This week I gave blood – for the first time. This was something I’d often thought of, mostly forgotten about, and occasionally been reminded of. A pang of guilt was triggered each time I passed the blood van parked outside the Methodist church on the aptly named Pump Street. So feeling decisive I recently went online and at the click of a mouse, and before I could change my mind, made my own appointment. Sorted.
When the day came and with just an hour spare until my appointment I managed a manic hour of shopping and arrived laden down with half a dozen bags and unwieldy rolls of wrapping paper (spending money like there was no tomorrow had more than counter balanced my nerves, I decided).
Consequently at reception the simple suggestion “If you’d like to take a seat…” sounded a lot easier than it actually was as I physically knocked over every one I met as I made my way to my seat. I was about as popular as a latenight theatregoer arriving after the performance has started; these generously hearted donors had planned on a pin prick to the arm not a full black eye and bruises. Sorry, I do apologise. Sorry. I just had to keep saying it.
Indeed it was a performance. The first floor modern Methodist church had been transformed into the set from Holby City or Scrubs with hospital beds, nurses – male and female, screens, cafe, reception area, waiting room, and even a few patients. I felt like the unpaid extra with a small walk on part.
I was asked to return to the desk to answer a few question; worried I might inflict yet further damage the nurse suggested I left my shopping behind the desks , “We’ll have a quick rifle through whilst you’re sorted, if you don’t mind, so don’t worry if half of its missing when you leave.” I wasn’t sure if she was joking.
Behind the screen I did the quick thumb prick test and judging by the speed in which the globule plummeted through the solution and hit the bottom I can safely say there is plenty of iron in my blood; all those years of eating spinach have finally paid off. “Have you ever given blood?” I asked the nurse tentatively. “Only yesterday,” she said , and to prove it, rolled back her sleeve to reveal fine pin prick marks.
Then I was invited to the drinks area where I sat nursing a pint of water. Naturally I’d have preferred a pint of Hook Norton but that wasn’t in the spirit of the thing. The chap next to me admitted he was terrified of heights and petrified of needles; watching his hand shake as he raised the tumbler to his lips I could tell he wasn’t joking. “I could never be a junkie,“ he told me. His mum had once needed a transplant he said, and because he had a rare type of blood that was highly sought after, he overcame his fears and came four times a year anyway. Another said that years ago he’d been backpacking round Europe and checked into a donation centre in Istanbul in order to earn some blood money to move on. There each donor was paired directly with the recipient, so that what came out of one went straight into t’other; unfortunately in his case he was so tall, scrawny and knackered from travelling that nothing came out, and he was sent away empty handed, obviously going nowhere.
“Which hand do you write with?” asked the nurse once I was up on the bed; she could just as easily have asked which hand do you paint with or drink with because they are just as important to me. She kept asking me if I was comfortable and emphasising that since I was a first timer everything had to be just so.
Next came the tricky bit and after much hand clenching and unclenching at last I was plugged in and we were ready to go. There was a lengthy pause. “Doesn’t seem to be anything coming out, “she sighed. I was staring doggedly at the stage in the other direction and starting to detect a glimmer of tension in her voice. “Oops, there now, forgot to unclip the clip,” she said. “Ah, it’s coming out beautifully now.” Thank God for that, I thought.
Afterwards, job done, I made my way to the tea table which I have to say was the best bit; who doesn’t love a freebie? Sitting there looking at the racks and racks of biscuits and crisps in front of me and surrounded by an equally mesmerised group of strangers I felt like a six year old at a birthday party. I gingerly took a pack of three fruit shortcakes, “They’re are chocolate ones on the other side…..” whispered the man next to me conspiratorially. I replaced the shortcakes and took a mint Club. “We won’t tell anyone,” said another.
“Orange or lemon squash?” asked the nurse. “Tea, please” I answered (not having drunk squash since I was a little girl). “First timers always have squash in case tea brings on a faint,” nurse explained.“Well, orange, no lemon, no orange then, please” I said decisively (blood obviously being not the only thing they’d taken out whilst I was lying prostrate). I asked my needle phobic friend how he’d got on- absolutely fine, he said, it was just the anticipation; there followed between us an in depth conversation about his fear of heights and my fear of glass lifts. He couldn’t go on the rides at Blackpool and I found the choice between the glass lift or glass stairs at the Royal academy an absolute nightmare. He thought all those on benefits should be made to give blood twice a year, “Where I work on the council estates I see them sitting there all day long; if they can collect their benefits they can give blood.” I nibbled at another Club.
After one more pack of cheese and onion crisps I asked the nurse if I could have a cup of tea now. “Oh no, not until you get home. And the next time you come you can , but not the first time, at all. But you can have another squash.” So for the first time in forty years I tried lemon squash. It took me back.
Ready to go now I went to collect my shopping. “Remember not to use your left arm at all. ” I looked at her and she looked at me, and we both looked down at my mountain of shopping. And so it was that after my first blood donation I resembled a badly balanced set of scales as I sidled down the stairs with all six bags of shopping and rolls of wrapping paper sticking out awkwardly on my ever lengthening right arm. Those coming up the stairs gave me knowing looks as if to say, “You’ll learn.”
So with another appointment firmly booked for March I shall make sure that next time I appear empty handed, with a spring in my step and travelling light, very much looking forward to tea and biscuits. And if when I leave I spy an individual carrying bags and bags of shopping, believe me, I shall be the first to give them a very knowing look.
It’s the very least I can do.