University of York Graduate, aspiring to be a journalist with dreams of one day publishing my own novel.
Published work can be seen at www.theyorker.co.uk and www.yorkvision.co.uk
Published December 28th 2012
Go into the red this year by giving blood
Whenever I ask my friends and family if they've ever given blood, the answer is invariably, "no." The reason, of course, is a morbid fear of needles, accompanied by horror stories of previous blood tests. In reality, giving blood is an incredibly easy, fulfilling and pain-free experience, and not nearly enough people in Britain donate – often just due to trivial needle fear. Here's an overview of what to expect from donating blood, and let me assure you, it's nowhere near as scary as you might imagine.
Step 1: Signing Up
First and foremost, I would advise booking an appointment to avoid long queues. You can check availability in your area here. When you go in you'll speak to a receptionist who will register your details so that you can be given your own personal blood donor number. You'll need to fill out a few forms, the most important of which is a health screening checklist. Some of the questions on here are a little personal but you can be assured of absolute confidentiality. Once you've given in all your forms, assuming you satisfy all the criteria, you will be asked to wait for the pre-donation screening. Your donor card will be sent to you in the post which should speed up the process next time you donate.
This is the part I fear the most, which is a testament to how unscary this whole process is. A nurse will ask you a few further questions and confirm your details, before quickly testing your iron levels. This involves a quick finger prick (the scary part!) which, in reality, doesn't hurt in the slightest, and a small drip of blood taken, which is placed into a vial to determine your iron levels. If the blood floats slowly to the bottom then everything is fine; if not, a further sample will need to be taken from your arm. (I've never had this problem before however, so my advice would be to stock up on your spinach before you go!) After drinking a (free!) litre or so of water/squash, which apparently reduces the risk of fainting, you'll be ready to go.
Step 3: Donating
Once the nurse has assured you won't be operating any heavy machinery later that day, after another brief wait, your name will be called. You'll be advised to have your blood taken from the arm you don't write with. After you lie back on the bed, the nurse will attach a few bits and bobs onto your arm to encourage the appearance of veins, before cleaning the donation spot by the bend in your arm. When everything is ready to go (and I would advise looking away if you fear needles), you might feel a 'sharp scratch.' Yes, there is a minor second of discomfort as the needle goes in, but that is as far as it goes. If, like me, your blood is a little reluctant to leave, the nurse might advise you to waggle your fingers a little or cross your legs over a few times – this usually only happens at the beginning however, just to get the ball rolling.
Donating blood is not quite as scary as you might imagine..
My advice here would just be to look away. It's not that unpleasant, just a bit shocking for the first time to see a full tube of very dark blood. If you have a slightly morbid curiosity however, go ahead and look – I even made my nurse take pictures! Blood donation-phobes will be pleased to know that you can't actually feel the blood leaving you, so, in reality, it's just lying on a bed relaxing for a few minutes. The whole process takes about five to ten minutes and you'll lose just under a pint of blood. There is another very minor tickle when the needle is removed, and the nurse will patch you up with a plaster which you are advised to wear for six hours.
Step 4: Free stuff!
Post-donation, and indeed, my favourite part, you are encouraged to have a drink and a snack, which is provided free of charge. After a nice five minute sit down, you will be offered the chance to book your next appointment, a minimum of 16 weeks after this one (though the blood itself is regenerated in 24 hours.) You don't have to commit to anything however – you can give blood whenever you want, providing you pass the health screening tests.
So you see, blood donation really isn't that scary. Almost anybody over the age of 17 can do it, however, I must advise there are a few exceptions, which can be seen on the NHS Blood and Transplant website. Now that you know exactly what to expect (friendly staff and free snacks!) there's really no excuse not to be 'in the red' this year.