Why give blood?

I started giving blood just over a year ago. I’ve since gone back for regular appointments, and in December I made my fourth donation (women can donate every four months, men every three).

I was prompted to start giving blood when my mum was going through chemotherapy for oesophageal cancer. She caught what may have been a very bad cold, or may have been flu – either way, her chemo-ravaged immune system couldn’t cope with it and she became very ill, very quickly. She went into hospital and was given a blood transfusion. Without the blood, she would almost certainly have died.

As it was, she died about four months later – it was an aggressive cancer, we knew there was nothing that could save her at that point. But the generosity of unknown people who had turned up to blood donation centres, sat for 10 minutes with a needle in their arm and given a small amount of blood, saved her life that day and gave our family a few precious extra months with her. I can’t express just what that meant to us. I became a blood donor so I could pay that forward, and potentially protect other families from the pain of losing someone they love.

I was prompted to write this blog post today because the @givebloodNHS Twitter account started a hashtag called #bloodreasons, asking for people’s reasons for starting to donate blood. I would urge everyone to click through and have a read, just for the sheer number of different stories and scenarios that led people to become donors.

The thing that struck me is just how many people have a family member or loved one who has been saved by a blood transfusion. Giving blood is something that almost anyone can do, and it has such a huge, life-saving impact. I spoke to my twin about this recently: she’s a nurse in an Accident and Emergency department, and she was emphatic about how often donated blood is used to save lives. In her words, they get through “buckets of the stuff” on a standard shift! It’s such an everyday thing that I think we almost take it for granted – but it wouldn’t be possible at all without blood donors.

My main reason for writing this post is to give a bit of a nudge to anyone out there who’s thought vaguely about donating blood but just hasn’t got around to it yet, or anyone who wants to but is nervous about it. For the former camp, it’s simple: just visit the NHS blood donation website, type in your postcode to find a session near you, and book an appointment online (or, find a walk-in centre where you don’t need an appointment). Done!

If you’re nervous about it, I sympathise. I left it more than a year between my deciding to become a blood donor and actually doing it, just because I was very scared of needles! For those who want to donate but are nervous about it, I thought it might be helpful to write a bit here about my experiences of donating blood, to hopefully provide a bit of reassurance.

First things first: does it hurt? Well, obviously – I could write something here like “oh no, you’ll never feel a thing! In fact, it’s just like being nuzzled by kittens!” but that would be a lie and you’d all know it. We’re talking about sticking a needle into your skin, of course it’s going to hurt a bit. However, it really doesn’t hurt very much – nothing at all like I was expecting. Before you give blood they prick your finger with a pin and squeeze out a drop of blood to test your iron levels. That stings for a second – it feels a bit like if you catch yourself on an unexpected sticky-out staple in a pile of printouts – but that’s it. It stings for a bit longer when they actually put the needle in your arm to draw your blood, but once the needle is in it doesn’t really hurt any more. I can usually feel the needle there while the blood is being taken, and sometimes it’s a bit uncomfortable, but it doesn’t really hurt as such. I’m told that I can probably feel it more than others would because I’ve got skinny arms and narrow veins – so if you’ve got thicker arms you probably wouldn’t feel much at all.

Afterwards, my arm usually aches a bit, but that’s always stopped by the following morning (and is a convenient excuse not to have to carry shopping, do the washing up, or any other housework-type stuff that requires the use of both arms! Hehehe 🙂 ). Probably the most painful bit of the whole process is removing the plaster afterwards – they use these hardcore medical plasters that must contain some industrial adhesive. I do feel sorry for men who donate blood – removing that plaster is hard enough if you don’t have hairy arms! I recommend having a good soak in the shower or bath before attempting plaster removal – that moves it from “OH MY GOD IT’S TEARING OFF MY SKIN” to “Hmm, that was slightly unpleasant”!

So, that’s it in terms of pain. Pretty minimal really, and much, much less than I had ever expected! Whatever minimal pain/discomfort there is, it is more than outweighed by the good feeling you get from giving blood. I was actually taken a bit aback my this the first time I donated, but I did feel really, genuinely good about myself for quite some time afterwards. It puts me in a really good mood for days. I think it’s the knowledge that you have done a completely, unambiguously good thing. Also, all the medical staff at donation centres are completely lovely – particularly if you tell them you’re nervous! – so I don’t think you could leave in a bad mood. Plus, they give you free tea and biscuits after you’ve donated. Wins all round!

I know lots of people who can’t donate for various reasons, so it feels even more important that those of us who can, do. If you can give blood (check here if you’re not sure if you can or not) but you don’t currently do so, please consider registering as a donor. Giving blood is one of the simplest, easiest ways to save a life. The blood you donate could mean the world to another person or family.

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1 Comment

  1. devriendj

     /  January 26, 2014

    My first experience donating blood wasn’t unlike your description. I got a little dizzy, but there were cookies afterwards. It didn’t really hurt, and while I bruise easily with needles, my friend that did it with me didn’t bruise at all. I hope your entry about your experience helps someone else get over their nervousness so they will donate too!


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