On Tuesday 30th September, I gave blood for the first time. I’ve always thought about it, but never ticked the box on the form for some reason. Signing up for a new GP this year, I finally decided to bite the bullet and go for it. I chucked myself on the organ donor’s list, too, for good measure.
I forgot about it after that, but a letter dropped through my door a month or so ago with red ink on the envelope, inviting me to book an appointment at the upcoming blood clinic. I was stressed and busy at the time so I skipped over it, and felt bad. I left the letter on my desk as a reminder to sort it out next time they came around.
Two weeks later, a very similar letter arrived. I felt guilty. The NHS is an organisation that I owe a lot to, and they’ve had to send me two letters - envelopes and printing cost money, you guys. I had no choice now - I got online, signed up to the NHS site at the excellent domain Blood.co.uk and booked myself an appointment at last.
When the day arrived I was pretty nervous. I used to be fine with needles, but the more injections I have, the worse they seem. I’ve never quite understood why, but I suppose it’s because I’ve overthought it. You’d think I got better at these things with age, but this one goes the other way for me. One of the reasons for my signing up was to try to get over that, and I do think that it’s helped, a little.
The clinic was in a hall in the centre of Witney. At the front of the hall was a reception area where they took our names and ticked off forms. Behind that, a few rows of seats for waiting, a tea and coffee area, and the seats where the actual donations take place. For a lot of people the sight of those might be dull, or perhaps intimidating, but I thought it was a few flashing lights away from being some kind of science fiction masterpiece. Eight grey plastic chairs faced away from the entrance door, each with a stack of electrical equipment beside it. The seats were designed to tilt backwards to be comfortable as well as encourage blood flow, and the equipment was a blood pump - a mass of plastic tubes, all clear to display the flowing blood inside, with a small shelf underneath holding the blood bag. Every few seconds the shelf would rock to the left and right, settling the bag in a different position. It was roughly the motion that a robot mother would use to rock her newborn robot child. With the machines all started at different times, the pinging noises they made all happened out of turn, with no clear rhythm, and the nurses were constantly moving between the machines to help people out of the seats and settle new people in. The whole scene reminded me of the batteries in The Matrix.
A quick interview about my health and a brief blood test later I was sat in one of those chairs waiting to be hooked up. I wish I could have looked as they found the vein, as I do find this kind of thing fascinating, but I couldn’t do it, and by the time I managed to take a peek I had a tube taped to my arm and my blood was already flowing into the machine. A couple of thoughts hit me all at once: firstly, the fact that we can hook people up to machines is just amazing. This is as simple as that technology gets, of course, when you consider the wonders of heart bypasses and dialysis, but that didn’t stop me from being blown away. Secondly, that needle is massive. I am glad I looked away when the nurse stuck it in. It didn’t hurt any more than a normal injection though, and the only problem I had with the injection site itself was that after 5 minutes of having the needle in me, it got a little itchy and felt like there was something unwelcome on my skin. It was nothing I couldn’t handle, but I was glad when the time was up and my machine chirped a happy little tune.
The nurse removed the needle, stuck on a dressing, and started to tilt my chair up so I could stand. I felt fine. The nurse, however, looked very, very worried, and sat me back down. Apparently I had gone very pale indeed, and they sat me right back so my legs were up above my head, to get the blood to flow back into my important bits. I thought about insisting that I was fine, as I didn’t feel out of sorts at all, but decided to listen to the professionals (Generally a good idea for matters of health) and think blood-circulatey thoughts as I waited for some colour to come back to my cheeks. One of the staff stayed and chatted to me for a while to make sure I was ok, and then led me over the the drinks table where I could sit and recover some more. I didn’t actually faint, but apparently I had an adrenaline crash. I drank a lot of orange squash and ate biscuits for a while, a red card on the table in front of me marking me as a patient to keep an eye on, while I read a book and waited for them to tell me I was ok to leave. They did a wonderful job of looking after me and I’m incredibly grateful that we have such a fantastic health service.
So, hopefully my blood helped someone out who needed some. At the very least, I got to see some exciting biotech futuristic machinery and had another chance to get over my fear of needles. Also, with only 4% of the population donating, I must be one of the most virtuous people in the country. If you would also like to be virtuous, save lives, get some free biscuits and possibly faint in front of strangers, check out blood.co.uk. The site can even show you cool stuff like how much blood the NHS currently has in stock. Nice.