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75 donations

I recently gave blood for the 75th time, and I’ve been pondering my blood donation history.

I remember the first time I gave blood: it was in Southport at the Holy Trinity Church Hall. My mum drove me there because she was worried about me driving after donating. She was scandalised by the need to ‘pay and display’ to park, especially because—in those days—it was hard to know how long to pay for. There was no appointment service: it was a ’turn up and queue’ affair. These days, I book appointments from an app on my phone.

I can’t accurately place this episode in time, though. I think it must have been when I was 19, as I don’t think I donated before starting medical school, and I assume I must have started during the summer holiday at home.

I’ve posted a few times on this blog about donating blood, and was surprised to find that it was in 2012—a little after my 25th donation—that beds were replaced with reclining chairs. They still strike me as somewhat new-fangled, even though I’ve clearly now made two-thirds of my donations in one.

If I did start at 19, then I’ve now been donating for half of my lifetime. A total of 75 donations over 19 years means a frequency of 3.9 donations per year, which is more than double the average. This isn’t because of any particular deep-set sense of altruism, it’s just because I always make the next appointment straight after my last session, and the logical option is to schedule it at my earliest convenience. I’m lucky these days to live within walking distance of a blood donation centre, so I don’t have to try to be available when a peripatetic session happens to be nearby.

Each donation is 450ml, so I’ve given a little short of 34 litres in all, or a little over three times my total blood volume. There’s a cross stitch on display at my local donor centre:

The ‘75’ is, in effect, a slight exaggeration. The rule is—as far as I can make out—that if the donation needle pierces the skin, then that counts as a ‘donation.’ But on very rare occasions, perhaps two or three times over the years, the needle misses the vein, in which case nothing comes out. These days, there seems to be a ‘one attempt’ rule: they won’t even try the other arm to save the bother of coming back another day. I’m sure they used to be more gung-ho about it.

Other than the occasional bruise, I’ve only suffered two minor side effects in those 75 donations.

I remember at a session in Stockton, at the end of my donation, the carer shouted to a colleague, ’I’ve got a leak!’ I assumed there was something wrong with the collection bag, but came to realise quite quickly that it was the enthusiastic blood flow from my arm after the needle had been removed that was the cause for concern. A bit of pressure and elevation sorted that pretty quickly.

On another occasion, the fault was entirely mine. I had a quantity of alcohol after donating (against advice) and took my blood pressure medication and got up too quickly out of bed and stood up to pee. Post-micturition syncope was the predictable consequence. I think this is the only time in my life that I’ve ever fainted. My overriding memory from the event is how fainting didn’t feel like I expected it to: it was much more a feeling in the gut than a light-headedness. No cartoon birds circled my head. I did feel a little foolish.

Never in 75 donations have I ever experienced any pain.

I feel very lucky to have enjoyed good health over the years, and to have been eligible to donate. There are many people who would like to, but cannot.

When I started donating, the National Blood Service gave those who reached 75 donations was an Edinburgh crystal plate—now found in numbers on eBay. My mum could have hung it on her ‘plate wall’. These days, NHS Blood and Transplant give only a pin badge—and, since 2022, a social media badge:

If I make it to 100, I get invited to a special ceremony and—most importantly—I’m pretty sure I get the day off work to attend. There are some days when I’d gladly swap 45 litres of blood for a day off.

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Photo-a-day 102: Donation 37

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