Giving blood sounds like a good idea. There’s a great shortage apparently and it helps people in need. At the very least, it’s a very easy way of doing a good deed. Easy, that is, if you don’t mind having a needle jabbed in your arm and a pint of blood siphoned off.
A very long time ago I tried to donate blood, but was turned down as I’d recently had Hepatitis A . I don’t think I’m particularly worried about needles, so when the lovely Autumn donated last year I thought I’d follow suit.
Even if you’re not phased by needles, it’s not that easy to give blood. In late November last year I was turned away as I’d been in India less than six months previously – being just four days within the donation exclusion zone. The snow and treacherously icy pavements in January meant another appointment fell through when the donation centre closed early.
At last I was allocated a slot about two weeks ago. I turned up to a church hall on a Thursday morning at 9.30 in the morning ready to go. A nurse handed me a questionnaire on my medical past – this time my blood was judged safe. She then sent me to wait and drink water; I had about 1/3 of a pint while, feeling calm, flicking through a copy of National Geographic.
Another nurse took me behind a blue screen to question me on my questionnaire. The tip of my finger was pricked for a drop of blood that was dripped into a tube of blue liquid to make sure it contained enough iron. Then it was time to lie down on the blue plastic stretcher.
I’m right handed, so the nurse stuck the needle in my left arm. A momentary jab of pain – like any normal injection – ‘I can handle it’, I thought. So, I lay there trying to multi-task: opening and closing my left hand, whilst clenching my buttocks and also trying to flex my quads. This is a bit like batting your head while circling your stomach with your other hand, but it’s meant to prevent faintness afterwards.
Then my phone started ringing in my pocket. Another task to add to all the flexing seemedÂ manageable, so I answered it. Soon I was talking to a friend in Australia. Then the nurse said she was finished and I tried to wind up the call.
As the needle was pulled out, a jolt of pain hit my arm as if it been twisted to one side. I put the phone away and ouch, yes, it hurt. Patients are told to sit up for a few moments firstÂ and then swing their legs off the bed. When my feet dangled off the bed, the nurse and I both stared at the arm in silence for a split second. A purple dome of blood the size of a quail’s egg stood out of the pale skin. A nervous look appeared to shoot across her face and she called over a more senior nurse.
I was read the ‘ blood donor bruising riot act’: “X% to XX% of all donors experience bruising, this can be caused by blah, blah, blah” . The trouble was, by this stage nothing really mattered: I was starting to feel woozy. “Sorry, I think I’m feeling rather faint”, I squeaked. More nurses descended on the bed and I was told to lie back down.
With a block of foam whipped under my feet and a cold, wet flannel flapped on my forehead, it seemed an ideal time to tell my anecdote of the other time I almost fainted – when I almost cut two finger tips off on my first and last trip ice skating. A tight bandage was wound around my arm.
After a few minutes the feeling passed, so I got up and went to get an orange squash and club biscuit before fleeing to work.
Waking up on Friday morning, a bruise had spread across my arm from a couple of inches below my armpit all the way to my watch strap. The crook of my arm, where the needle had gone in, was sore, but not too painful.
The experience made a good talking point and later in the morning I got a call from a friend who happens to donate regularly. She reckoned the faintness might have been because I hadn’t drunk enough water. The 45 minute run before my donation appointment would have made me more dehydrated too.
On Sunday, I was still thrilled to show off my rainbow trout of a limb, but I noticed it ached when I swung my two and half year old niece above my head.
That night it started: A fierce pain in my bicep woke me up and there seemed to be no position where the arm was comfortable. Finally, sleeping with the thing stuck straight out of the bed at right angles seemed to work.
Jolts of pain whenever my bike hit a pot hole on Monday meant that riding the bike became impossible. After another sleepless night on Tuesday, I called the Blood Donor hot-line the next morning only to be reassured that it would get better. My moaning woke Autumn on Wednesday night and I had to press a bag of frozen peas on the bicep to relieve the pain.
Thursday, on my second call to the hotline a sympathetic nurse recommended booking a visit to the doctor, although she stressed this was mostly for my peace of mind.
Bleary eyed from five days of broken sleep I dragged myself to the doctor on Friday morning. Although the arm was constantly aching, showing off the stupendous bruise was still some compensation. “I’ve never seen a bruise that big”, the doctor told me, although that may simply have indicated how young she was.
As it happened, there was a noticeable lessening of the pain that morning. The doc said that as I didn’t have pins and needles in my fingers and the bruise hadn’t gone red, it was unlikely that it was infected so, once more, I must wait.
Friday night I had my first good night’s sleep. The pain started tapering off quickly after that and the bruise faded too.
Now I’m ready to go again. Not right now of course, because you have to wait for four months in between donations, but I think I would do it. With huge wide veins, which are supposed to be ideal for giving blood, I think I was exceptionally unlucky. Perhaps my runs in training for the Brighton Marathon didn’t really help matters. Part of the problem was that I almost fainted when being told about what to expect from bruising, so couldn’t remember what was said.
One night when lying there trying to sleep with the arm propped up on a pillow I thought about the pain. Although I couldn’t describe it as ‘agony’ or ‘excruciating’, the best term seemed to be ‘considerable pain’. Not too bad I suppose, but a bit worrying if you haven’t been expecting it. Perhaps they should put that in the bruises information “You may experience considerable pain, but if it becomes agony give us a call.” Anyway, next timeÂ I’ll be very careful to ask for an experienced nurse to extract the needle.