Giving blood for the first time


Today the National Blood Service (NBS) were in Tunbridge Wells to accept blood donations.

I mentioned to my friends Andrew & Tim who are regular donors that I was interested in giving blood a while ago. It was decided that I would tag along to the next session.

After a nice full English breakfast (you are advised to eat & drink before giving blood) Andrew & I made our way to the donation session which was being held in the Camden Centre where we hold our juggling meetings.

I was a 'first-timer' so I had to fill in a form saying that I had no infectious diseases, had not taken any drugs, had not visited any malarious countries etc. (from the questionnaire it seems that gay men are not allowed to give blood which I think is a little unfair). After filling in the form I handed it in to the front desk where my details were entered onto a computer & I had to confirm my date of birth, address, phone number & so on. This only took a couple of minutes after which I was given a small folder which contained half a dozen pages of information detailing the whole process of giving blood. It was very straight forward & informative but reading it did make me a little nervous.

Within five minutes my name was called out & I was taken away to be tested for anaemia (lack of iron in the blood) amongst other things. The nurse then went over my answers to the form that I filled out earlier to double check everything. This was also my chance to ask any questions or raise any concerns that I may have had but everything was fine for me.

I was deemed fit to donate & was asked to take a seat again to wait for a spare bed. Things were already pretty busy especially for just gone 10am on a Sunday morning. Good for you people of Tunbridge Wells. While waiting I took a look around me, most of the donors were of middle age. Andrew & I (at 23 & 24 years old respectively) were probably the youngest there. Not many people think about giving blood, I'm guessing that many of the donors have had some experience where they or someone they know has needed to receive blood for some reason. Statistically speaking younger people will have not been around long enough to gain that experience. I'm not sure why but I can't help thinking that the blood of a young person will be healthier than that of an older person. Certainly many young people are in better shape to give blood.

After another short wait my name was called again & another nurse took me to a bed. I took off my jacket & jumper & lay down on the bed which was really nice & comfy! The nurse's name was Karen & she was really friendly & chatty - as were all the staff. She put an inflatable padded strap around the bicep of my left arm which when pumped up squeezed the arm to make the vein in the lower arm more visible. Karen complimented me on my veins! A more senior nurse came over to actually insert the needle, the whole process was explained in detail - what they were doing, what it would feel like, they reassured me that they would be watching me the whole time & that I could say stop at any point.

They cleaned my arm with an antiseptic wipe which made it feel cold & a little numb. Then the needle was placed into my vein, there was the briefest of pricks then a sensation of warmth then nothing. Once the needle was in I couldn't actually feel any difference in my arm. To help the blood flow I was asked to rhythmically clench & relax my hand. I was regularly asked how I was feeling & told that things were going well. After a couple of minutes my arm started to itch but it was not a problem.

After somewhere between 5 & 10 minutes I had finished filling my bag (about 475ml is taken, which is just under a pint). The needle is removed (again a small sensation which I can only describe as an 'anti-prick') the pin hole is then cleaned again & I was asked to firmly hold a small pad on the area for about a minute while the bleeding stopped. After that the nurse applied a plaster & explained that I might feel a little faint & that as a precaution they keep you lying down for 10 minutes. I felt perfectly normal but had gotten up pretty early for a Sunday & the bed was comfortable.

After a couple of minutes I was bored so I started being nosey. Looking up past my feet I could see Andrew lying on another bed, his fist clenching & unclenching. There were 8 beds in total & I counted 16 members of staff monitoring the donors from the moment they entered the hall to the time they left. There was lots of laughing & joking & everything ran very smoothly. The funny thing was aside from the pin prick of blood taken at the first meeting with a nurse to test for anaemia you don't see any blood at all, either free flowing, running through a tube or stored in a bag. Nor did I see any needles. The whole process is very quick & efficient. The procedure has been well designed & the staff are well trained to not give donors any reason to worry. If anything I felt a lot of the attention was unnecessary.

After my 10 minutes of mandatory rest had passed I was told not to do any heavy lifting or strenuous exercise that may cause the vein to start bleeding again. I was told to keep the plaster on for at least 6 hours, if I felt faint I was to lie down again & rest, if my arm started bleeding I was to apply pressure to the 'donation point' (they are very careful to not call it a wound!) until the bleeding stops just like any normal cut.

I got up & wandered over to the refreshment area, I was poured a drink & could help myself to a large variety of biscuits, crisps & other snacks. It is common to feel thirsty after donating blood so plenty of drink is on hand. Cold drinks are better for you than hot drinks. I think the refreshment area was also there so that the nurses could keep an eye on you for a bit longer as yet another precaution. When Andrew had finished his donation & joined me he told me that he once unicycled both to & from the donation centre & felt fine!

I still can't get over how painless the whole process was, everything went so smoothly. The worst thing about it was that it made my arm itch for a while.

Giving blood is very important. People live or die depending on your country's blood supplies. I hope that this post will go some way to encouraging more people to give blood. It doesn't hurt, it makes a real difference to people's lives & it will make you feel good about yourself to!

For more information about giving blood in the UK visit: