DO you donate blood? I ask because tomorrow is World Blood Donor Day and most people don’t. Only four per cent of UK adults are donors, and I’m not part of that group even though I know each blood donation can help up to three people. So why don’t so many of us give blood?
I was never going to be an “easy bleed”. If you’ve travelled abroad and been to countries that have malaria problems you can’t donate for six months; and I regularly visited such ‘festering’ foreign places twice a year.
On principle I resent answering intrusive but vague lifestyle questionnaires which every donor has to complete.
You cannot be a blood donor if you have any kind of medication, whether it be aspirin, antibiotics, steroids, hormones or inhalers – and I’m on medication, so I can’t give blood.
But the real reasons stem from my childhood. When I was nine my doctor ordered a blood test so the nurse stuck a needle in my arm to extract blood and nothing came out. She tried again and failed. When she repeated the operation for the third disaster, I asked if she had missed the vein.
She was almost in tears and replied “Yes, but I’m trying.” Indeed she was. This nurse, with her hypo stuck in my arm, was shoving it up, down, around and around in search of a vein. I fainted.
A blood donor session held at the Headington Community Centre
The second needle turning point came when I was 14 and a young cadet at a military academy in the United States. The entire student body was going to be immunised. We formed into four queues with our left shirt sleeves rolled up to the top of our arms to receive the jab – only it wasn’t a jab.
When the boy ahead of me had his turn, the ‘administrator’ – I would not say ‘doctor’ – thrust the needle into his arm. Everyone at that age was very macho and no one made a fuss, but I could see that the boy went white. I had a front row seat and I could also see that when the needle was taken out of his arm it was bent at a 45 degree angle. It had hit his bone.
I was supposed to be next, but it didn’t happen. I added up my two experiences and one plus one equalled never.
But I’m a big fan of blood donations, and I know that on most days there is less than one week’s supply of blood in the UK’s blood banks. So how do I square that circle?
Well, from my armchair where I won’t lift an arm, I can help explode some myths about blood donation.
- It will lower the body’s immunity level. No, blood donation will not affect your immunity in any way.
- It can make your body iron deficient. No, completely wrong on that score. In fact, if you are healthy and eat well, you can donate blood every four months.
- I’m too old to donate. No, if you are 17 to 65 you can start to donate and continue as long as you are healthy.
- If you smoke regularly you can’t donate. No, but you need to abstain from smoking only one hour before and after the donation.
- It isn’t as easy to donate blood now. The convenience factor is not in the donor’s favour. In the past we saw the blood donation unit at villages around Oxfordshire and at church halls in the city. That’s all changed. If you want to donate you may have to go the extra mile, an extra obstacle that doesn’t invite more people to join in.
I asked two people at the BBC why they wanted to ‘join in’. Andrew Findlay, the television librarian, started as a ‘me too’ donor. His wife went along to donate 15 years ago and he decided to accompany her.
Later she had a blood transfusion after the birth of their daughter and that disqualified her from giving any more blood, but because a blood donation saved the life of someone he loved “it’s now a very personal motivation to help”, he said.
Ellie, the business manager at BBC Radio Oxford, has been donating blood three times each year for the past 15 years. She started as soon as she could at age 17. Why? “My dad was scared of needles and my mother couldn’t donate because she had cancer; but she encouraged her children to do it because she never could.
“I can help other people this way; it might save a life and it doesn’t cost anything.
“Somehow I see it as my duty. If a person fell down dying in front of me and a pin prick in my arm could bring them back to life, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to do that. Well done me! Aren’t I great? Who wouldn’t want that feeling? And donating blood is a lot easier than being a firefighter. They should make it a legal duty.”