The most amazing thing I did last week
Until last week, I had never given blood. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit this, as, like most people, I like to think of myself as a person who who helps other people when I can. Shamefully, I didn't even know what blood type I was. So why hadn't I done so already? Why was I all talk and no action? What had stopped me?
It wasn't that I actively didn't want to. I did. Neither was it because I didn't think I needed to. Everyone knows there's a constant need for regular donors. Neither was "not having the time" a real excuse. If we can find time to recycle packaging to reduce landfill, we can find time to save the life of an actual flesh and blood person. Thousands of us magically "found the time" in our "busy lives" to watch three series of The Wire and the occasional Big Brother. And Avatar. And Primeval for crissakes. Likewise, putting it down to "not knowing how" to is no excuse either. In fact, given the existence of the internet, "not knowing how" to do anything has become a redundant excuse. A friend of mine installed his own central heating based on instructions found online. If you want to do something enough, whether it's learn a language, fit a carpet or skin a rabbit, the information is there if you want it. The age of not knowing something is over.
So, with the information easily gained, I arranged a time and did it. I work in a city, and the blood donation centre is a 10 minute walk from the office I work in. It's open 6 days a week - with late night opening - and, contrary to my misguided notion that you need to book an appointment, there's no arranging involved - you just turn up and get on with it. You're in and out within an hour. The first thing that struck me is how busy it is. There were around eight of us, mainly in our 20s and 30s, in the waiting area being called though to the donation zone when a space become free. Most were groups of two or three friends. Much like visiting the deli counter in Sainsburys, or collecting goods from Argos, you grab a numbered ticket and wait for your call, except that the staff at the blood clinic look a lot happier to see you.
As a first time donor, there's a questionnaire, both to ensure you're in good health to donate, and that you're not likely to have malaria or other blood-transmitted diseases, and a pinprick test to measure your iron-levels and identify your blood-type. After this, you go though to one of the 10 or so 'donation stations' - basically reclining chairs - lined up near to each other. The staff set you up with the necessary needle and tube work, which is painless, and then you have a 10-minute rest whilst you give your pint. You can chat with the staff, or the friends you are with, throughout if you wish, or just enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. Many of the people there during my visit on a Wednesday afternoon were there with friends from work or university. Ten minutes later, you're done, and you go though to the cafe for the famed cup of tea and a biscuit. Let me tell you right way that the quality of the biscuits on offer here is excellent - not a supermarket own brand multipack in sight - suffice to say, there's even a Tunnock's Tea Cake on offer. It's also true that there's nothing quite like the taste of something you've earned.
Knowing how easy and straightforward it is, it now appears that, like most things, overcoming the laziness and procrastination inherent in human nature is the hard part. After that, it just becomes another thing that you do incorporate into your life. You can opt to receive email or phone call reminders to make your next visit. I'm going again in three months and have written the next three visits down on the calendar. Easy.
So, if it's just a case of 'not getting round to it' with non-donors, what are the positive reasons donors have for donating. What makes donors donate?
I got talking to some of my fellow donors during my visit and tracked down donors among friends in order to find out their story. For my friend Lynn, giving blood was a social thing - she goes with friends or work colleagues, (many employers give you time off to donate) and for her it represented a chance to catch up, relax, enjoy a bit of piece and quiet and was an alternative way to share an experience with a friend without going out to a cafe or doing some aimless shopping. It's also free. For my friend Matt, he became a regular donor after witnessing the other side of the transaction at first hand when his mum was injured in a car crash and required blood during surgery immediately afterwards, surgery which saved her life. Another friend Andy did it because it made him feel good that he was doing his bit - he had a genuine empathy with his fellow citizens and knew it needed to be done. Although we can't see the people who need blood - they're inside hospitals - we all know they exist. Don't assume other people are doing it so you don't have to. It may seem like it's nobody's job, but really this makes it everybody's job.
I'm lucky enough to have never been in a situation where I have needed blood. But I'd very much like there to be some available if I were! So if I'm all in favour of it, and I want it to exist, it only seems right to put my money where my mouth is support by donating myself. And besides, it's not everyday you get the chance to do something that can genuinely stop another person from dying. And how good does that feel?