A few years back when I found myself – sorry, made myself – unemployed in Dublin at the height of the recession, I found myself with a lot of time to fill and very little money to spend. So to keep myself busy, I embarked on a journey of exploration of the city, where I visited places of cultural and historical interest and tried new things, none of which cost very much, and blogged about them in a series rather romantically titled “Dates with Dublin”. (I was single at the time, and I found that the experience of hanging out in museums with dead people was frequently surpassing some of my romantic encounters, but enough about that.)
Around that time, in keeping with the theme of “things I always meant to do but never really got around to”, I booked myself into the Irish Blood Transfusion Clinic to give my first donation.
I won’t lie, I was probably more motivated by the opportunity to get inside the building on D’Olier Street and catch the iconic view from its third floor window onto O’Connell Street than I was by saving lives. The temptation of a cracking Instagram photo, coupled with the opportunity to show everyone just how virtuous I was sounded too irresistible. Plus I was unemployed, and I’d heard they gave you free food. Blood for crisps? Sounds fair to me.
A few blood-related facts. 3,000 blood donors are needed each week in Ireland, and one in four Irish people will need a blood transfusion at some point in their lives as the result of things like accidents, illnesses and giving birth. 1,000 people receive transfusions every week. Yet only 3% of the Irish population gives blood, meaning that supplies are typically quite low, stretching only to a few days.
Truth be told, I was a bit nervous about the whole experience of becoming a donor. But after that first time in D’Olier Street, I was hooked, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Why? Well, whether you’re a new or returning donor, the blood donation experience is reassuring thorough, consistent and friendly. From the outset, you are fully briefed and informed, and any questions you have are answered. Similarly, you answer a comprehensive questionnaire each time, and the attention to detail is reassuring. Your wellbeing is prioritised, and if you’re a first-timer, extra care is given to walk you through the process. And there are biscuits. As many biscuits as you can eat. Plus you get to feel great about yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The experience itself is surprisingly painless, in every sense of the word. Once you’re cleared to donate blood, you find yourself up on the bed holding a little squeezy toy. A tourniquet is applied and while you’re wondering what possessed you to spend an afternoon being punctured like a roast chicken, the unfailingly lovely nurses distract you with chat. It’s basically like being at the hairdresser’s, only you leave with less blood, a fuller stomach, and possibly, better hair. Before you know it, you’re plugged in, and then you just lie back and relax, and deploy the odd fist clench to keep things moving along.
For the squeamish, the blood bag is out of sight, so unless you want to look, you can’t see it. If you’re feeling brave, you can peek at the needle (essential to truly feel like a hero) but scout’s honour, it doesn’t hurt. Within a few minutes, the needle is whipped out and you’re patched up. After a short rest you get to relax with some refreshments.
Occasionally, you’ll faint, as I did the last time. But after a lie-down and a cold drink and a friendly but firm warning to eat a decent meal before donating next time will set you right.
What always strikes me about blood donation clinics is how happy everyone is. Even people with needles in their arms. The staff are consistently friendly, reassuring and always take time to acknowledge your time and contribution. And there is free food (did I mention the free food?)If you’ve never done so, and you feel like giving a little something this week, you can find details on your nearest blood donation clinic on www.giveblood.ie. You never know when you might need it, so why not give it a go?
This article first appeared in the Mayo News on Tuesday, August 14, 2018.