sirisa clark

the things I do and the words I choose


Success Tastes like Lemon Squash

Guys, check it: I gave blood today. LIKE A BOSS!

It took a long time again, but I’ve come to realise that is kind of par for the course when you’re a Zimbabwe-born nomad with a history of fainting. Man, they get really uptight when you mention fainting. And they get this really worried look when you start talking about your ears ringing and vision clouding, apparently they’re not cool with that at all.

So, some lessons learnt from my first ever blood donation:

1) This was probably not my first ever blood donation

Crazy huh? After a bit of a chat with the nurse I found out that my first attempt 11 years ago was probably successful. It turns out they only contact you and let you know if you’re malaria test is positive. If it’s negative, they just invite you to the next session, and you fall into the regular donor schedule. The fact that they didn’t write to me for four years was just some weird oversight.

Which is great and all, but I’ve been dining out on that story for years. What do I do with it now?


2) Not fainting requires Buns of Steel and syncopated rhythm

To reduce the risk of fainting they instructed me in some butt-clenching exercises to keep my blood pressure up, and also recommended crossing my legs one way then the other. I sat there feeling like a fidgeting, uncoordinated idiot: trying to simultaneously open and close my hand, cross and uncross my legs, and clench and unclench my bum at the varying speeds they’d suggested for each action.

It’s a wonder I didn’t fall off the bed.


3) Being a blood donor doesn’t make you special

Yeah sorry about that, but having spent two evenings in blood centres this week and trying to make appointments several times, I can tell you that the World and his Wife are out there pouring out the red stuff. It’s a regular old blood-letting.

Case in point: I saw the librarian from my UCL library there giving blood, while my sister ran into a family friend at the blood donation centre this morning. I’ve also been finding out how many of my friends are donors from their facebook comments on my blog. Which is all good because…


4) Sometimes Special isn’t so Good

I’ve always thought ‘wahey, I’m a universal donor! I’m part of just 7% of the population who are O negative, and my blood can be given to anyone. It’s like unicorn blood!’

Then I was chatting to a friend who is also O negative, who likened donating blood to putting money in the bank, or an insurance policy. Because while your blood can be given to anybody, you can’t receive any of the other blood types. And furthermore, the O neg blood stocks are always being called upon in emergency situations.

So if you’re O neg, it’s very much in your interests to give blood when you’re healthy, to increase the chance that there’s some in the bank for when you’re not.


5) Success Tastes like Lemon Squash

Buckets and buckets of the stuff. In the two hours I was at the donation centre, I don’t think I was ever without a glass of water or squash in my hand. I’ve also eaten enough biscuits to turn me into a jammy dodger. I should be sugared up to the eyeballs, but of course I’m actually very tired.

I’m going to go sleep the sleep of a lifesaver.



A Girl Made of Stone

You know the saying, ‘like blood from a stone’?

Photo Credit: stock.xchng

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.


Summer 2005

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.


September 2012

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: