I've always hated to get blood drawn. Not because of the blood itself, not even because of the needles. I'm fine with blood and needles don't really scare me that much. The problem is the fact that I was never the easiest patient to get blood drawn from. I would constantly lose consciousness half-way through the process, not because of the bloody scene - I always choose to look away - but because of the feeling of having something taken from the inside of you. It's the feeling of having something flowing out of your body that makes me get dizzy, but most importantly, it's the feeling of weakness that comes with this that I could never deal with. So much that I've always had to ask nurses get my blood drawn with me lying down. There was no other way around it. Any other way, and I'd wake up on the floor with my legs up to the ceiling, not before rolling my eyes for a few seconds like a possessed person. Passing out and getting blood drawn became everything I knew about the process. And as you can imagine...I wasn't a fan of this!
But, all mental ghosts aside... what always stressed me out more than anything was the fact that my veins aren't the easiest. Almost every single time I've had to get blood drawn, the nurses have struggled to find my veins. There were always other doctors and specialists in and out of the room, looking at my arms with confused expressions while they pressed against my veins, tapping, pinching, adjusting the tourniquet and doing all sorts of things to help the little bastards pop out! But the outcome was always the same: either I got blood taken from my hand (...hey, you gotta grab what you can!), or they'd have to perforate my skin with the needle a couple times, until they finally found a working vein.
I've heard all sorts of things by doctors: from you should try lifting some weights, it would help your veins in situations like this, to it's not so bad if you know what you're doing. It takes practice and a little more patience, but the veins are there!
I never thought I could give blood. I know it sounds stupid, but hear me out! When I was little, I apparently had this blood-related disease called HSP (Henoch Schönlein Purpura). For some reason, I was always told I could never give blood, because my blood wasn't 'good'. HSP is a disease that affects your blood vessels, and it causes rashes all over your body. I thought this was a much more serious disease than what it appears to be. Even though there's no treatment for HSP even now, it usually passes within a few weeks. It's only if the kidneys are affected that it seems to become a more aggressive and dangerous disease. That being said, liking needles or not, I never even considered the possibility of becoming a blood donor, simply because I always thought such thing was out of the picture for me, due to this HSP disease I had when I was younger.
However, I was still intrigued! How come that I couldn't give blood because of that, if the symptoms go away in a matter of weeks? Was there some underlying cause associated with the fact that I had HSP?
I was happy to snap out of my 'bubble' and book an appointment through the NHS, as I was keen to get some answers.
There must be nothing more powerful than saving someone's life. I know people who are blood donors, and whenever there's an urgency for a certain blood type, or if hospitals are running really low, the impact that your willingness to give blood can have in someone else's life is huge! However, don't be mistaken: you blood can indeed be used to save someone's life, but it could also end up in laboratory for educational purposes, etc. It is not guaranteed that you will save a life, but at least you will certainly be helping other people out.
I eventually thought....why not?
After my initial appointment with the NHS, I found out that I could, indeed, be a blood donor! Yes, I've had HSP in the past, but as long as it wasn't in the last 6 months, there really was no reason why I couldn't give blood. I've done my initial assessment, received some paperwork to fill out at home, registered with them, and booked my first donation for the 8th November 2018.
Once I arrived at Newcastle's Blood Donor Centre, I was asked to drink a pint of water and to read some paperwork with important information about the procedure. I was asked it if was my first time, and advised to eat some crisps beforehand, so I wouldn't lose too many salts during the process. I chose the salt and vinegar ones, since the other option was cheese and onion. Then, it was a matter of waiting for the nurses to call your name.
I began to feel anxious about the outcome of this experience the moment I sat on that chair. Would they find my veins? Would they have to prick my skin more than once? Was I going to pass out?
I was so impressed with the caring staff, who were trying to make me feel as comfortable as possible. However, once the nurse put the tourniquet around my arm and tried to find a vein, as soon as she shook her head I started shivering, involuntary! I literally could not stop. I apologised and explained that the reason I was nervous was due to the stress of finding the veins. As soon as that needle was in, I'd be fine.
We tried the right arm, and the nurse shook her head. We decided to try the left one, to which she simply said 'if you ever come back, don't even bother with your left arm!'
At this point, I wasn't even sure if it was going to happen. I thought I'd just be sent home with a pat on my head and some oh, well...we tried shoulder movements.
But this nurse was DETERMINED TO GET THAT VEIN! We tried again on the right arm and there it was.... it had worked! With a tiny, little flow at first, but I was given a stress ball and asked to squeeze it continually, which increased the flow to the desired percentages. Then, it was finally time to put my head back and relax. I talked with the nurses about all sorts of things, including whether or not this Spice Girls reunion tour was a good idea. I also listened to smooth radio, and the next thing I know, the time is up!
I couldn't believe it! It felt like 3 or 4 minutes, but I was told in the beginning that it would take between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on how things went. Next thing I know, I checked the time and I'd been there for 12 minutes. How? I don't know!
The nurses congratulated me on my bravery, while I thought to myself 'sure, why not? I could save a life with this. Why wouldn't I be doing it?'
Before I stood up, the nurses moved my chair back into a 'seated' position, and I was kindly asked if I'd prefer orange or apple juice. The nurses kindly prepared my drink, and I was offered a choice of snacks: biscuits, crisps and chocolate. I had another tiny packet of crisps, sea salted this time.
A few minutes went by, and I felt great to walk out of there. I was't dizzy, I wasn't feeling disoriented...I felt proud of myself! I was ready to walk out of there, and this feeling of gratitude just filled me in.
I thanked all the nurses, in particular the poor lady who had the challenge of my complicated veins assigned to her. She said goodbye with a humorous 'let me know in advance the next time you come, so I can book the day off!', and I couldn't help but laugh and think...'Nah....I won't make it that easy for you'.