I've been a blood donor for quite a few years now. I've been donating long enough to reach another mile stone, 25 donations, a pin badge, certificate and a brand new donor card in silver telling everyone that I'm on my way to gold, my 50th donation. Actually, I have now clocked up 29 donations and as long as I'm fit and healthy I will continue donating till the day I am too old. I'm also on the bone marrow donor register but that's a different story altogether.
Blood stocks vary considerably over the months. In summer when people are on holiday they often run low as well as during the winter months when people catch colds and can't donate or just don't feel like donating. That's the time when it's important that everyone who can should go and donate blood.
I have a very common blood type so my invitation letter always points out how much they appreciate my blood as I'm almost a universal donor with type O pos, meaning my blood can be used for all people who are Rhesus positive. Of course people with blood type O Neg are most appreciated as their blood can be used for just about everyone. While a lot of people in the UK have type O blood, there's always a shortage. You can check on the National Blood Service website. They get loads of O type blood but because it's used up for everyone that needs it in an emergency the stocks need to be constantly replenished. People with rare type blood, for example AB don't need to donate that often as their blood can only ever be given to another AB blood type person and stocks are not used that much.
Who Can Donate?
First of all, not everyone who wants to donate blood can do so. There are strict guidelines and the National Blood Service do not and will not make exceptions. So if you are not sure you can contact them either online via blood.co.uk or call them and speak to an advisor.
You have to be physically fit, pass the initial health check which automatically rules out a lot of people with chronic illness as well as male homosexuals, it doesn't say anything about females so I reckon they can donate. Personally I find that a little too restrictive as there are plenty of homosexuals in monogamous relationships and/or who use protection who should be given a chance. But it's not up to me but a lot of potential donors are automatically excluded. After all, there are probably enough straight guys (and girls) who don't answer the health questions on the questionnaire honestly and pretend everything is alright. After all, all donations are routinely checked for illness, Hep A, B and all other letters regardless whether it's the first donation or one in a long line of regular donations. But you shouldn't use the blood donor service just to get an AIDS test done.
Only about 5% of people who are potential blood donors actually bother to give blood. It's amazing imagine that so few people manage to replenish the blood stocks for the well over 95% of people who might need blood at some point or another. I wonder if people who never thought about donating know what would happen if there wasn't enough blood to go around. It would become a precious commodity, something where only the most affluent will be able to afford treatment.
Donor Sessions :
Whether it's your first donation or you're a regular donor, you have to fill in a questionnaire and be honest with your answers. It's no good lying as your blood is there to save someone's life not worsen their condition or in the worst case, kill them.
If you're a regular donor the questionnaire is sent to your home address so you can tick the boxes in the comfort of your home. But make sure you read all questions like it's the first time. They tend to make changes on the odd occasions and you could fall into the trap and not answer truthfully. I fell foul of the change in the travel section where the routine question used to be about malaria countries visited in the past 12 months. Now the question reads something like "Have you been out of the UK in the past 12 months" regardless of destination. So I sit there and have to list all foreign destinations I've been to in the past 12 months and they make a note of them.
After a quick check of your details you have to rattle off your address up to three times and a quick confirmation that you feel healthy on the say they will prick your finger to get a couple of drops of blood. This is to make sure the donation will not leave you iron deficient. If the blood drops like a stone you're fine, if it float you might have to come back another time.
Once you're finished with this stage you're led to the actual donation area where you're placed on a bed (or tilting chair) and one of your arms is prepared. Earlier this year new wands were introduced, they are now on a stick and fluid is pushed into a pad at the bottom and the area where the needle will go into has to be rubbed down for at least 30 seconds to a minute. The hands of the assistant don't come anywhere near your arm any longer.
To make your veins pop out they will use a blood pressure pad. The needle is rather large and intimidating but I've noticed that most people working for the blood services are brilliant when it comes to getting the needles into your arm. I rarely feel anything and I love watching them do it.
Once the needle is in your arm they will secure it with sticky tape and the first few millilitres are siphoned off into little vials for testing. Then the valve is opened and the blood can run freely from your arm into the pouch.
The pouch itself rests on a see-saw like contraption that wiggles it from side to side and weighs it at the same time. As soon as the correct weight is reached the machine will beep and automatically stop the flow of blood from your arm. One of the assistants will then remove the needle and bag.
Once the machines tell you that about a pint of blood has been sucked out of your body (it can take anything between 4 and 10 minutes) the needle is removed from your arm and a cotton bud put on the hole. You're asked to put pressure on the cotton bud to help it close, or rather the blood clot just underneath the hole and seal it shut. That normally takes about a minute or two and to finish you off THE stickiest plaster in the world is put on, at least they are the stickiest at my donor centre and you take half your arm off when you try and remove it either later or the next day.
You should sit and relax for a little and not jump off the bed straight away. After all, you have just lost a pint of blood and the body needs a few minutes to adjust. It also gives the body a chance to seal the needle hole properly. But it all depends on the individual how long you want to rest. Nobody will push you out, even if the bed is needed. If you don't feel well, stay until you do.
I once managed to get as far as the recreation/kitchen area where you can sit and relax and get your drink, sandwich, biscuit or piece of fruit when I felt a stream of something warm run down my arm. The hole had not sealed properly or reopened, no sure what and I was "bleeding out". It's fine for the body to lose a pint of blood, anything after that and they pin you to a bed and you have to stay and they watch you closely. I felt rather light headed at faint at first but that passed and once I had a sandwich and cold drink inside me I felt a lot better. The next time I donated they made me stay a few extra minutes to make sure that the needle hole had closed properly and I wasn't bleeding.
When you're finished and got your plaster you should stop by the refreshment area. If you're a first time donor they will not allow a hot drink, only cold. If you're a regular donor and know how your body reacts you can have tea or coffee. They also offer sandwiches and other snacks and you can sit down and stay for as long as you want. You can even have a refill if you want. I often take a pack of crisps or biscuits out with me to have them later.
There are a number of Donor Centres across the UK, contact blood.co.uk or call them for your nearest one. I donate at the Edgware Donor Centre, one of the largest in the country and on the grounds of Edgware General Hospital. They even have allocated, free parking for donors. There are mobile units travelling across the country (they even come to my own town but I prefer to drive the 5 miles to the centre). There will be units in your area on a regular basis.
I feel that there are so many more people out there who could donate blood but for whatever reason decide not to do so. It's amazing how few actual donors manage to keep the hospitals stocked up with blood in emergencies for all those people who might one day need a pint or two of blood. I sometimes wish that they had the same system like the one in a lot of US hospitals where family and friends of patients are asked (almost required) to donate at least one pint of blood. At least that way there's a steady flow of blood coming in.
When I started donating it was not because a family member or friend received blood, I did it because I wanted to. Updating my details on the blood donor register is actually one of the first things I did when I moved house.
Blood Donor Online:
Only very recently did the National Blood Services introduce a new section to their website. If you are registered you can now log onto the website, change some of your personal details like address and phone numbers. You can also see when you last donated, they even have a history of your donations going back many years. It's still new and there are a few hoops to jump through for security before you can actually log in and change stuff. After signing up initially with your donor number and other information, the actual access code for the site is sent to you through the post, then another ID number is issued by a company called Gateway. The ID is shown on the website so you best print it off but it's also sent to your home address printed on a credit card size label.
For more information on how to donate, who can donate and the latest times for donations in your area you can go to www.blood.co.uk. The website is easy to navigate but full of useful information.
Do something amazing, save a life!