Sticking a pipe into your arm and bleeding for someone else’s benefit can’t be that hard, right? Emer Sugrue investigates…


Giving blood is one of those things that ‘good people’ do. Good People are always doing things for others: they spend every weekend being drained of all their useful fluids before heading down to orphanage to make soup, have 15 standing orders for various charities, and 20 copies of the Big Issue in their bag. I am not so honourable; I ignore the homeless and the chuggers, drowning out their desperate pleas with my iPod. “Sorry, I didn’t notice that clipboard waving in my face; I’ve been rendered blind by pure rhythm!”

However, even I sometimes long for the smug satisfaction of giving to my fellow man, and donating blood seemed ideal. I wouldn’t have to talk to any sick or poor people, and I could still brag about how selfless I am. Anyway, it’s only a pint of blood; I donate that every week to my carpet, stubbing my toe.

It was a longer process than I had expected. I first had to fill out an enormous questionnaire to see if I was eligible. The first few were normal (my age, whether I’d donated before), but then it got into very odd territory. You can’t donate if you’ve lived in Britain, or ever been to a hospital in Britain. Why? Britain is a first world country, they even have better health system then we’ve got. Are they randomly injecting people with Aids over there? Maybe it’s just a really petty hangover from the War of Independence.

You can’t donate if you are a gay man, or have had the flu in the last month, or had a blood transfusion, or been out of Europe, or gone outside, or talked to anyone. Luckily my isolated World of Warcraft lifestyle leaves me amply qualified. I returned my form and was whisked off to talk to a nurse, who proceeded to ask me exactly the same questions out loud, drilling through the questions very quickly, and trying to get me to trip up and confess like some sort of blood terrorist. After my interrogation, and when I still wasn’t a junkie prostitute, I was cheerfully informed that I would be allowed to give blood that day. Woohoo!

I was through the first hurdle, and it only took 40 minutes! I still wasn’t confirmed to give blood at this point, though, I had to have a few tests. After another 20 minutes in the waiting room, I was taken behind a screen to have my iron levels checked. (You have to have quite a high iron level so vegetarians – don’t even bother. You can go donate some celery to dyslexic budgies.) Since I am awesome, I again passed with flying colours. You need a minimum of 12, but I had 13.6, eh… bits of iron. In my blood. Which was good. On went the inflatable armband to check my blood pressure, and I was good to go.

Ushered through to the main bleeding room after another wait, a tight band was put over my upper arm to bulge up my veins. I saw Jack Bauer do that in 24 when he was a heroin addict, that one time. Then a nurse handed me a dog toy, a little red rubber bone, and I was ordered to play with it, pressing it with my thumb as if I was clicking a pen. I do like clicky pens but the bone didn’t click, and I was beginning to wonder (a) why the budget didn’t stretch to proper squeezy things, and (b) whether the nurses were just messing with me. The needle went in, and the nurse commented on how fast I was bleeding. She seemed quite impressed – but outside a blood donation situation it’s hardly ideal. If I ever get mugged I’m going to bleed dry in seconds. At least I can hope the sheer volume will cause my attacker to slip and impale himself on a nearby postbox.

Watching the bag fill up was bizarre. It looked so full, but I didn’t feel any different. No dizziness, nausea… even no pain. There have been incidents before where I didn’t notice I had cut myself (“Hmm… why is my hand wet? Uh-oh.”) but I always assumed I would realise before I bled to death. The only thing that happened was my hand got quite cold. Maybe I wasn’t playing with the dog toy enough.

Ten minutes later the bag was full, and the needle was yanked out and replaced with the stickiest plaster known to mankind. (I had a job getting that off later – easily the most painful part of the procedure). Finally it was off to the canteen for doctor prescribed tea and biscuits.

I would definitely donate again. You can only give blood once every three months; although the lost blood is replaced within 24 hours, the body takes several weeks to recover red blood cells. As I munched my bourbons I congratulated myself: two hours and one pint of blood is definitely worth a weekend of bragging about my selflessness.

Next week, the kidney. I can take it. Rawr.

To find out more about donating blood, visit