I bled for England yesterday. I made a blood donation, something I’ve been doing now for four years. It all started when I was diagnosed with Haemochromatosis, an inherited condition where iron levels in the body slowly build up over many years. If left untreated it can damage your liver, kidney, joints, pancreas and heart but gladly for me it was caught in time.
The treatment for it is phlebotomy, getting blood withdrawn until the iron levels reduce which thankfully they did very quickly. My iron levels have stabilised now so I don’t have to do it any more but having got into the habit of giving blood I thought I’d carry on doing it for the public good.
I quite enjoy it now, to be honest, and I’m bloody good at it! This was my 11th donation – you get a badge and a certificate when you get to 10 – so I know the drill. I can walk to my local blood donation centre which is good for the step count and always have my completed form ready with ‘no’ ticked to all the incredibly intrusive – but I’m sure necessary – questions. No I haven’t been paid for sex or drugs in the last two months. When you’re my age that gets increasingly unlikely.
I then get somewhat dismissively told to sit down, drink water and read the same pamphlet they tell me to read each time which I never do. We also had to use a hand gel yesterday what with coronavirus. The NHS staff try to be thankful and friendly – because you’re doing something amazing – but culturally you can tell they find this difficult!
After a short wait you get called over to get your iron levels checked where they use a little staple thing – that actually hurts slightly – and squeeze out enough blood to syringe into a test-tube with a solution. It’s always good to watch the blood sink slowly to the bottom which means you’re healthy and good to go.
Soon you get taken over to the couch, tipped back, asked the same questions again, arm gets cleaned with a special brush and they now time how long they do it for. Then they tighten some belt-thing round your upper arm, get you to make a fist and stab you gently and virtually painlessly with the needle and the blood flow begins.
Quickly they use a syringe to take the initial blood from a separate pouch at the top of the plastic donation bag – presumably for testing – before leaving you to it. They don’t tell you that the machine cuts off automatically when the bag’s full so the first time I worried that I’d just sit there and they’d let all my blood drain out.
It takes about eight minutes for me to donate my pint and those few minutes feel strangely relaxing as you do nothing at all other than practice the various exercises to keep the blood flowing like clenching your buttocks and raising your legs.
The blood machine bleeps when the bag’s full, the needle’s removed and then the donation paraphernalia is packed away. They check I’m ok – not feeling faint and often comment on how quickly my blood clots which is a good thing apparently – and then it’s over to the recovery area where you sit with other worthy feeling people and eat Club biscuits and drink tea.
Happily I have no side effects so I’m off walking home within about 10 minutes to continue my day. A few weeks later I’ll get a text saying where my blood went. It’s more travelled than me lately – having been to Sussex, Bournemouth, Wolverhampton, Southampton and Grimsby. The text reminds me to book again and I feel good that I’m helping others.