What it’s like to give blood

11 mins read
axonmedica com
Credit: axonmedica.com

In sixth year of high school my class had a talk on giving blood. We all sat in a row of plastic chairs while a woman from the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service stood at the front and talked. She went on and on about blood.

Understandable, I know, but she kept emphasising how it was okay for us to leave if we felt uncomfortable. “I know some people are squeamish”, she said. “So be warned, I will be talking about needles and how they take the blood from you…”

I don’t have a problem with blood. I can sit mostly unperturbed through an episode of Casualty or Fargo. But she just wouldn’t stop talking about feeling ill and then suddenly I was feeling ill. Dizzy, I fled the room, getting nothing more from the experience than a free pen and a bad memory.

This experience put me off, and for the next three years I always wanted to give blood, but was too afraid to. Nobody wants to be a fainter. But my desire to give blood and help people never faded, and eventually I swallowed my fears and started looking at how I could register to donate.

Googling ‘giving blood Scotland’ will take you to the ScotBlood homepage, which gives you all the information you need to know before you can donate. You can find out if you’re eligible to give blood and where your nearest donation centre is. There’s even a cute infographic which tells you the current blood stock levels across Scotland for each blood type.

I clicked on the big blue button that asked me to ‘Sign up to give blood’ and filled in some personal details. It was as easy as that. I received a confirmation email, and then all I had to do was wait for the next session in my local area to come around.

About a week before I gave blood I was sent a letter telling me the address, date and time of my next local donation session. Attached to this letter was a questionnaire which I was to fill out and bring along with me.

The questionnaire asks for information on your health and lifestyle. It is quite long (and some questions are very specific!) but it is so important that you fill it out as fully and honestly as you can. This is to protect your health as well as the health of those who could receive your blood. Some factors may rule you out of blood donation altogether.

The day of my first blood donation came around quicker than I expected. I was understandably nervous, but excited too; this was something I had always wanted to do, and now I was finally doing it!

One thing that surprised me when I arrived at the centre was just how busy it was. I joined the back of the queue that went out the door, and there was, admittedly, quite a bit of waiting around during the rest of my session. However, I’m not complaining; the more people that turn up to give blood the better!

The centre was staffed by NHS nurses, so you can be confident that they will treat you well. They can also answer any questions you may have, no matter how silly you think they may be.

At the door a nurse scanned my form and confirmed my name and address. Since it was my first donation, I had to wait to have an interview with another nurse who went over the answers of my questionnaire to make sure I was suitable to donate. I then signed the questionnaire to confirm I was happy to give blood.

You’re never too old for a sticker. Credit: Amy Beveridge

Next I had a finger prick test to check if I had high enough levels of haemoglobin in my blood – if not I may not be able to donate. I panicked and gave the nurse my dominant hand to prick. I would not recommend this as it does sting quite a bit! They will also ask you which arm you would like your blood taken out of so choose carefully.

After another short wait, it was finally time for me to give blood! About ten examination tables were set up around the hall, with equipment and a nurse at each. I was told to lie down and relax. A pressure cuff was put around my arm, and my arm was wiped with antiseptic before the needle was inserted.

Although you might want to look away for this bit, it really doesn’t hurt as much as expected. I would say that it hurts about as much as an injection. Then all you need to do is wait. Your nurse may give you a stress toy to play around with in your hand to keep the blood flowing well – I had a cute little penguin.

After all that, it was over in a flash. It took me about eight minutes to donate a unit, which my nurse told me was about average. My donated blood had flowed into a bag under my table, and a few extra samples were also collected to check for any diseases.

After the needle came out (look away again folks!) I was told to put pressure on the wound for a couple of minutes, and then I was all bandaged up and done. It was now snack time! I was sent over to a table with juice, tea and a selection of biscuits and chocolate bars.

As I ate my Tunnock’s caramel wafer (score!), I did feel a bit woozy. Was it the loss of blood, or was it was just my imagination after being nervous? Either way, I did start to feel better a few minutes later. A nurse was also on hand if anyone started to feel unwell.

Seated around the table with me were an amazingly diverse bunch of people. There were men and women of every age and background all united by a common purpose. I also felt encouraged by those who brought their children along with them – although they were too young to donate, their parents were teaching them good habits for when they grow older.

After I had sat for about fifteen minutes and got my fill of chocolate and juice I was free to go. I was instructed to take it easy for the rest of the day, and make sure I had plenty to drink and eat.

Keen to donate? Here’s some handy tips to make sure your own donation goes smoothly:

  • Be prepared before your donation – make sure you get a good night’s sleep, drink plenty of fluids (not alcohol!) and eat proper healthy meals.
  • Don’t drive to your session – you might feel unwell after your donation, so it’s best not to be behind the wheel.
  • Go with buddies – I had good company who reassured and supported me. It makes the whole process a lot less scary.
  • Donate again – not only do you get a shiny pin badge, but then you will be getting into the habit of giving blood.

Giving blood is a habit I do want to get into. After nearly four years of not giving blood, I feel that I have a bit of catching up to do! But I’m so glad that I gained the confidence to donate. If you are scared or anxious, don’t be! Every nurse and other donator there was warm and friendly, and there for exactly the same reason as you. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but I find that the importance of donation can drown out those fears and worries. After all, it could be you or a loved one in dire need of blood next time.


I believe that everyone who can donate should be able to give blood, and it saddens me that not everyone within the UK has equality when it comes to giving blood. Although rules have recently been relaxed in allowing homosexual men to donate, more still needs to be done until they have equality with heterosexual men. Find out more here.

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