Giving blood during a pandemic: what’s it really like?

Laycie Beckon 13 January 2021
Giving blood during a pandemic: what’s it really like?

Thinking about donating blood for the first time? This first-hand account of what it’s like should calm any nerves you have about the procedure.

Did you know that giving blood just once could save or improve the lives of up to three people? It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and, as it only takes an hour and a bit of bravery, I thought lockdown was the ideal time to give it a go. 

When I arrived at the donation site, I was surprised at how busy it was, but also impressed at the number of people taking the time to do something so important.

Everyone was really friendly, and it was evident that they had carefully laid everything out to maintain social distancing. When it was my turn I was asked for my name, before having my temperature taken and sanitising my hands.

After filling out my details, the nurse said she needed to test my blood and pricked my finger with what I can only describe as a mini medieval torture device. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to pain, and the loud clicking noise it made was enough to send shivers down my spine. But my concerns were unjustified; it wasn’t actually that painful. 

A small dropper was used to collect the blood on my finger, which she put in a solution. My blood sank which was a good thing, as it indicated my iron levels were good enough to donate.

Next came the chair. The donation chairs are really unusual; I’d describe them as a cross between a sunlounger and a dentist’s chair. The chair was tilted back, leaving my legs up in the air and my head leaning backwards. Apparently, this is to improve the circulation of the blood in your body.

Next, it was time to choose a vein. They normally try to find a suitable vein in your non-dominant arm (in my case, the left), but unfortunately, they were unable to locate one, meaning my right arm had to be used. This made checking my emails and scrolling through Facebook a bit more difficult during the donation, but otherwise wasn’t really a problem.

Everything was set up and ready, and I was beginning to get nervous. I’m not a fan of needles, and that finger prick had already used up a lot of my bravery.

The nurse, thankfully, nailed the procedure first time. My blood travelled down a tube into a smaller bag, which she explained was the sample of blood they used for testing. 

She then adjusted the tubes and my blood began to fill a larger bag which contained an anti-clotting solution. At this point, it’s probably a good idea to point out that looking at the blood bag isn’t the best idea if you’re at all squeamish. But I’m not, and watching the procedure was rather relaxing; it reminded me of dropping a bath bomb in the water and everything changing colour.

The needle being in my arm actually hurt much less than the initial finger prick, although it still wasn’t pleasant. It was a weird feeling once the blood got going; it didn’t hurt at all, but I felt strange and a little numb. I had to keep wiggling my hands and feet to keep my circulation going. 

I think it took just over 10 minutes for them to extract a pint of blood from my body. Overall, I didn’t feel as bad as I’d expected to, which was a relief.

Although it didn’t feel great when they removed the needle, I felt amazing that I had done something that could actually save a life. All the carers there were fantastic and answered all my questions patiently despite having seen hundreds of people already. 

After my donation, I had as much time as I needed to rest, eat crisps and drink plenty of water to make sure I was feeling OK, and I drove home feeling pretty normal, except for a slight headache. 

All in all, it was a really rewarding experience; I would definitely recommend signing up to donate blood to anybody who’s eligible. The staff were extremely helpful and the procedure itself was far less scary than I had built it up to be in my head!

During the pandemic, the NHS is facing additional challenges to provide hospitals with the blood, plasma and platelets they need. If you’re over 17, weigh over 50kg and are in good health, why not sign up to give blood today?

What have you done to support others during the coronavirus pandemic? Join our panel today and let us know. You’ll get a free £10 Amazon voucher when you sign up.

Laycie Beckon 13 January 2021