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Blood

I gave blood for the first time yesterday.

I’ve been meaning to do it for years, much like most people, I suspect. Everyone knows that giving blood is an obviously good and important thing. Aside from a very small pocket of religious extremists, how can you possibly not champion something like this?

But I still went years without ever getting round to it myself, and so do millions of people. I kept seeing reminders, though, and hearing people talk about it, and every time I did it nudged me a little closer to actually doing something about it myself.

This is your reminder for today. Take this as a nudge.

Admittedly a strong part of my impetus was the nurse I’m engaged to, who’s much better acquainted with the process than I am. She booked us in and took me there from the station after work – the centre where this team set up every few weeks is literally on my walk home after I get off the train every day. I’ve seen the NHS van parked outside before and gone straight past it because I’d had a long day and just wanted to go home.

I was really nervous, and the initial sight of the room didn’t do a lot to help. It was a pretty big open space, with half a dozen big plastic chairs spread out across the middle of the room, sort of like you get at the dentist’s. They each had a tray of equipment by the side, and something not quite like a normal arm-rest.

There were some other normal chairs in a waiting area, and several desks where you sit and get interviewed about your health and whatnot at various points in the process.

A few people were in the big chairs when we got there, leaning right back and with things stuck in their arms. The monitoring equipment all kept beeping intermittently, to let people know that… that the things had been in people’s arms for long enough, I guess.

I’m being glib, but it’s not just that I don’t really know much about the technical medical side of things – it’s more that I really don’t like thinking about it. I’m very icky around needles, and blood, so it’s lucky that I didn’t actually see any of those the whole time I was there.

That’s not quite true, but it’s barely an exaggeration. I saw a drop welling up in the finger-prick test to make sure I’m not anaemic (after genuinely not even feeling the tiny stabby thing piercing my flesh), but that was about it. When I was in the chair and one of the nurses was cleaning my inner elbow-bit with something cold and moist, I realised it must be needle time next, and swiftly fixed my attention on the opposite corner of the room, where it more or less stayed for the duration.

It hurt a little, but I am quite a serious wuss about pain, and even I handled it easily. The way I decided to think about it was that it was far less painful than banging my toe on a door, and I do that at least once a week. (The real anguish only came the next morning when I peeled off the plaster they’d patched me up with. I have quite hairy arms. Ow.)

I was only sat there for a few minutes, doing some of the gentle muscle-flexing exercises they advise you to do to keep your blood pressure up, before the machine by my chair started beeping the friendly beep which had been ringing out across the room all evening. Presumably, there was a transparent plastic bag full of my blood just by my side now – another image I didn’t want to see, and don’t want to contemplate.

The chair tilts quite far back while all this is going on, to make sure your brain’s still getting plenty of whatever blood you have left (or something). When it’s over, and the little cotton wad is stuck firmly over the teeny tiny hole in your arm, they lean you forward to a regular sitting position slowly, bit by bit. I started feeling a little woozy at this point, so they tilted me right back down and let me sit with my legs in the air for a few minutes while people brought me biscuits and cups of orange squash and held the straw right up to my mouth so I could drink. I’ve never had that in a hotel.

I was fine almost immediately, just a slight initial head rush, probably because I hadn’t eaten enough beforehand. (They check pretty thoroughly that you’re adequately nourished for the task, and make you drink plenty of water while you’re waiting. I’d assured them I was doing fine, but it had been a few hours since lunch.) The nurses made sure I’d recovered and sat me up slowly, I went and replenished my salt and fluids at the snack table, and off we went, job well done. (Kirsty had finished up and recovered some time ago by this point, seasoned veteran that she is.)

And then we had fish and chips, and someone somewhere survived an accident or operation in which they would otherwise have died.

I know that sounds flippantly self-aggrandising, and it is, but… it’s kinda true, too. There really is a direct correlation between giving blood and saving lives. Every time someone needs to be given blood to kept alive – because they’ve been injured, or are undergoing surgery, or have lost blood for any reason and need to be topped up – every time that happens, it’s with blood that someone donated like what I just did.

I’m not a doctor, but I read somewhere that over 70% of all people need to have blood inside them in order to live. And if they ever can’t make enough blood themselves, the only other place to get it is from another person.

Blood donation’s different from most other medicine like that. It’s not just that someone did some science and now we have this marvellous new medical technology to fix people, like with drugs or MRI machines. There’s plenty of that too, obviously, but we haven’t reached the point yet where we can just make new blood with science when people need it. It all has to come from donations, and it’s used directly to stop other people from dying.

That’s pretty sweet.

It’s past damn time that I became more of an advocate for this. If you’re in the UK, you can visit www.blood.co.uk to find out more about where and when you can go and donate. If you’re elsewhere, I’m sure similar resources aren’t hard to find online. It’s a seriously good thing to do, you get to be proper smug about yourself, and – and I can’t stress this enough – they bring you FREE BISCUITS.

Give blood.

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