Why don’t you start the year by saving lives regularly? Not just those of others but perhaps even your own.
January is the most popular month for donations but continuing to give blood is important.
Not only does blood improve the health of the patient, it also helps the donor – a study from Finland indicated that those aged 43 to 61 had an 88% reduced risk of heart attacks donating six months than those who didn’t. What’s more, it burns hundreds of calories.
As I previously struggled with a needle phobia I was quite anxious about my appointment. I usually saw stars and had clammy hands, so I wasn’t going alone. This is one of the biggest barriers to donation – with 58% of recipients saying this was a factor in my questionnaire.
My friend, who donates for the Interval Study every eight weeks, told me he was going and said I was welcome to join him. I’d had a few in the pub and said alright then, I’d give it a go.
In 2012 Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, talked of the need to “reduce blood use in hospitals” so that blood demand could be met in the future. We are an essential part in ensuring that people receive the life-saving treatment they need.
The Interval Study is research being carried out to see whether people can donate sooner than is currently allowed in England. In Europe people can already donate at 8 weeks. I was previously working on the phone line booking people in for these appointments. Currently 7,500 more donors are needed to participate. Here women can donate every 12 weeks if you are male and every 16 weeks if you are female. This is because women do not have the same levels of stored iron as men. From experience working on the Interval Study booking line I found that the majority of donors were retired and research shows there has been a drop in young people donating. I think this is due to time – we lead increasingly busy lives and I am surprised that our city’s main blood centre is not open on weekends or very late in the evenings. I think the other main factor to donating is also convenience and with the number of blood vans vastly diminished many people don’t have the opportunity or time to make a special trip.
Only 5% of eligible England donate, although almost all of my friends do. British hospitals use an average of 7,000 units of blood a day. I asked everyone I knew and the only reason people didn’t were for medical reasons, except one gay friend – I noticed on the questionnaire that same sex intercourse in a period of less than 12 months was one of the “red” yes questions where they would enquire further. He told me he doesn’t mind at all as he is also quite squeamish. In the U.S donation is banned entirely for homosexuals but there is much protest and perhaps this will change in the near future, especially as researchers have pointed out that this standing is scientifically unsound.
When I called I was surprised to find that there weren’t any appointments available for a month. There had clearly been a surge in goodwill over the festive period. But I may be able to get an appointment on the day. So I rang up, expecting it to be full. I was told to book online.
This was quick and easy. I called again, half hoping it would be full now, so I’d have a valid excuse. No there was one slot free, just at the time my friend was going. Must be fate.
I grudgingly booked. Maybe something else would disqualify me. I couldn’t believe I was going through with it. I saw people lying serenely on the donor chairs but I still wanted to run a mile. Every inch of me wanted to escape but I wasn’t going to let fear win. I just wouldn’t look at the needle, it would be fine, I told myself.
I was assigned a motherly lady in a navy uniform. She was one as well, complaining about her daughter calling throughout her assessment.
Did I have this? Did I have that? Where had I been in Turkey and when and for how long? Not many questions really, she just checked the main ones and asked for a little more detail in some areas. The interview was in a closed room with a window to the donor area. I didn’t really want to see what was going to happen to me next. But maybe that helped me to face it better. She had two small bottles filled with florescent blue and green liquid. She pricked my finger with a needle, but I didn’t see the needle as it was hidden in white plastic tubing. I explained that I was trying to confront a phobia of them so she explained everything she was doing with a smile and a calming manner. She said that if my haemoglobin was at an acceptable level, my blood from the pin prick would sink. I willed it not too. It did, leaving a little red vapour trail through the green liquid.
I had assumed local anaesthetic was given as standard and asked about that.
“Oh no”, she said,
“we only give a local if you ask for it. Would you like to request a local? It’s not problem”
I’d passed the 10 minute chat now. I didn’t want to be the only one not tough enough to do it without anaesthetic. The boys would almost certainly not ask for that. I asked her how much it would hurt “well it depends how sensitive you are” she said. That didn’t really help. I panicked but then I saw my friend Tom in one of the chairs. It was too late to run out. I’d lose face with my boyfriend too, who had come for moral support. There were no appointments but they managed to squeeze him in too.
I deep breathed to prepare myself for the worst and the lady laughed. “Try to remember to do the exercises” she said and handed me a card detailing slowly clenching and unclenching the buttocks and crossing and uncrossing my legs as good ways of ensuring you didn’t faint at the end of the donation.
“It’s not that bad” she said. I wondered how much they’d take and how I’d feel afterwards. Had I drunk enough water? Would I remember to do the exercises? Maybe I should have eaten healthier, maybe my blood wasn’t healthy enough? Would it hurt all the way through? Would I feel the blood being sucked out of my veins by the vampire machine?
My friend had already finished. Well at least it wouldn’t take long.
I got quite comfy in the ergonomic chair and the lady adjusted it until I was lying back comfortably. I looked away as she rubbed my arm briskly and I tensed as I felt a sharp prick and small stab of pain in my arm for a matter of seconds and that was it. I couldn’t feel the blood leaving my body. When I looked back down there was a bit of blue plastic tubing around the needle edge so all I could see was a little bit of the metal going in before a long bit of tubing. There was just the one needle. All the same, I have Raynauds so my hands went cold with the anxiety. I told a kind technician and she held my hand in her warm ones. That made the experience more relaxing.
I was still feeling a little on edge and was grimacing at my friend taking pictures until I saw my boyfriend appear on the chair opposite. Seeing him more nervous than me (and it was his ninth time) made me relax and was quite amusing. He drew breath sharply when it went in and then twitched about, smiling but looking a bit frenetic. Looking at me didn’t seem to calm him down either. He explained later that he was just trying to keep his blood pressure up.
I followed the tubing down to the blood bag. It was underneath a little table. I was fascinated by watching the blood run into the bag. It was so dark, and looked quite thick as it ran slowly and steadily into it. The contraption holding the bag was interesting – it was moving it about up, swinging slightly from left to right, so it looked like it was moving with the blood going into it. There were one or two technicians around and I asked them why it was moving. It was apparently a bag that weighed the donation and cut off when the bag had the required mass. I crossed and uncrossed my legs once and did the buttock exercise once. After about 15 minutes the machine beeped we were done. My boyfriend was done just before me – apparently guys give blood faster due to their physical structure.
After it they put a plaster on and then a small cotton wad for pressure and some medical tape. Two days later my boyfriend went for a 10k run (they recommend rest for 48 hours) and said although he went a little slower it was fine. They brought me upright gradually and asked me how I was. I felt a bit light-headed so I told them. They immediately put the chair back so I was lying with my feet in the air. I was kept like this for about five minutes until they lowered me and asked me if I was OK repeatedly until I was allowed to sit at the treat table (all the biscuits, chocolate and orange juice you want).
I was so triumphant I said “I wanna do platelet donation!“. There is even greater need for platelet donors as these only have a shelf life of seven days and like blood donors, there are not enough. In 2012 they made up a mere 0.03% of the English population. But the technician looked at my veins and said sympathetically “no…I think you should stick to whole donations love”.
I didn’t suffer any bruising as I avoided using my donor arm for a day or so and kept the pressure wad on for a full day. All I could see was a milimetre red dot. I had joined the 12% of donors who were doing it for the first time.
I don’t intend to stop going, although sadly statistics indicate that of those who have donated, 72% haven’t done so for two years or more. Today I went in to find out what blood type I was. You can find out after two days and it appears online. I wanted to find out my haemoglobin level was as well, but apparently they don’t take statistics for that. I had to present photo ID and then I was told I was O positive. This was a bit of a disappointment to me as O positive is the most common blood type (37% of us are this) and I could see from the National Blood Service website stats that their stocks of that were plentiful. It was the rare types they really needed, AB and suchlike. They told me O negative was really useful, as anyone (except someone who is O positive) can receive O negative blood. But the plus side of being O positive is that anyone who is O positive or even just “Rhesus positive” can receive my blood, and that’s a massive 83% of people. I got a little key-ring with it on which will surely help if I have an accident.
Of course, some people will not be eligible to give blood but if you can I think you should. Around 1 in 3 of us will need it in our lifetime. As my medic student sister said “we all expect to receive blood if we needed it, and I think if we expect it we should give it as well.”