Not Being the Missing Type

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On Friday, I had a brief chat with the wonderful Leigh Kendall (@leighakendall) on Twitter after she posted a link to her blog on blood donation with the statistic that new blood donors have decreased by 40% in recent years.

The internet is full of information on how important it is to give blood. I don’t propose to duplicate all of that here, because I am no expert and there are plenty of people who are.

Instead, I want to just tell you how easy it is.

I know that there are people who can’t give blood for medical reasons. I know that there are others who are genuinely terrified of the prospect. But if you’re neither of those, if you’ve always meant to do it but felt a bit uncomfortable, if you would like to but don’t know quite what’s involved, then I’m your woman.

First, go and visit ( if you’re in Scotland). Put in your postcode and choose whichever of the forthcoming sessions near you suit you best. They are even ranked in terms of distance, with little maps. Simples.

Do you work miles from home and aren’t around during the day or can’t always guarantee you’ll be back in time for an early evening slot? Use your work postcode and nip out in your lunch break, or, if you work in a large organisation, suggest that they come to you. When I was a solicitor in a big law firm, the bus used to park outside the office for a day and anyone who wanted to could take a short break from the office to go and do their bit (insert jokes here about blood-sucking lawyers in reverse).

Once you’ve made an appointment, you’ll get a letter in the post reminding you, together with a very straightforward form to complete and take along with you. You’ll also, a few days before your appointment, get a phone call from a lovely person in Northern Ireland just checking that you haven’t forgotten can still make it.

When you turn up on the day, you’ll be asked to drink a pint of water to make sure you’re hydrated (this makes it quicker and easier to give blood). You will be asked to read a card to check you haven’t done anything in the past or since your last donation which could mean you aren’t suitable to donate. You’ll be called – pretty quickly – to chat through this in a little screened cubicle and have your finger pricked to see if your blood sinks in a test-tube (thereby demonstrating, apparently, that you are not anaemic. If you are – and I often am – you’ll have another sample taken and checked in a different machine, and if you still don’t pass muster, you leave without donating and with a faint sense of failure. Just me?)

All being well, you return to the waiting area until – again quickly – you are called up to a seat. You can choose to use your left or right arm, if you have a preference. The chair swings back so that you are comfortably reclined with a view of the ceiling, your inner arm is swabbed and a needle quickly inserted (you can ask for an anaesthetic wipe beforehand). Your arm rests on a cradle next to you. And that’s it.

It stings a bit. I find that it feels a bit unpleasant (but I’m a bit squeamish). You might have a bit of bruising afterwards. It really, honestly doesn’t hurt. You don’t see the bag filling up (it’s under the chair) and if you don’t like watching the needle in your arm (I don’t) you can look the other way. You just lie there for ten minutes or so, gently squeezing your hand and wiggling your feet to keep the circulation flowing, and when the bag is full, a little alarm goes off and the nurse comes over to unplug you. You hold a little cotton wad against the needle site for a few minutes and are put upright until everyone’s sure you’re not dizzy. If you are, you get a bit longer on the marvellously comfortable seat. You then go and sit down and have a drink and some biscuits and the chance to make your next appointment right away. The whole thing should take no more than an hour.

You can’t give blood if you are pregnant or for six months thereafter. You can, however, give blood with a baby in tow. I’ve taken my youngest with me from being a few months old and had no problems whatsoever in leaving him in the pushchair next to my side. Now that he’s older and can be trusted not to run around, the staff put a chair next to me for him. My older children sit in the waiting section, which I have always found to be in the same room (you may want to check). They all love coming, because people make a bit of a fuss of them and they are treated to biscuits at the end!

So that’s it. In my experience, over the past almost two decades and in lots of different circumstances, I have found giving blood to be straightforward, efficient and pretty manageable.

It really matters. The #missingtype campaign is aimed at highlighting why we need blood. Hopefully, this post might convince you that you can help fill the gaps.

graphic taken from


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