Giving blood is very important

This week, I toddled down to The Three Swans in Market Harborough, accompanied by The Boys, and handed over slightly more than a pint of The Wartime Housewife’s finest O Rh Positive.  I say slightly over, because an extra donation is taken in order to extract platelets and plasma.  I’m also on the Bone Marrow donation and  the Organ Donation registers and all this information is logged on the little plastic card I carry round in my purse – for my own use and also in case I go under a bus and someone needs my kidneys. 

I have given blood intermittently for years; intermittently because I couldn’t donate for a while after visiting the Far East and likewise after the birth of The Boys due to having caesarian sections.  I usually take The Boys with me so that they see loads of different people doing it, observe that it’s easy and I hope that it will encourage them to do it themselves when they’re 17.  They also get a drink and a chocolate biscuit which always goes down well.   

In the UK only 4% of the population gives blood and yet many of us will need transfusions due to surgery, illness or accidents. Last year they collected 2.1 million donations from about 1.6 million donors. Although that sounds a lot, that is 4% of the population, giving two or three times a year.

8,000 units of blood are needed every day to meet hospital demand. Blood comes in four main types – O, A, B and AB – Group O is the most common which means it is in high demand. Blood can also be subdivided into its main components – red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma. Unfortunately red cells only have a shelf-life of 35 days, while the shelf life of platelets is only five days, so the stocks constantly need replenishing.

The history of blood and transfusions is interesting.  The Greek physician and writer, Claudius Galen is a giant in the story of medicine.  Born around AD130 he wrote some 400 treatises on medicine and his work on anatomy was seriously impressive.  He understood that the heart regulated the flow of blood and although he had worked out that there was a venous and arterial system, but he thought the liver was the crucial organ of the blood and he never cracked the concept of circulation. 

In the Middle Ages, blood was known to be a vital component of human health and it was thought that disease could be caused by an excess of bodily fluids such as blood.  Blood letting became a main treatment and was often undertaken by barbers at public baths.  Sometimes a vein was opened to release the blood but often it was extracted using leeches or cupping vessels to remove ‘the viscious humours’.

It wasn’t until 1628 that William Harvey established that blood circulated round the body and outlined the mechanics of the cardio-vascular system.  The next major step occurred in 1665 by Dr Richard Lower who carried out the first successful blood transfusion in dogs.  He noted that dark venous blood injected into the aerated lungs of the recipient turned bright red and thus he came close to understanding the modern concept of oxygenation of blood in the lungs.

However, when he started performing transfusions on humans, he couldn’t understand why people receiving the blood kept dying.  In the early 1800’s a Dr James Blundell was attempting to transfuse women who suffered haemorrhage after childbirth; miraculously it sometimes worked, but not often.  It wasn’t until 1900 when Dr Karl Landsteiner discovered the ABO blood group system, that doctors understood that patients need compatible blood.  This discovery won him the Nobel Prize.

There were various small advances, particularly during the First World War when it was discovered that blood kept longer if it was kept in the fridge and also that by mixing it with sodium citrate they could prevent it from clotting.  In 1921 members of The British Red Cross volunteered to donate blood, which was the first step towards a voluntary donation system.  In 1936 the world’s first blood bank was opened in Chicago, USA, closely followed by Ipswich, UK.

The outbreak of the Second World War really focused the minds of the doctors and nurses treating the wounded and transfusion centres were set up all over the country. In 1946 The Blood Transfusion Service was born and when the National Health Service was established the following year, they immediately began to work in close partnership.  It is now called The National Blood Service.

From then on the service went from strength to strength.  Testing was introduced for hepatitis and HIV and more recently Nucleic Acid Amplification Technology (NATS) is used for detecting viruses in their early stages, making blood transfusion safer than ever.

If you make an appointment, giving blood can take less than 40 minutes.  You fill in a questionnaire, a nurse will take a drop of blood from your finger to make sure that you are not anaemic (low on haemoglobin), and you are then taken to a trolley on which you lie comfortably while a needle is inserted into a vein. There is a slight prick as the needle goes in, but nothing more than that. You flex your hand gently to ensure good blood flow whilst you’re lying there, then, when it’s finished, usually after about 20 minutes, you have a drink and a biscuit.  And they’re usually really nice biscuits.  I had an orange Club.

For the sake of 40 minutes of your time you will have saved someone’s life.  Fair swap.

Log on to the National Blood Service website now and find out where you can go to save a life. 



Filed under Community and shopping, Health and Fitness, History, Medical, Science and Technology

15 responses to “Giving blood is very important

  1. Morag

    Before children, I always used to give blood. But then I wasn’t allowed to for a period of time, and somehow never got back into it (I am sure they lose lots of volunteers accidentally this way – they ought to have some kind of method to encourage them back into the fold).

    Anyway, in December last year, I decided to give blood. They faffed around for ages before deciding that my haemoglobin levels were too low. They have told me to come back in a year.

    The boys and I are all registered with the Organ Donation Service. My mother in law doesn’t like the idea of the boys being registered, but she’s perfectly happy with the idea of them using someone else’s organs if need be. Incredibly superstitious and selfish, if you ask me.

    • wartimehousewife

      Morag: It’s an interesting one, organ donation. I think some people have a fear that they will be somehow mutilated, but when organs have been taken, the surgeons treat the doner with great courtesy and respect and everything is stitched up neatly. You have prompted me to register the boys though, as I hadn’t thought of that.

      I do you hope your iron levels are shooting up – lots of Nettle Soup, spinach and liver for you, my girl!

  2. I do admire you, WH. My 2 attempts at giving blood were a disaster 😦 Neither time could they find a vein for absolutely ages, and then when they did, the blood flow was so slow it took ages to fill the bag (apparently I have very small veins!) Both times afterwards, I was hideously bruised (I mean looking like I’d had a car accident) and could’t use my arm for 3-4 days! I’m afraid twice was enough ~ I am borderline phobic about needles anyway (despite [or perhaps because of] having been stuck with them countless times during a serious illness 3 years ago), and now I am seriously phobic about giving blood!
    So well done you!
    A x

    • wartimehousewife

      Hi Autumn. As you rightly point out, some people are not ideal candidates, but at least you had a go. You are clearly a delicate flower and meant for higher things!

      I have to donate with my left arm because I have a wierd, congenital transverse vein in my right arm and they don’t like it. Also very thin people can’t donate; my thin, tiny friend tried, collapsed and was (kindly) told never to come back. Not enough body mass. I have more than enough body mass (!) and blood you could build bridges with, so I go as often as I can. AND I’m one of those sickos who has to watch them putting the needle in, inspect the bag etc etc. And it’s a sanctioned 20 minute lie-down!

      • Well, my veins might be thin but I am not, sadly 😉 My eldest daughter has been turned away for being “underweight” a number of times, not because she’s really underweight, but because she’s small (5’2″) and delicately built 🙂

      • Morag

        I’m loving the idea of justifying my body mass based on my ability to give blood (when I can, once more!).

  3. Sian mummy-tips

    So there I was at school open day yesterday talking to another mum about the mummy blogger conference that i’m putting on next weekend and she asked if I’d seen your blog…..
    I hadn’t, so vie stopped by to say hi… Great to find another blogger in the playground.

    • wartimehousewife

      Welcome Sian – how lovely to hear from you. Tell me about the conference! Tell me about your own blog so I can look at it and spread the word.

  4. Ben

    Sorry, no can do.

    Because I’m gay, the National Blood Service presumes I must have the AIDS.

    • wartimehousewife

      Welcome Ben. I know, it’s a real problem. I used to work for the Terrence Higgins Trust back in the eighties and nineties and the general feeling was that because the incubation period for HIV was so long, it was too great a risk. I know someone who was turned away at one time (although I believe it has been moderated now) because they had taken cocaine in the nineties and the rationale was that if they had taken cocaine they were LIKELY to have injected heroin and therefore might have HIV or Hep C. A lot of this was knee-jerk from not only HIV but also CJD as there were incidences of contamination from both sources. Hopefully the NATS screening will sort this out. If it’s any consolation it’s not just gay blokes. They have to do a risk assessment and some people are ruled out. Do keep reading and I hope to hear from you again.

  5. My younger daughter can’t give blood due to having had a blood transfusion a number of years ago…

  6. Deb

    A young man in my town conceived and shepherded a bill through the Massachusetts legislature to change the blood donation age to 16. That way, there are enough potential donors at schools to make blood drives there worthwhile. That young man will be attending Clare College, Cambridge next year. Perhaps someone will want to take up this cause in Britain.

  7. Jo Halford

    I have given blood (with periods of abstinence due to childbirth and more hip surgery) since I had major surgery on my hip at 19 years old, many years ago! However, the last time I went along I suffered the most excruciating pain whilst the needle was put in, I begged them to stop, wept openly and was sent home in disgrace. My arm was terribly bruised, top to bottom, for at least a week and I’m afraid I lost my nerve. This post has prompted me to face my demons and go along and try again. (Apparently, I suffered a collapsed

  8. Jo Halford

    P.S. On organ transplants, I sadly lost my dad two weeks ago and he was an organ donor…by the time we had realised that nobody had asked us about this, it was too late.

    • wartimehousewife

      Jo: So sorry to hear about your Dad. x

      Jo and everyone: That’s are really important point. If you are an organ donor, tell your family so they know what to do. My sisters and I had this discussion a month or two ago as we realised that none of us knew the feelings of the others about organ donation, resuscitation in the event of serious injury or how we wanted to be disposed of when we died. The answers were unexpected. Also, knowing these things does make people feel as though they have a bit more control at a time when we’re usually floundering.

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