asked the trainee blood donation nurse, with a nervous smile.
“Go for your life,” I managed with mock bravado, trying to keep the anxiety from my voice. “Just make sure you stick it in the right place…”
I loathe needles. When a doctor tried to give me a tetanus shot some years back, a broken jaw couldn’t stop me squarking on so vociferously that by the time I’d paused for breath, she had done the jab already. After the surgery, I refused any pain killers whatsoever upon sighting the size of the needle they were planning to administer the jolly things by.
So as I am sure you can imagine, I do not approach my 16 week blood donations with any form of excitement whatsoever. I do them out of an unshakeable sense of social responsibility – after all, the list of omissions is so extensive it’s a genuine wonder that any of the sexually active adult population of the UK are able to donate at all – and deal with the lead-up to the event by not actually acknowledging the pointy implications of the appointments in any way, shape or form. It’s like I trick myself into letting the needle come as a surprise.
Which is why it was rather bad luck to have trainee Nicholas as my carer, because no nurse should ever, ever ask me permission to stick a damn needle in. I might have just as easily said “Actually, no, you can’t, is that the exit?” and done a runner there and then. But I behaved – my foot is not broken, the universe has been relatively kind, I owe someone a pint of blood – and lay quietly while he performed the most painful donation insertion I’ve ever experienced. This coming after he first spent a good minute or so pushing and prodding gently at my veins (so, what, they’re hiding tonight? I’m wondering) and, having announced that he must disinfect my arm for thirty second, proceeding to do just that for precisely 31. I know the rules probably say to swab for 30 seconds, but what nurse actually does it for more than one or two half-hearted wipes?
So, ok, the needle is in. Getting to this point has already been, I should add, something of an adventure: I had clean forgotten to ask at the hospital whether there was any reason I should not be able to donate blood this evening. So I came clean at reception, admitting I’d taken pain killers (“What kind?” the weary nurse asked. “Um, white and pink ones.” Flat stare. “That all you can tell me?”) and been x-rayed. The duty nurse interrogated me at length, inspected the foot, asking did I feel faint? (No) Was I sure there was no chance of fracture? (Yes) Does pushing here hurt? (Yes!) Could I be internally bleeding? (No!) Had I been punctured or pierced in any way at the hospital? (No) Had I been in contact with anyone who seemed significantly ill with an infectious disease? (What the… how should I know?)
As I lay there, both legs twitching and both hands opening and closing convulsively, Nicholas turned his attention to a Lucy who clearly had less love of donating than even I. She made it through the poiltely mechanic greeting, 30 second swab and request to insert the needle without trauma, but suddenly asked whether the flow could be slowed. A moment later she caught herself, but it was too late – Nicholas was desperately anxious about her welfare, and she just as desperate to assure the poor trainee that all was well. After a few excuciating minutes of “Are you absolutely sure you’re ok?” “Yes, absolutely, I just had a fleeting moment, so sorry, nothing to worry about, no really,” throughout which she was making a fist so tight the knuckles whitened, Lucy tried to strategically route the stalemate with “So, why did you decide to become a blood donation nurse?”
I don’t think Nicholas had ever been asked this – mind you, I don’t think he’d been a donation nurse for more than a few days – so he stammered out the truth: “I need a job.”
“Oh,” Lucy managed. “That’s… that’s good. Very… good.”
Turns out Nicholas is in fact an artist – although Lucy was clearly too distracted by the sight of the needle embedded in her arm to ask what type – and had just taken the job out of, well, desperation. He actually threw me – now unable to hide the smirk – a rather embarrassed look and hastened to add that he also wanted to Do Something Worthwhile. Contribute To Society, Etc. Lucy laughed nervously and fell very quiet after that.
By the time the courtesy nurse had let me finish off the cordial, demolish a pack of chips and the last remaining apple and Bram had arrived to find us completely engrossed in a reality TV show in which a camera crew were trapped on a dog farm by an irate owner who had parked them in and was making all sorts of threatening gestures (this drama making a welcome relief from earlier scenes of wide eyed puppies being put down after ill treatment) Lucy had made her shakey way to the recovery lounge as well. We shared cheery farewells, we two brave soldiers, having survived the trainee and the big needle again for another 16 weeks.