I’m a blood donor. Three times a year I pop along to a church hall nearby and offer up one eighth of my red, life-maintaining fluid potentially to be used by complete strangers who quite likely don’t even deserve it. In return I receive nothing but satisfaction in knowing that "the boy done good" and a temporary susceptibility to get drunk really quickly that simply cannot be beat. I also know – because my blood is tested for all the numerous diseases de jour such as the ones you get from eating the cow brains and the ones you get from engaging in the naughty sex and the ones you get from shaking hands with someone who recently went on holiday to the Congo – that my blood is free from nasty bacteria and virii and other such tiny things. My kidney may be the receptacle for an alien probe that tracks my position and listens into my thoughts but my blood is as clean as the proverbial whistle.
The blood service (of whichever country you reside in) needs you! Yes, your blood is very nearly almost as valuable as mine to the blood banks. Without blood the hospitals would have to take every motorcycle rider who thought the rules of the road allowed him or her to undertake on the motorway and ended up getting rightly knocked onto the hard shoulder and wrapped around an emergency phonebox, fold them in two, and trash-compact them rather than restore their blood levels to normal and patch them together again. More importantly, without blood vampires would have to switch to ketchup and there’d be a shortage with understandable riots to follow.
So, what can you expect if you’ve never given blood before and have wondered just what goes on? Well, I can’t guarantee the same process occurs in other countries because they tend to be run by foreigners but here in the land we like to call Eng the procedure for donating blood is as follows:
1. Turn Up
Turning up at the blood donation venue is extremely important, perhaps even the most important part of blood donation after not being a silicon-based lifeform. If the blood donor centre is an old church hall/gymnasium such as the one I attend then you will be instantly assaulted by the smell that decades of sweat inside rubber-based shoewear leaves to haunt buildings. Mustiness prevails and the effect isn’t helped by the high proportion of the elderly who either take over the venue when there’s no blood-letting taking place or are "helping out" in some fashion, pretending to work there so they can steal as many biscuits and cups of tea as they can.
You’ll initially be faced with a table, behind which is one of the nurses no longer able to control her shaking hands well enough to ram a needle into your arm. Present your form with all the relevant tickboxes checked. Common pitfalls to avoid during the tickbox-checking process include:
- don’t tick the box asking if you might be pregnant if you’re a man; unless you’re a seahorse,
- a similar rule applies to any questions about your penis if you’re a woman; unless you’re Ann Coulter,
- blowjobs from tramps in exchange for money for "grragha gahhag ya ghaghafack bastard", though not listed specifically, do count as risky sex because fleas can crawl up the urethra and lay AIDS eggs in your arteries.
You’ll be handed a folder containing some notes about what happens to your blood after a donation and what exotic and tropical diseases they check for and which are fine to pass on to the general public, and you can then go and wait for your name to be called out.
2. Haemoglobin/Iron Test
After an eternity of trying to get comfortable in the plastic chairs stolen from an infant school (tip: bring a book to pass the time because not everyone likes to read five-month old issues of Bella magazine) and trying not to breathe in too deeply of the aroma that "other people" in their "other people clothes" give off when they’re packed into rooms and hallways sweating excessively through the effort of trying not to breathe in of "other people’s aromas" themselves you’ll be called for a quick pre-donation check.
Despite having checked all the little tickboxes on your form and signed to confirm that you knew what you were doing when you did so you’ll be taken through the list again: "have you knowingly been in contact with a small child whose parents are in the middle of an acrimonious divorce and who are trying to murder one another secretly by deploying a gene-targeted plague via coffee in the past six months?", "have you woken up a a groggy state and discovered a new scar on your stomach that may indicate you were drugged and had your appendix covertly removed overnight by a cult of appendix-eaters, any one of whom might also be radioactive because we understand they’re mutants or something in the last six months?", "are you a practising homosexual or have you only recently qualified?", etc. Try to remember what you ticked and what you didn’t and answer accordingly or there will be hell to pay.
Next comes the test to see if you actually have enough haemoglobin and iron in your blood to be a donor (tip: don’t confuse haemoglobin with haemogoblin as the latter is a type of supernatural being). A pipette of blood is drawn from your finger. In order to draw this blood from your finger it is first necessary to be bleeding from it. There are a number of methods usually employed:
- a small device with a sharp needle is flicked down onto your finger causing an intense pain that hurts like buggery; do not mention that it hurts like buggery or you will be questioned again as to how recently you experienced the pain of buggery and this could cause embarrassment,
- you will be handed a sheet to hold that is especially designed to deliver paper cuts; the sheet is doused with lemon juice beforehand so you’ll know for certain when you’re bleeding,
- the nurse will bite you.
Your blood will be dropped into a tube of liquid and you can watch it sink or float as a plaster is applied to your sore digit. Sinking is good and indicates you have enough iron in your blood. Floating is bad and shows that a full donation might leave you with so little iron that you cannot be quelled by the government’s secret magnetic pulse populace-subduing weapons and might be a threat to national security. You will have to go home, eat plenty of spinach, drink red wine, eat red meat, lick car batteries, and think ferrous thoughts until next time.
3. Donate Your Blood
You will be taken to a gurney and made to lay on it. There will be a quick wipe of the gurney before you lay on it but not enough to remove the odour and impression of the large, sweaty man who was on it before you. Never mind. Think of the children or England or whatever it is that stiffens your upper lip. From this prone position one arm will be selected for The Extraction Process. For me this is my right arm because the vein in my left arm is shy and cannot be found. The Extraction Process works by intercepting the blood that normally travels down your veins and diverting it into a plastic bag via a plastic tube. The plastic tube requires access to your vein and this is where the needle comes in.
Before the sharp needle can pierce your skin and plunge into your vein the nurse first needs to actually find your vein. It’s located on the inside of your arm, just above the elbow crease and it’s deep enough to avoid misidentification as a worm by passing crows. In order to more easily spot the vein the nurse will wrap your upper arm in a pressure cuff sphygmomanometer (tip: tell the nurse she has a nice sphygmomanometer) and apply pressure until your arm pulsates and expands in a comedy manner. During this time the nurse will ask distracting questions such as:
- "is the high pressure I’m applying to your arm causing any discomfort?" – the answer is "no" because you don’t want to show any weakness; they thrive on it,
- "were there any problems last time?" – the answer is "yes, you only nicked my vein last time and the blood pooled inside my arm, spreading like a giant purple/black flower causing me intense distress and resulting in much twiddling of the needle which was very uncomfortable and nauseating, thankyou very much" (actually happened to me!) said in a loud voice so as to see if anyone nearby faints,
- "are you allergic to plasters" – the answer is "no" unless you like having needle-wounds closed through the power of glue.
Now that the needle is in your arm it will be taped in place so that it is marginally harder for a nurse to catch the tube on her uniform or shoes and yank it out accidentally; I’ve never seen it happen but as the nurse sits there swinging her legs back and forth, casually looking around and glancing every now and then that the blood really is flowing from you into the bag and that it’s red, the thought does keep popping up. To take your mind off the concern that the needle might be ripped from your flesh opening up a massive tear in your vein at any second and to distract from the odd feeling of a rubber tube taped to your arm pulsing with warm blood I like to count how many bricks there are on the wall. Try not to panic. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
4. After The Draining
You’ll want to rest a little while on your gurney and then partake of some of the free juice, tea, coffee, and biscuits on offer. It’s important not to put any weight or stress on your recently perforated appendage. This means no weight-training, no hand-stands, no hammer-tossing or javelin competitions. It especially means don’t use that arm to push yourself off the gurney because too much pressure precedes a reopening of the wound and that will lead immediately to blood gushing down your arm, staining your clothes, and forming a nice, large pool at your feet (actually happened to me too!)
Some people faint around this time and if you’re one of those lucky few who get a little dizzy after donating blood then you’ll be pleased to know you’re in capable hands and there really is nothing to be ashamed of being laid down in front of everyone with your feet in the air (tip for women: wear trousers) and being talked to like you were five years old.
Finally it’s time to go home. That’s a job well done and you can now celebrate your blood donor experience by cracking open a couple of bottles of Carlsberg Export safe in the knowledge you are about to get more pissed than you’ve been in a long time.