– by Sarah Cole
Trigger warning: blood, needles.
I like to think I’m a citizen of good intentions. I hold doors open for others. I volunteer for tree planting. I can resuscitate a person. I make really good coffee. But none of these require much bravery; when it came down to it, I was a fluffy (at best) humanitarian. So when two close friends of mine invited me along to their blood donation appointment with Red Cross, I saw it as an opportunity to go an extra mile.
Blood donation is something I’ve always felt I ought to do, but until now I couldn’t help feeling squeamish and putting it off. The persuading and the reassurances had finally got me. Time to suck it up.
In a couple of ways, donating is quite hard. We had to make an appointment months ahead of time because so many people were volunteering, which surprised me: the ads calling for donors seem so urgent. It was also a tad awkward that the closest donor centre to us was forty-five minutes’ drive away. Perhaps it’s not a need for donors but a want for centres to take them all?
I’m nervous in the day leading up to it. You’ve got to feel as robust as possible, so I guzzle three and a half litres of water and eat constantly for hours beforehand. I’ve had to skip the gym this morning, too. When it’s time to go, I feel very lazy and content.
As it’s my first time, the jovial receptionist hands me a ton of forms to fill in. No aspect of my medical history can be left out, right down to a Nurofen tablet I took forty-eight hours ago. A doctor checks my blood pressure, and also my iron and haemoglobin levels with a finger-prick blood test. Oops, low on iron. I’m still approved to donate that day but he tells me to come back after six months instead of the usual three.
I’m seated in a luxuriously comfy chair in a room full of bleeping machines and busy nurses. A spritely girl with electric blue hair, piercings, and tattoos gets to work on me right away, soothing me with chatter as she disinfects my inner elbow and praises my “beautiful” veins. When she pops the needle in it’s a shock, but the pain fades fast. It hurts much more getting my arm squeezed by the blood pressure machine.
Intrigued, I peer at the little screen that’s monitoring my progress. It rocks the filling bag gently and tells me there are only a couple more minutes to go. I squeeze a stress ball shaped like a red droplet (nice touch, Red Cross) to keep my circulation up. It’s not nearly as uncomfortable as I had imagined. Around me, people are talking and laughing at ease – many are regular donors, it seems, whom the phlebotomists know by name.
It’s over before I know it. They whip my chair back into a deep recline and give me a juice box to slurp on. My neon-haired nurse squeezes my arm in the heart monitor vice again – ouch, yep, definitely worse than the needle – and then I’m unplugged, patched up, and ready to go. I join my friends for a compulsory fifteen minutes of sitting down and eating free Kit Kats, muffins, and cheese on crackers. The receptionist is ecstatic when we ask to book our next donation.
I’ll be receiving my donor card in the post in a few weeks. (It’s the keychain I’m really looking forward to, though.) Perhaps it’s macabre to say so, but I had fun. It was an excuse to laze about and eat absurd amounts of food with mates. The centre took great care of us and had such friendly people; the whole experience emanated goodwill.
Giving blood is a truly worthwhile thing and I’m so glad I donated; I’ve been in a good mood for days. I’m proud that I managed to get past my doubts and do it! It scares everyone a little at first, I’m sure – giving away something vital to your body – but they don’t take enough for you to miss it, and you know for certain it saves the lives of so many others.
…Oof, and there go my warm-fuzzies again.
Inspired to donate? Visit the Red Cross Blood Service website or call 13 14 95 to check your eligibility and make an appointment.
Image credit: Red Cross Blood Service