…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
Organ and blood donation featured in a recent topic of mine [link]. I had received a letter through the post about how the organ donation system is changing where I live (it’s basically being made opt out rather than opt in). This made me think about donating blood – something I’d never done before. Actually, just prior to this I’d had a routine check-up at the dentist which involved ‘a bit of a clean’. This made my decision to donate blood because having my teeth scraped and gums stabbed (I think that’s what goes on in my mouth) made me open to a little more torture.
I’ve now donated blood for the first time, which I document below and I’ve divided it up a little into the following topics because it is quite lengthy!
Really, blood donation is promoted as something virtually pain-free and perfectly normal, and routine for many people (you can typically donate 3-4 times a year). I’d seen a video or two online during my sign-up process and I was pretty happy with the simple procedure.
There were some words of advice about giving blood, such as to drink plenty of water during the day leading up to the appointment and not to do any vigorous exercise just before donating or immediately after. “No vigorous exercise” you say? Ahh, well I would be cycling there and back! My mum told me she had felt unwell after giving blood and the advice was given to ensure she drank plenty of water after donating blood, not just leading up to donating – since doing this she has been fine.
For me that five mile cycle there is as routine as, say, eating breakfast – it’s what I’m used to, and I felt that my ride there would be casual rather than vigorous.
When I arrived to give blood I had a brief meeting with the ‘health officer’. I had to tick a million boxes on a form, drink a pint of water, and she asked me a few questions. It was acknowledged that this was my first time giving blood and I was asked why I had made the decision to now donate. I told her briefly about the organ donation thing and how it had made me consider donating blood, and that if I ever need an organ or blood then I can’t just expect these things to be available to me if I don’t donate myself – you have to ‘pay it forward’.
This phrase to ‘pay it forward’ came up recently when an advert popped up on my computer while I was browsing the internet a few weeks ago. It was trying to entice me into some get rich quick scheme. I actually sat through a lengthy video where some guy was harping on about how wonderful the scheme was rather than getting onto the point about how it worked – I suspected from the onset that it was a pyramid scheme, but the guy informed viewers that you wouldn’t be paying anything upfront to the people that had set this thing up, rather you would simply agree, once you’d received your first windfall, to donate X-amount to a charity of your choosing – you would be “paying it forward” (which is essentially how pyramid schemes work”. He seemed to later contradict himself about not paying anything upfront, which was hardly surprising.
I do think that paying things forward in life is important – paying forward trust in people, paying forward respect, paying forward love and affection, paying forward your time in cleaning up your community or helping someone in need, such as helping an old person cross the road. There are so many things in life that we can’t just expect to be available to us if/when we might need them without paying into “the system” ourselves. Even if we think we might never need such assistance – perhaps we might appreciate it in another life!
One point or check that didn’t come up as I was sat with the health office was one of weight – I’m aware that my BMI puts me at being borderline underweight, something I’ve never succeeded in combating, but this has never been an issue because I’m fit and healthy and quite active (cycling hundreds of miles a month) but I wondered if there was a cut-off point when wanting to give blood, but I wasn’t weighed or asked – they just make sure you’ve eaten properly that day.
Actually, now after the event I have looked up online about weight and blood donation and I have found this on the blood.co.uk website:
Most people can give blood. As long as you are fit and healthy, weigh over 7 stone 12 lbs (50kg) and are aged between 17 and 66 (up to 70 if you have given blood before) you should be able to give blood… However, If you are female, aged under 20 years old and weigh under 65kg (10st 3lb) and are under 168cm (5′ 6″) in height, we need to estimate your blood volume before donating. – www.blood.co.uk/giving-blood/who-can-give-blood
There is also an online calculator that gives women of my size an estimate of 3500ml for how much blood is in the body – I’ll just guess that as a guy that figure is relevant enough for my interest here. They would be taking 470ml, which is roughly 1/8th.
Referring back to my earlier post, I’m now more horrified at the point I referred to there about a car accident victim potentially needing up to 100 pints of blood – obviously the human body doesn’t have that much to begin with.
The point of me having cycled there came up (having a bike helmet and gloves in my hands makes it hard to hide your mode of transport) and she discussed that with me, asking me how far I had come, and accepting that it was normal for me. I had my finger pricked for a blood sample to test my iron levels, and as the blood flowed forth from my fingertip she commented about how generous I was! I chuckled I guess perhaps my blood was still pumping well after the non-vigorous ride after all.
A little while later I was motioned towards a bed and told to sit on the edge and I held out my arms for nurse to inspect my veins. “Wow, no problem finding one here!” she said. I chuckled again. I’m not some butch dude with bulging biceps but after a short short cycle, and it being a warm day my veins were nice and prominent – it’s fun seeing them like that!
I lay down all smiley and happy, my head propped up by a slope, while a blood pressure thing (sphygmomanometer) was strapped round my arm, and my arm swabbed with alcohol, and I then looked out of the window while the nurse inserted the needle in my vein. I’m not bothered by needles or things like this being done to me, but I prefer not to look, I suppose in case seeing it being done makes me feel different, or perhaps this goes back to having routine injections during childhood and being told to look away. There was a little prick on my arm and a gentle stinging feeling caused by the alcohol still on my skin (as the nurse informed me), and then I just relaxed while I clenched and relaxed my fist and wiggled my legs and buttocks a little as I had been instructed to do to aid the blood circulation. I had been shown a leaflet about buttock-clenching exercises whilst donating to help with the process – I think everyone there tried to do this as discreetly as possible!
I found it a little mentally challenging to clench and relax my fist because I lacked the effort while I lay there in a calm position, and I was also mindful of the needle in my arm which I didn’t want to jiggle around – I still hadn’t looked directly at it, instead glancing around the room, observing the other people going through similar procedures and glancing out of the window.
As the blood drained from my arm I imagined a silly ‘world-ending’ scenario where some catastrophe had struck and all the nurses and everyone there left and I was there lying on the bed with all my blood slowly draining out of me… what would I do!? I would have to look at that needle in my arm and do what they do in the movies and pull it out! I chuckled to myself, knowing this wasn’t a good thing to think about and went back to counting cars outside. I think by this point I was already feeling faint. I could feel my vision closing in and I was remembering a summer holiday when I was blowing up rubber dingys with a friend because we were going to head down the beach, and the repeated puffs of lung-loads of air, and the lack of oxygen this caused to my brain almost made me black out – I just stopped and took some deep breaths and I was fine after a minute or so. I tried to take some deep breaths on this occasion and wait for this situation to pass. The health officer lady caught a glimpse of me and asked me if I was ok, and I said, cheerfully “Yes fine!”… “Are you sure?” I tried to reassure her that I was fine, [as in I was comfortable with what was happening to me and I didn’t want to make a fuss] but I admitted to feeling “a little light-headed”. Actually, rather than blacking out, the world (my vision) had turned quite white by this point! It was similar to when I drink alcohol – it affects me quite quickly, like if I drink a bottle of beer or a large glass of wine too quick I can feel the intoxication, except I’m very conscious of how I feel and I’m still ‘all there’ and alert in my mind, but my body is drunk for a short while. I’m a bit “pathetic” about this, but I put it down to being so slim and rarely drinking (and never to ‘excess’). I was also undecided if I was feeling hot or cold – these sensations seemed to pass over me in waves.
The nurses began fussing round me, opening the window beside me, and in finishing my donation the needle was removed from my arm – I can only assume I gave the full count of 470ml of blood was given, but maybe, seeing my condition they stopped it sooner. The slope propping me up was moved away and I was able to lie down flat and I felt the cool air on me, especially my forehead which I realised had beads of sweat on (but as I say, it was a warm day). I was told I should have said something rather than waiting to be noticed and asked if I was ok, and in hindsight as the nurse came over to me she may have seen by the sphygmomanometer that my blood pressure had dropped (I assume that’s what happens in these situations). Having never passed out in my life, how am I to know how close I was?
I was given another pint of water to drink and then eventually allowed to sit up when I was given a further pint to consume along with chocolate biscuits and a packet of crisps (potato chips). I was still giggly and jovial, and perhaps (and ashamedly) more so from getting so much attention from the nurses, and an extra biscuit – I feel like a big kid when there are chocolate biscuits to be had!
The issue of me having cycled there came up again, but really I was fine after having laid down for a while, and all the drinks and biscuits had charged me up, but the nurses needed convincing. “I strongly recommend you don’t cycle home. How far is it? Can someone give you a lift?”… “I’ll be fine, er… a few miles [five], no – I’ll be fine [I don’t do lifts!]”. Really, I was given some good advice – the nurse accepting that I was going to cycle home (against her advice) spoke to me in a way I understood: “If you begin to feel faint you need to stop – this isn’t something you will be able to work through – you need to stop before your body makes you [i.e. you end up in a heap on the road], the only way is to lie down on your back at the side of the road and wait.” Had she not told me this and I had felt faint again I would have indeed attempted to battle through it – that’s what I do, just like cycling up a tough hill – I tackle it to the top and then use the decent to recover before the next hill – I’ve never managed to over-exert myself to the point of collapse.
I was handed a leaflet about ‘feeling faint’ (which the nurse wrote in the comments box “Advised not to rise his bike today.” and my appointment card for next time (when I’m expected to catch the bus rather than cycle there again!)
After staying behind longer than everyone else seemed to I was allowed to leave and my cycle home was fine – I really was better by that point, not 100%, but I hadn’t expected to be. One thing I was careful of (besides taking it easy) was not over-exerting my left arm that the needle had been inserted into – the advice in the literature is to avoid heavy lifting afterwards because this can cause bruising, and cycling up hills in particular does require use of the arms. But it was fine, I kept that arm pretty relaxed.
I ate and drank well later that day, perhaps just crawling into bed that evening a little more promptly. I cycled some 30 miles the next day which was fine – not 100%, but just feeling like it was one of those days when I’d not quite had enough sleep the night before. I’ve been drinking plenty of water as usual and my arm is bruise-free.