You know the saying, ‘like blood from a stone’?
That’s me apparently. I had a blood test a couple of months ago, that could not have gone much worse. The nurse checked both arms for viable veins, stuck me in the right arm and connected the little glass bottle to the end of the needle. Nothing happened. Ordinarily blood starts flowing into the bottle. The nurse and I both stared dumbstruck at the empty bottle.
“That’s funny, I could have sworn I’d found a vein. Maybe it was a tendon or something”
(Seriously? Excuse me while I process that by puking everywhere).
She tried my left arm, and the exact same thing happened. At this point she packed me off to the local hospital’s phlebotomy centre to let the professionals tackle me. The Bloodless Wonder Arms struck two more times (and by this point I was looking like a serious junkie), before the phlebotomist decided it would have to be a vein in the back of my hand. I’m just really glad it didn’t progress to the feet or groin.
I tried to give blood today. I was mildly apprehensive about having Empty Arm syndrome again, but I did not bank on failing to give blood for the fourth consecutive time. Here is my attempted donation history.
I climb into the back of a van in a Sainsbury’s car park – bear with me, it’s not as seedy as it sounds. I answer a million and one questions about all the naughty I might have done in my life, and being a fairly clean living 18 year old, answer no to all of them. But then the killer question:
Nurse: Have you travelled in a Sub-Saharan African country under the age of five?
Me: Why, yes. I was born in one.
Nurse: Ah, sorry, we won’t be able to take your blood, in case you have Malaria.
Me: … Um. Pretty sure I’ve never had Malaria. I think… I think I would have noticed.
Nurse: No you see, exposed at that age, you might be a carrier and never know it. Don’t worry, we’ll take a sample and test it, and let you know.
Reader, they took a full pint of my blood and they never called me! Maybe that van was as dodgy as it sounds…
Fully four years later, I receive a letter in the post: Good news! We have changed the rules on Malaria-screening, and you are now eligible to give blood! (Really?? Brilliant!! What the shit guys, do I have Malaria or not?!)
So I dutifully trot down to my local church hall where they are taking donations, skip through the field of questions like a hippy: all is well with the world, and I am going to give this nice lady my blood and save lives… only:
Nurse: you seem to be sniffling quite a bit. Do you have a cold?
Me: well uh, I had a bit of one last week I guess, but I’m feeling pretty good now, so it’s –
Nurse: are you producing any green mucus?
Me: that’s a bit gross, but yeah I guess
Nurse: you can’t give blood with an infection, you could kill somebody with your germs.
Woo! I am in Wales visiting my awesome boyfriend Ben, and he is totally a regular blood donor, and there’s a blood drive in town and I’m going to give blood AT LAST! I’m feeling good: no cold; still not shooting smack or selling my body in Sub-Saharan Africa; nobody knows or CARES if I have Malaria!
I sail through the questions like it ain’t no thang, and finally reach the iron test stage – you know, where they prick your finger and put a drop in a blue solution, and if it sinks you have enough iron to donate?
Now when Ben tells this story, he likes to tell people that my blood drop plopped into that blue water, then rose up a clear foot above the jar, like the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. My memory is more that it rose to the surface and just kind of disintegrated. Either way, they decided it would be prudent to test me for anaemia.
I arrived home a week later to a letter that said:
URGENT: Your mean hemoglobin level is 6.6g/dL. You should take this letter to your doctor immediately
Okay. Thank you, Professor Context – what does that mean? It turns out 12g/dL is considered healthy for a non-pregnant woman. 10 is anaemic. 6.6 leads to a conversation like this with your doctor:
Doctor: Oh my god. How did you get so anaemic? Are you vegetarian?
Me: Not at the moment. I have been in the past, but I’ve been living in France for 7 months, land of the Steak.
Doctor: And you only found out by trying to give blood? How did you not realise you were anaemic? You must feel tired all the time
Me: Yeah, but… I just figured I was a low energy kind of person
Doctor: But. This level of anaemia, you would have had pains in your legs!
Me: I do get pains in my legs. Nobody ever told me that was a symptom of anaemia.
After three months of 3 iron pills a day, I was back on form.
This time, I was ready, this time it would work. It’s 18 months since I got back from India, Morocco was completely above Saharan, I’ve been cold-free for an unusually long time, and I have a brief window of opportunity before I go to Italy (yes, Italy is now also contraband for the National Blood Service. They should simplify the questionnaire to just one question: HAVE YOU LIVED?)
Today, it came down to a question of just pure administrative bullshit. Who knew every single person in Brixton was a card carrying blood donor, who has the good sense to book their next session 4 months in advance? (I’m not kidding, they were taking bookings for the end of January today). I tried to book an appointment a week ago, but was advised to try dropping in instead. So I left work early, got there at the start of the session, put my name down, and waited.
After nearly two hours, I asked the nurse on the desk what was happening. She gave me a really shitty response that 10 other people were still ahead of me just to have their paperwork processed. So I left.
Man, after 11 years and four attempts at giving blood, you would think I would know by now – the Blood Service do not want my blood. What gets me is, I’m a universal donor. When I tried to book an appointment last week, they had an appeal on their website for more O Neg donors. That’s me!! I felt like jumping on one of the gurneys and shouting “I’m a Universal Donor! I’m more useful to you than half these bloody people! Shut up and take my blood!”
But yes. Even with my stony veins and terrible track record, I’m going to try again, because of this: http://www.blood.co.uk/StockGraph/stocklevelstandard.aspx