Saturday, 6 August 2011

The time that giving blood went wrong

Back at the end of June before I moved into my new student house I decided slightly impulsively to go and give blood. I'd already decided to wait until I'd come home to do it, but I was in town and saw the blood vans outside the church and thought "Hey, why not go and give now?"

Lesson 1: never do any vaguely medical things involving yourself and sharp objects on a whim.

So I went in, got my appointment, then went down to Tesco to get something to eat and drink.
I went back up 10 minutes before my appointment to fill out the form, and didn't have to wait very long before I was called over to go and have my finger prick test. I thought I had been all clever by already checking that I was still able to donate after having glandular fever in May, but my pleased-with-myself feeling didn't last very long, as the conversation with the nurse checking my form went something like this:

Nurse: "Have you been ill recently?"
Me: "I had glandular fever at the beginning of May, but I got better within a week *still feeling pleased with self*"
Nurse: "Did you take any medication or antibiotics while you were ill?"
Me: "Oh... um, yeah"
Nurse: "Ok, I'll just change this 'No' to a 'Yes' then"
Me: "Oh, ok... *pleased-with-self feeling fading slightly*"
Nurse: And have you been abroad within the last 6 months?"
Me: "No... ah actually I went to Cyprus for a week in April, a couple of weeks before I got ill..."
Nurse: "Right, I'll need to change another answer on your form then. Wait there while I go and check this is ok."
Me: *pleased-with-self feeling entirely gone, replaced with complete-idiot-who-can't-read-a-form-and-can't-remember-what-happened-2-months-ago feeling*

Lesson 2: Even if you think you've read the form, read it again. And again. And probably once more for good measure.

Lesson 3: Don't try and be clever.

Luckily all was ok, and my trip to Cyprus and course of antibiotics weren't likely to make my blood kill people, so I had my finger prick test done and went to wait for a free bed. I didn't have to wait long for a bed either, so compared to how long I waited for the whole thing last time I felt like this was my lucky day.

Lesson 4: Don't let short wait times fool you into thinking luck is on your side.

I hopped up on the bed and put my arm on the arm support thing, had my arm cleaned by the nurse (who was the guy who from the same town as me who did my finger prick test last time). He put the tourniquet round my arm and then tapped about on it a bit trying to find a vein. And he kept tapping. And tapping. And tapping. I did start to wonder why he was tapping to much, but I just kinda thought "Meh, whatever" and let my mind wander and let him get on with it.

Lesson 5: Too much tapping = bad.


Eventually he decided to go for it with the needle. I winced a bit and he asked (with, looking back on it, a slightly worried tone to his voice) if it hurt more than usual, but as I'd only done it once before and the needle is a bigger than the needle used for a vaccination or a blood test, I just passed it off as me not being used to it and thought the pain would stop in a second... but it didn't. The "sharp scratch" carried on, and seemed to be getting worse. Then he said "It's doing weird things" and started calling other, more senior, nurses over to look, then lifting up the dressing covering my elbow to show them, but lifting the dressing from the side that wasn't facing me so I couldn't see what was going on. They were looking a bit worried too, so this was when I started to panic. The needle had to come out, and I didn't really want to ask what he'd done but it was obviously not good. He was applying quite a lot of pressure to my arm, and I was trying to stop my mind from venturing into ridiculous "OMG CATASTOPHIC BLEEDING FROM MY VEINSSSSSS!" type scenarios as I got over the panic...
I was then given options to give up on this donation entirely, get a different nurse to put the next needle in in my other arm, or let him try again. Being the fool that I am for not wanting to offend people, I said it was fine for him to try again.

Lesson 7: If someone has already damaged you once, don't let them have a second attempt.

This time everything went as it should, and my donation time was a whole 2 minutes quicker than my last one (this one was 5 minutes 30ish seconds, the last one was 7 minutes and 20ish seconds). I got my keyring (woo!) saying what blood group I am, and a nice, reassuring, "it might look horrific and hurt you quite a bit but IT'S ALL OK pleasedon'tsueus" leaflet on bruising. I was told not to take my plasters off for 6 hours and not to do any heavy lifting for a day (Lesson 8: If you have to move house in a couple of days, don't risk giving blood in case both your arms are put out-of-action for lifting stuff). Then I waddled over to the refreshments table trying to carry my stuff with my two punctured arms that now refused to bend at the elbow because of the whopping great plasters (and I was too scared to bend them anyway in case of MOAR BLEEDING). I nommed my free biscuits and orange squash and made a hasty exit.

Later that evening, out of curiosity I ran my fingers over the plaster on my left arm (the failed one) and oh my god it hurt. I hadn't expected it to be anywhere near that painful from just a light touch, but oh how wrong I was. My curiosity then went into overdrive wondering what horrors awaited me when I took the plaster off.
When I woke up the next morning, I couldn't wait until I had a shower to soften the plaster before taking it off, so I faced the pain (those plasters are surprisingly painful to take off, they stick like superglue) and was met with this...
I was genuinely shocked at how big and dark red it was, as I was expecting the sort of bruise you get when you bang into something, not a pool of blood under my skin that was raised enough that I could feel it if I ran my finger over it. My other arm was also bruised too (although it was the kind of small, normal looking bruise I was expecting) (see Lesson 7 again. He obviously is not very good at this as he managed to fail twice in a row, so don't let him near your arm again).
The original bruise/blood blister on my right arm kept spreading, meaning the bruise got bigger and bigger until it was about the size of the bottom of a pint glass...

After about 2 weeks of arm pain and being very self conscious of the massive bruises making me look like a druggy, I still had these lingering reminders...

Although this wasn't the best experience of giving blood, it's still not enough to prevent me from donating again. The failure rate is really low, and there's always a chance that for someone their donation will go wrong, and I was just unlucky because it happened to be me. If everyone decided not to donate because of the fear of "what if it's my donation goes wrong?", there would be no blood stocks and no blood available to those who need transfusions to stay alive. The three weeks of weakening pain and slight annoyance at the appearance of the bruises that this gave me are nothing compared to someone's life that could be lost if the blood they needed wasn't there (not to mention the impact it would have on the people close to the person who unfortunately passed away). There's always a need for blood, and there's always a call for donors to make sure the necessary stocks are maintained, so I'll definitely be going to donate again once my 16-week gap between donations is up.

For anyone reading this who hasn't donated (recently or ever), I urge to you go and donate. There are regular sessions all over the country so you don't have to travel miles or wait forever for a session, and it's such a satisfying feeling to know you've potentially saved someone's life :)