing with are merely following laid down policies and procedures that they have no personal control over, so you’re not going to win that argument. Sit down, drink your water. Besides, it’s rather foolish to annoy people who will be carrying needles next time you see them… (I jest, they’re all little angels… What I’m saying is don’t become an unnecessary issue that has to be dealt with – play nice.)

After you’ve had your drink, there’s a certain amount of waiting around in chairs to be done, until someone calls your name for a screening test. This involves pricking your finger, drawing a very, very small amount of blood, squirting it into some green stuff (told you I wasn’t a doctor!) and, hopefully, watching it sink. The idea of this test is to check your iron levels I believe, just to see if you really should be there. Does it hurt? Well, erm, briefly. We’re not going to be rolling around on the floor in agony here, it’s more of an “ow! You bugger…” moment than time to check your will is up do date… It’s hard to quantify discomfort objectively, but in all honesty I’ll tell you this – by the time I’m sat down in chairs again, fifteen seconds later, I’ve forgotten all about it.

So – we’re back in chairs, and waiting for our name to be called again… A short while later and your moment comes – you’re called to one of the “beds”. You’ll lay down, and the arm you are going to give from will be rested on a little support gadget off the side of the bed. They’ll check your name and Date of Birth (they are, for good reason actually, obsessed with your name and date of birth – you’ll probably be asked to confirm it three or four times in a visit. Remember, play nice!), and maybe a brief bit of chitchat so put you at ease.

Next they fit a device around the top of your arm which can be inflated to squeeze it. If you’ve ever had your blood pressure taken at the doctor’s – very similar deal. The idea of this is, I think, to make your veins stand out. I could be wrong – not a doctor, as I may have mentioned…

Next they’ll swab the area where they are going to take from with an alcoholic swab. This will just feel cold and wet – but you want it to dry a little before the needle goes in, because alcohol can make the needle sting a little.

Here it comes!

It’s needle time! But first, let’s think about this for a moment… These people spend all day, every day, every week, putting needles in and taking them out – so it stands to reason that they might get to be rather good at it. They do – I’ve found they tend to be far, far better at this than regular doctors or nurses…

The other thing we should note here is that you can, if you like, be given a local anaesthetic before they put the main needle in. I used to do this for about the first eight years I gave blood – and this is because I am stupid! Opinions may very, but I personally think that the anaesthetic injection hurts more that the main needle does – so I’ve dispensed with it. But if you want it, ask. You have to ask them though – the local is now so unpopular that they won’t even raise the subject themselves…

So this main needle then, does it like, you know, hurt?

Hurt would be the wrong word. There’s a measure of discomfort when they put it in, but we’re talking about two seconds worth, and then it’s fine. That’s the God’s honest, fair dinkum, not paid by the NBS to say this truth… You might feel some sensations whilst giving blood, but it would be wrong to call them pain, or even discomfort. A very mild ache is closer to the mark.

What next?

Well, you’re going to be giving blood, typically, for about five to ten minutes. I wouldn’t bother with any ideas you might have about reading a book (difficult with one hand while you’re laid down), or listening to an MP3 player (keep your lug holes open so you hear if they speak to you)… The best advice I can offer is to take a few moments to reflect on twenty first century mankind’s failure to really grasp interesting ceiling design… Yes, I do, in all seriousness, examine the ceiling. I used to be a train-spotter though, and occasionally we have a relapse!

Sooner or later though, the NBS have had their fill, and it’s time to get that needle out. I honestly don’t tend to feel this at all. They’ll stick a plaster over the site of needle, and you’ll want to apply some pressure to that (two fingers pressed against it will be fine…) for a few minutes. You’ll still be laid down at this point. After a few minutes you will be asked to sit up with your legs over the side of the bed, and they’ll put some cotton wool over the plaster, with some tape to hold it in place.

A few minutes more and you’ll be invited to go to a nice big table and have a drink and a couple of biscuits. Now, it would easy to misinterpret this invitation as an optional sort of thing. It isn’t. They won’t wrestle you to the floor if you try to leave immediately, but if you to partake in the tea and biccies, it reassures them that you’ve got some fluid in you, and a bit of food / sugar. From your own point of view, it’s wise to hang around for a few minutes anyway, just in case the bleeding manages to seep through the plaster. No, in seventeen years, this has never happened to me, but I have seen it happen a few times – so you might as well wait around for five minutes so that they’re on hand to sort it out if it does…

Tea ‘n’ Biccies is also the perfect time to arrange your next appointment with the NBS staff member who will be waiting around for this very purpose. Now, as with pre-donation drinkies, appointments are a relatively new idea. It’s good that they are trying to minimise the effect on your day by trying to get you back through the doors as quickly as possible, but in my own experience, appointments don’t really work too well. Added to that, my journey home from the office places me under the tender loving mercies of Network Rail, so I find it difficult to commit to a time with any confidence. Doesn’t matter – the NBS are flexible… I just have an arrangement where they tell me the next available session, and I turn up at my leisure, on the understanding that I might have to wait around a little longer that others. It doesn’t seem to work out that way to be honest – I reckon I get through just as quickly as the next person…

Is all this worth it?

Oh yes! When you think about it, what is an hour out of your life? So you might have to record Coronation Street – big deal! We’re talking a very minor inconvenience here, so when you weigh that against someone who is stood in a hospital corridor, worried as hell because their wife / husband / other notable loved one needs blood, there really isn’t much of a contest.

There’s no “duty” to give blood – it’s not compulsory, and no-ones going to come around shouting abuse at you if you don’t. But hey – under the circumstances, give it a whirl – just try it. It’s a better use of your time than Coronation Street I absolutely guarantee it!

Will I be ok to drive after giving blood?

Some people do have problems after giving blood – which is rare, but they do find themselves feeling a little faint and light headed – obviously no condition to be behind the wheel. People react differently though, so for your first couple of donations I would recommend going by public transport. Personally, I usually either drive or cycle – and most donors do seem to drive. Just be sensible, and leave your options open the first couple of times…


Thanks for reading this. If just one of you now pops down to a session, this has been a worthwhile couple of hours out of my Sunday morning.


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