Confession time: I have never donated blood.
Telegram reporter James McLeod gives blood at Canadian Blood Services in St. John's Wednesday.
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
It’s not for a lack of trying. I’ve gone to the mobile clinic at MUN three times before, and each time my good intentions have been thwarted by my body’s lack of co-operation. One time it was weight issues, another low blood pressure, and the last, low iron. But today, I decided, today was going to be my day. Today would be the day I’d help save a life with a measly pint of body fluid. Today would be the day I’d do for a stranger what I hope one would do for me. Today would be the day I’d eat those free cookies in triumph, instead of walking past them with longing.
So armed with steadfast resolve, in I went.
On a sweltering day like yesterday, the air-conditioned Blood Services clinic on Wicklow Street is a small corner of heaven. The building is spacious and comfortable, the people friendly and chatty. It is, altogether, a very pleasant place to be.
It’s 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, and the clinic is fairly empty. I walk up to the receptionist, who greets me with a smile. She asks me for ID, I give them my address and phone number, and presto, I’m past the first stage. The receptionist gives me a pamphlet to read as I wait for Stage 2.
The information in the pamphlet is pretty basic. You can’t give blood if you’re at risk of AIDS or hepatitis, so any tattoos or piercings in the last six months are a no-no (my friends were right, that nose ring would have been a bad idea). It lets you know that you should drink lots of water before and after donating, and recommends you eat a lot as well. No problems there; I’m always glad for an excuse to feast.
I’m called over to a table, where a grinning technician checks over my info, then asks me to put out a hand for the iron test. I stick out my middle finger and hold my breath; this is where I got stopped last time. She gently pricks my finger and collects a drop of blood. In it goes to the machine, and damn. It’s five points too low. Thwarted again!
“You should eat more greens,” she suggests helpfully. I hang my head in shame, my horrendous summer diet of popsicles and beer at last exposed.
I’m walking out the doors in remorse, when who should appear but the Telegram’s own James McLeod.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
“I give blood whenever I can,” he responds. So, like the intrusive lover of serendipity I am, I follow him back inside.
James makes it past the anemia-test stage with ease. “Cook with a cast-iron skillet” is apparently his secret.
For his glowing iron-levels, he is rewarded with a questionnaire. Most of the questions are pretty easy (“Are you feeling well today?”), but I could see him sweating over a few of them (“Have you, in your past or present job, taken care of or handled monkeys or their body fluids?”).
Next stop: the screening room. Here they take his vitals and check his veins, before moving on to some of the more serious questions.
“Have you used cocaine within the last 12 months?”
“At any time in the last 12 months, have you paid money or drugs for sex?”
“Have you ever taken illegal drugs with a needle, even one time?”
He answers no to all of them.
“Every time I go in there, I realize how boring my life is,” James tells me in the office later, before sitting down to write a story on hospital waste.
Free of risk, he makes his way to the main attraction: the donation chair. A nurse ties a band around his arm and gives him a stress ball to squeeze. In goes the needle.
“I know it sounds cliché, but it really does just feel like a pinprick,” he swears.
The needle is in for what feels like 10 seconds. I take some pictures, watch him attempt to tweet one-handed, gawk at what a lovely colour blood is, and before we both know it, it’s over. All in all, James gives a pint of blood in about five minutes. He’s a fast bleeder.
He rests in the chair for a bit, and then he’s free to leave. Painless, fast, and hugely beneficial, giving blood is sweet — eight-varieties-of-cookies-in-the-after-area sweet. We drink some apple juice and eat some biscuits. James needs the energy — researchers at the University of California estimate giving blood burns about 650 calories (as if you really need another reason to donate).
“The way I see it, if you can donate blood, then why not?” James muses over a fruit cream. “It takes next to no time, and you can feel good about yourself for a week afterwards.”
Less than an hour after we walked in, we walk out — James with the knowledge he just helped save a life, and I with a commitment to eat more spinach. Because next time, by golly, there will be blood.