Oct 12

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Things Learned While Giving Blood

1.  The NHS Blood Service are masters of emotional manipulation.  Every four months I get a note from them inviting me to give blood.  When I don’t immediately respond, owing to a hectic schedule and terror of needles, I get another note, and text messages.  The text messages are looking forward to my attendance.  The letters are far more exciting.  At their most basic level, they’re merely enthused by my presence-yet-to-come.  Then they’re enthused not only by my presence, but by my blood group.  ‘You!’ exclaims the letter, ‘But you – you do not have any old blood group!  You have a blood group of rare and vital importance, you have the kind of blood group whereby you should be grateful you weren’t just hooked up to a needle and plastic sack at birth and left to churn out the good stuff, it’s so useful!  You are the proud carrier of an unusual trait, you are special – come give blood!’

Having thus coaxed my ego, the blood service waits for a little while to see if I respond.  When I don’t immediately – did I mention the terror of needles? – more letters arrive, this time telling me stories of Sandra, mother of two, charity worker, dog lover, founder of a hospital for orphaned guinea pigs who, in her spare time, loves to make cake for the old folks down the road and is doing a doctorate in a cure for cancer – why verily YES!  This Sandra, no less, and many like her, has been saved by a blood transfusion and frankly, if she hadn’t been the world would be a worse place.  Look at her smiling, joyously, from the front cover of the enclosed leaflet.  Look at her two beautiful children playing delightfully with their mother.  If she had died for lack of a blood transfusion, you’ll only have yourself to blame…

2.  The West End blood donation centre is hectic.  Things beep, biscuits are consumed in heroic quantities, staff chew urgently on the end of their biros as they rush through the form… have you been abroad?  Have you had unwise relations with someone who sneezed?  Have you had relations with someone who’s had relations with someone who sneezed?  Have you had a tattoo now, or ever, or held something sharp that might have been dirty, or even received a slightly dirty look?  No?  Good!  Sign this NOW and keep on moving, come on, chop chop, there’s a backlog here!

3.  The blood machines make the sound of Mario collecting coins in Super Mario Bros.  I mean… old school, Super Mario Bros.  You turn them on and they go ‘ping!’ (one coin).  You start squelching out blood and ping ping (two coins!).  You get to the end of the level and ping ping ping ping ping! (Level UP!)

4.  Radio 2 isn’t actually that comforting as background noise.  I would say perhaps we should try BBC Radio 3, but no… they might start playing a funeral dirge…

5.  Even though legally speaking, trainees at the centre are probably obliged to introduce themselves with the words, ‘hello, I’m a trainee and I’m going to be taking blood from you today’, there are few words in the English language more guaranteed to ensure that veins vanish into flesh faster than a rabbit into a warren.  For here now is our trainee, tangling the tubing on the donation bags – bags which now look flipping epic as you examine them in slow, minute detail.  Here he is ticking notes on forms very, very slowly, all the time with a massive needle in his hand and actually, as he calls someone over for help, for he cannot find the stopwatch and isn’t sure how to get the antiseptic wipe to start oozing satisfactorily, the thought seeps into your brain that maybe Sandra’s life isn’t worth all that much after all, and actually, your blood isn’t that special, it’s quite ordinary, really, perhaps even a little dull, probably not needed, is it too late to go back and OW!!

Turns out that it is, in fact, too late…

Come give blood.  Save a life.  Maybe, one day, mine…

Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/10/12/things-learned-while-giving-blood/


  1. Anna_Wing

    Sadly, due to a stint in an English boarding school at the height of the mad cow business, my local Red Cross sneers at my blood. I am in the category of persons who are absolutely, totally, please-never-darken-our-doors, forbidden to donate blood to anyone but ourselves and then only in emergencies. Just in case my brain turns to prion-related cheese one day.

  2. Cypher

    Hi Kate,

    I just wanted to say a personal thankyou for donating blood. I’m down under, so will never have received your blood personally, but I think it’s cool for recipients to say a general ‘thanks’ to donators, when they come across them =) I’m an ongoing recipient – every third weekend I get juiced up with immunoglobulins taken from blood donations. I have an autoimmune condition which causes a peripheral neuropathy – basically, without the infusions, I can’t walk and I can’t type. But as long as I get treatment, I can do pretty much anything anyone else can do!

    So next time you go donate blood, maybe you’ll think about someone on the other side of the world sitting in the infusion chair and having the same stuff poured back into them (and liking the needle about as much as you do, gah!) and using the hospital time to devour your latest book *grins* (Glass God was so good!! Want moooore!) I think I’ve read just about all of them while in hospital, and they’ve helped me pass many otherwise-monotonous hours in a much more interesting world. So thankyou on both counts! You’re awesome =D

  3. Celticfirefly


    I finally found someone else who thinks of Mario when sitting there bleeding through a tube. I’m always transported back to the days of my N64 or good ol’ fashioned Gameboy (the original kind that felt more like a brick in your hand).

    And I always feel a bit special when I get a letter saying how much they need my blood type, even though I know every blood type results in the same letter with this announcement.

    Well done to you anyway for donating…especially with a fear of needles!

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