When thinking about what challenge I was going to set myself for Britain’s Personal Best I made a decision to choose something that would be a real personal challenge, to do something that I was afraid of. There are quite a number of things that scare me, to be honest, but the two main ones are horses and needles. For Britain’s Personal Best I chose to tackle horses, and I absolutely loved the feeling of overcoming my fear and riding a horse on my own around the School at Calder Road Farm Stables (read the blog post).
That left needles. As a result of the way having a vaccination or blood test makes me feel, I have never been to give blood. This goes way back. I get anxious just thinking about the needle poking my skin, and feel quite sick when it happens. Most significantly, I remember sitting in a room in A&E a few years ago being tested for blood poisoning; the doctor had taken a blood test and was putting a stopper in so he could swap tubes and fill me with antibiotics to start the healing process immediately. I was already feeling very sick and shakey due to being ill, but I suddenly felt my whole body drop heavily to the floor – I had feinted as a result of me turning to look at the needle just as the doctor failed to get the stopper in quite right causing blood to pour. Do you remember this mum?! When I came round I was lying on a bed and the nurse was telling the doctor off for getting it wrong. Just a few seconds out of it and absolutely no harm done physically, but mentally it had qualified my fear of needles and I would do my best from then on to avoid them.
But I know that blood donations are absolutely critical. I personally know several people – loads even – who have needed to make use of people’s blood donations when going through cancer treatment, following an accident, or for various other reasons. A friend recently “lobbied” everyone she knew to give blood while her daughter underwent treatment in hospital, and several people have encouraged me to man-up and get on with it, all of them assuring me that it’s fine. I actually registered as a blood donor a few years ago, when I also added “give blood” to my bucket list, but never actually booked that all important appointment.
Last night was the night. I’ve had the appointment booked for about six weeks and made the conscious decision not to publicise it apart from to a few friends, because I was genuinely worried that I might not be able to go through with it. I was quite anxious about it and all sorts of scenarios played through my mind, including many that ended much like that A&E experience years ago. I was pleased that LincsGeek took me (moral support and as my chauffer); he stayed in the waiting area reading his Kindle while I went in, but it was nice to have him there just in case I needed him! After the health screening (apparently I have excellent iron levels) I sat and waited for my turn – my pulse was racing and I watched intently as the nurses went about their business looking after all the people donating.
“My” nurse, who was absolutely lovely, explained everything that would happen before she even touched my arm, and talked me through it again while she was doing her thing. I had a red card next to me because I was a first time donor, which signalled to everyone in the room to keep an eye on me! After taking my blood pressure and choosing a vein (there were three to choose from apparently!) she suggested I looked the other way and I felt a sharp scratch as the needle was inserted. I looked everywhere but my left arm as she got everything sorted. Another nurse came to speak to me about some exercises I should be doing whilst donating – basically I had to be a fidget bum for ten minutes which, let’s face it, was easy for me! I was the middle chair of three in a row and noticed the man on the left completed his donation in about four minutes, which was super speedy, but the lady on the right was taking ages and a nurse even commented to her that her blood was flowing slowly. I was pleased mine was done in an average time; it meant my blood pressure stayed pretty level.
And it was fine. I even looked. Only for a few seconds; but I saw the needle in my arm and the tube with my blood in it heading down from my body to the bag. I stayed completely conscious, didn’t feel feint or sick, and it was all over in less than 10 minutes. Easy peasy! I said to the nurse as she applied the dressing that I’d got no idea why I’d not been before now, although in reality I knew exactly why it had taken me so long to do it. I was pleased I had finally plucked up the courage.
So what actually happens when you give blood?
- When you arrive and register you are given some information to read and told to sit and have a drink of water. Apparently drinking water straight before you give blood helps make things more comfortable for you.
- You have a short interview with a nurse who goes through the health questionnaire you were sent in advance. Some of the questions are quite personal but it’s important that they know anything that might affect you or the recipient of your blood. One of the questions is whether you’ve had any operations or investigations; I said “not since childhood” but they still needed the details. During that interview the nurse takes a small sample of your blood (from a finger prick) to test your iron levels. If you “pass” the health screening then you’re in!
- You wait for a short while for your turn. Even with a timed appointment it depends how long other people’s donations take as to when your session will actually begin.
- The actual giving of blood, the important bit, takes place on a strange looking chair that rolls back so you’re very reclined but still in a seated position – legs bent, knees raised (an excellent position if you feel feint). You choose if you want the donation taking from your left or right arm, and then the nurse gets on with taking your blood pressure and cleaning the area on your arm where the needle will go (a strong smell of alcohol fills your nostrils at this point!). The needle is put in your arm and attached with tape so it can’t move, and then you are left alone while your vein does the work. While giving blood you are asked to keep squeezing your hand and releasing it to help with the donation, and are given some leg and bum exercises to help regulate your blood pressure. It takes around 10 minutes for the 470ml bag to fill up.
- Once a nurse has detached everything and dressed the small wound you are slowly sat up in stages and taken to the refreshments area. First time donors are only allowed cold drinks, apparently they work faster than hot drinks, and of course you get biscuits too. You can sit there for as long as you need to feel well enough to head home.
24 hours after doing the deed I feel fine but my arm hurts a bit. I took all the advice re no heavy lifting and drinking plenty, but I am bruised which means it is a bit painful to bend my arm fully or grip things tightly. It also turns out I’m still allergic to plasters… it’s been a long time since I had a reaction to one and I’ve used off the shelf plasters with no problems for 10 years or so, but I have a lovely and quite sore rash where the sticky was. It’s only localised so it’ll go in a day or two I’m sure – my own fault as I was asked if I was ok with plasters; I shall ask for a dressing next time!
Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me to give blood. I’m pleased I did it. You’ll be pleased to know I’m already booked in for the next time the Give Blood team come to my local village hall. How’s that for a turnaround?! If you’ve never given blood, or you haven’t done it for a while, then I urge you to get yourself booked in. It’s fine, really, and that’s coming from someone who before yesterday was horrified at the idea.