CW: Needles, blood.
I’m not a fan of needles at all. I’m a grade A wimp and avoid unnecessary pain or discomfort as much as humanly possible.
However, I give blood as often as I can, because I figure, my slight unease for ten minutes (or in today’s case 6 and a half minutes!), is nothing compared to the pain that someone needing a blood transfusion may be going through. The pictures of poorly, small children on the walls tend to distract you from your own self anyway!
I thought I’d write a little bit about the experience of donating blood, in case anyone was on the fence about it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for everyone, and that’s totally fine! I’m not here to tell you that you’re awful for not doing it, but if you can, and want to, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet, hopefully this will be the thing that makes you book an appointment!
There are a few different types of donation sessions, depending on where they’re held. My first ever donation was in a blood van, and the one after that was a pop-up in a town hall (that took me 3 buses to get to thanks to my awful sense of direction!), and more recently I’ve been attending Donor Centres, simply because they’re open all the time. It’s best to book an appointment, just so you’re not left disappointed, but that said, if you are passing and you’ve got a while, there’s nothing wrong with poking your head in and seeing if they can slot you in.
Before you donate blood
Firstly, check you can donate. It would be so annoying to turn up and find that you can’t for whatever reason. Some things are a definite ‘no-no’, for example if you’re currently ill (duh), some will involve further questions, e.g.., trips out of the country, and others just have a waiting time on them, like waiting 4 months after any tattoo or piercing (fun fact: before I was a grown up with bills to pay, I used to make myself donate blood before getting another piercing or tattoo because I felt it balanced out the universe or something. Women have to wait around 16 weeks between donations anyway so it worked out great for me).
Eat dammit! I don’t care how nervous you are, just eat something – your body will thank you!
Drink lots of water throughout the day to make your veins “nice & juicy” as I so eloquently put it on Twitter today…
Giving blood in 40 minutes, drinking all the water I can to make these veins nice and juicy! @GiveBloodNHS
— Coldie-Kinz ❄️ (@CodieKinz) January 5, 2016
Take a book, or headphones or something and try not to worry. Book out about an hour, depending on how appointments are running. My actual donation today was super quick (check my bad self!), but I was about an hour, from arriving (because I got there a little early), and then with the whole process, waiting for a chair, and recovery at the end. When you get there, you will fill in a bit of paperwork and read a leaflet about the whole process. You have to do this every time as often slight things change or are updated. You will then likely be given a giant glass of water (or squash if they’re feeling fancy) which you have to drink before giving blood, to make sure you feel okay. You’ll be taken into a room where they’ll check over your form and ask any questions. For example, I marked that I had taken some medication in the past 7 days for a headache and they asked what it was, when I took it, and whether I was feeling better. They will then perform a drop test that checks your iron levels. They use a little clicky thing on your finger and then suck up the blood to drop into a tube of something sciencey. Honestly, this bit is my least favourite bit of the whole process. Once you’ve done that, giving blood will be nothing!
Once they’ve confirmed that you’re fit and healthy and ready to go, you’ll be sent back to the waiting room to wait for a spare chair. If they sold those chairs online I would totally get one – they are so comfy! They’re like a weird, plastic bucket-seat, but with cushioning, and a place to put your arm depending on which one they’re using. I tend to give from either, simply because I can never remember which one I used last time! They lay them back and it’s so bloody fun! So, you sit in the chair and someone comes to chat to you. You read more laminated card, this time about what to do whilst you’re donating. They suggest tensing and unclenching your bum, as well as crossing and uncrossing your legs. I don’t know how, or why it works, but I always do it and it seems to!
You’ll have to confirm your details again, whilst they label up the bags with your stickers. You can just chill at this point and concentrate on calming your beans. They’ll use the blood pressure cuff and have a little poke around to find your “juiciest” vein. When they’re happy with it (& you feel a weird sense of pride at being told it’s “perfect”!), they’ll clean the area for 30 seconds, with a thing that looks like one of those asking up sponges on a stick that has washing up liquid in it… Do you know what I mean? Then, it’s go time. I find it best to chat to the person stabbing me, and look the opposite way, reminding myself to breathe. You genuinely only feel a tiny scratch and when it’s all set up, you don’t feel anything at all. They ask you to keep clenching and unclenching your fist (as well as your bum!) to keep it flowing, and then just leave you to it.
Today, I had a trainee who asked if I would be happy for her to put my needle in (I was her 12th!). I said she could because she was so friendly and I know they wouldn’t let just anyone do this – besides, we all have to learn! I was glad it wasn’t my first time, as I might have felt a little more nervous, but she was supervised by someone qualified and I didn’t notice a difference at all. It felt nice to know I was helping her along the way to becoming qualified.
Had a trainee lady and she was so lovely. Got myself some biscuits and an obnoxiously large sticker ?? — Coldie-Kinz ❄️ (@CodieKinz) January 5, 2016
When you’re done, the machine makes a weird Mario-type noise that sounds like you’ve won all of the coins! Someone will come over and check you feel okay, before unhooking you from it all. Again, this doesn’t hurt, and you just have to sit there applying pressure to the area with some gauze whilst they check it’s all okay.
They tend to put a plaster on the “wound”, then one of those things that the dentist makes you chomp on when you get a tooth out, with some surgical tape to hold it in place. This is just to keep the pressure so you stop bleeding. When you’re sure you feel okay, they’ll help you up slowly and send you off to the magical table of goodies.
Important note! Whatever you do, do not lean on your donating arm to get up. It doesn’t hurt, but you will get told off! It’s not worth it!
Back to the table of wonder! You will be offered a drink (I got hot chocolate today and it was amazing!) as well as encouraged to eat something from the table. There’s usually some biscuits in the little hotel packets, and some crisps, although today they also had Penguins and Mince Pies which was cool. This is your time to sit and reflect on what a lifesaving badass you are, and yes, you do deserve another pack of biscuits!
This time, I even picked myself up an obnoxiously large sticker to tell the word that I am saving lives this winter!
It’s a great time to have a little chat with your other, fellow lifesavers as you sit together in the bubble of your shared experience, feeling solidarity mixed with a little smugness.
When you feel better (honestly, don’t rush!), you’re free to leave!
They’ll tell you how to look after yourself afterwards but it’s super simple. Don’t do anything strenuous (no hoovering! ;)) and if you feel faint, rest. Don’t do what I did one time, and get into a boiling hot bath straight after (whilst drinking wine), because it ends with you on the floor feeling awful.
You tend to get a letter in the post to thank you for your first donation, giving you your donor card (which is paper for the first few donations), and a little keyring that says your blood type (I’m O+!) which is cool to know. The more donations you give, the more little things they send you, I’m holding out for my 100th!
- 100th – Ceremony invitation (whole blood donors), Commemorative medal and Certificate
Only 94 to go!
I really enjoy giving blood. I feel like I’m conquering my fear of needles to help someone else, and embracing that fact that I am privileged to be able to do so.
If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a comment 🙂