Further Adventures With Needles

Last week I told you about my exciting adventures with vaccination. This week, I had more exciting (in both senses of the phrase) adventures with needles; I gave blood, for the first time in America.

I’ve been giving blood regularly since about 2006, or as regularly as I can make it; I’ve never been particularly worried by needles, have a decent pain tolerance, am perfectly physically capable of donating blood, and can’t really afford to give to charity in many other ways. It would be a nobler pursuit if I had more useful blood – in fact, I have one of the least useful blood types (at least for a Western country), B+, which is only good for B+ and AB+ carriers. I soldier on regardless. In New Zealand, there’s only one organisation that takes blood donations, the New Zealand Blood Service/Te Ratonga Toto o Aotearoa, which is a government agency. Here, blood donations are run by the Red Cross. I figured there might be a few differences in donation procedures, but I was surprised by how many there were.

For a start, there were far more health questions to answer, and a lot more about AIDS – there are so few HIV+ people in New Zealand that while they screen for it, it’s not explicitly addressed (instead approached via questioning about your potential membership in groups at higher risk of AIDS and other blood-borne diseases), whereas here you’re asked if you’ve had AIDS-related symptoms, had sex with people with AIDS, and so forth. Then there are all the diseases we just don’t have in New Zealand, like Chagas’ Disease; some I’d never even heard of.

The nurses all wear gloves, too, which I’m sure they didn’t in NZ (can anyone with a better memory than me confirm that?) Then they swab your arm with iodine, which I found kind of hilarious and neat, as I haven’t got iodine on my skin since sixth-form chemistry labs. The disinfectant in NZ is alcohol-based, or at least clear. Funny how the little things get your attention.

The other major difference is that they make you lie down flat when donating, which is a little annoying – you can’t see your own bag of blood, as it’s down beside the bed you’re lying on, so it’s impossible to tell how long it’s taking. In the blood donation clinics I’ve been to in Christchurch, both mobile and the main center, you sit with torso raised on a sort of recliner-thing; makes you feel much less vulnerable.

Finally, when you get to the sitting-around-rehydrating portion, no-one makes you tea (I know, I know, I’m obsessed with tea. Mmm. Tea.) And the juice is American juice, which is to say, it’s all nearly pure sugar cranberry-grape-apple-stuff processed to within an inch of its life (I’m never going to get over having to make raids on the “Natural” section to get what I regard as standard fruit juice. Orange. Maybe orange and mango. Or orange, mango and apple. The point is: it shouldn’t be transparent.) On the other hand, they have Oreos. I approve of this. The New Zealand Blood Service could do with more Oreos.

They also gave me a free t-shirt, but to be perfectly honest it’s pretty ugly and they only had larges left, so I can’t really say it was a motivating factor. I could have been noble and refused it, but, well, they had them there already and extra sleepwear never goes amiss, so I didn’t. If I’d managed to get in at the last drive I would have got a Subway voucher; they clearly practice bribery here, which doesn’t surprise me, as I’d heard they used to actually pay for donations, but is very different – in New Zealand you get a coffee mug or a water bottle, and that’s only after five or ten donations. I guess in New Zealand the biscuits and tea are considered sufficient bribery. It’s true that I’ll go a long way for a Toffeepop. Probably further than I would for a t-shirt.

So the blood-donation bit and the sitting-around bit all went very unadventurously, which is how you want a blood donation to go. The weird bit happened when I got to the lab and promptly started fainting every time I stood up for more than two minutes; at least, when my vision greys out, there’s a horrible bitter taste on my tongue, and I feel nauseous, I’m going to call it a faint.

Unfortunately, I had quite a bit of lab work that needed to be done in the next hour, so my lab-mates kept turning around to find me lying on the floor or resting my head on the bench (“What are you doing?” “Not fainting.” “Uh, okay then.”)  It turns out that it is perfectly possible to reduce, overpressurise, and inoculate ten tubes of methanogens while fainting, as long as you take periodic breaks, get the syringe into the sharps disposal box before you are entirely unable to see, and drink lots of water. (Kids: Don’t Try This At Home. Although if you are, it begs the question of what you’re doing with a fully set-up anaerobic hyperthermophile lab at home.)

This was notable largely because, as I said at the top of the post, I have been donating blood for some time now and have never had so much as a dizzy spell following it; things I have done after donating blood include having haircuts and biking two miles home in the rain. I was also very well hydrated and had just eaten a decent lunch. Nevertheless, I think in future (and there will be a future: it will involve more Oreos, after all) I will schedule my blood donations for the end, rather than the middle, of the day. It might save my lab-mates some anxiety.

P.S. I know this post is boring and has no pictures. Again. I will try and find something picture-related to blog about next time.

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6 Responses to Further Adventures With Needles

  1. Phil Stewart says:

    Hey, at least you’re allowed to donate blood, even if it did give you a fit of the vapours this time. I haven’t been able to donate blood in NZ for the past 20+ years because I lived in mad cow disease country (England) during the mid 1980s. Which makes you wonder: are English people who lived in England in the 80s allowed to donate blood???

    • In America you’re not allowed to donate if you lived in the UK or certain parts of Europe for more than three months between 1980 and 1996, or if you’ve lived in anywhere Europe for more than five years since 1990, which is significantly harsher than the Kiwi restrictions.

      In England itself, it’s only restricted if you’ve ever received blood or had a transplant, or if you have a family member who developed CJD (see here.

  2. Phil Stewart says:

    Now I don’t feel quite so persecuted. But I reckon 25 years is long enough for symptoms to start appearing!

  3. Liz W says:

    haha, that’s some true dedication to science right there :) we’re having a big blood drive here at Stanford next week, and just from the advertising for it thus far I’ve got cookies for me and my officemate, a ruler, really neat clip fridge magnets, some pencils, and a plushie blood droplet! Though I can’t actually give blood at the moment cause I’m giving it to science (flu vaccine immunological reaction trial, basically I get the same vaccine as everyone else, only a give a bit of blood too over a couple of weeks, then they give me cash! and it’s not “employment”, which is important.
    Though, at the moment I would totally give blood in exchange for a tin of reduced cream.

  4. Vik says:

    Lucy, they sell oreos in ChCh – truely!

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