The one about the West Nile virus

The text arrived in my phone at one minute past 11.

‘Reminder: Blood donation session in Hillsborough today.’

I quickly redrew my plans. Well, to be fair, I didn’t have any plans before. But now I did.

I’ve been giving blood for the best part of a quarter of a century. That sounds like quite a noble statement but the truth is that within that time there have been long periods, stretches of years, when I didn’t bother.

It’s not that I’ve done it a lot, rather, I haven’t done it nearly enough. I deserve no compliments for it.

I know that I don’t do enough for charities. I know that I usually I fall well below my own standards in terms of being generous and helping others. I’ve always been selfish in my core.

Giving blood is the one thing I do which I can truly say is not for my own benefit. When I get to the end of my life I know there will be people whose health is better, possibly even people who are only alive, because I did this tiny thing.

Plus I’ve got O Negative type blood. For the uninitiated that’s the only blood type which can be given to any person in an emergency. It’s the type of blood which is used when there is no time to ask questions. Less than 7% of the population have O Negative blood.

To me to have it and to have gone long periods of time without donating it, well, it’s frankly unforgivable.

But to get to the stage of giving blood I first have to go through the processes. Form filling, iron test, checking for medications, etc.

It almost seems like being able to give blood is a vindication of a boring lifestyle.

Have you travelled to any exotic countries?


Have you had multiple sexual partners?


Have you taken drugs?


Well what the heck have you done?

An unexpected complication has arisen. I tell the attendant that I’m just back from holiday in Italy and her brow furrows. She asks me how long ago? I’ve trouble remembering what I had for breakfast this morning, never mind the date I returned from holiday.

I consult my phone and we work out that it was 28 days ago. Her brow furrows deeper. They can’t take me if I was in Italy within…..28 days. She tells me there could be a risk of West Nile virus. She asks me how I’m feeling. The truth is until this very moment I was feeling wonderful.

She goes off to consult the senior nurse. Immediately I’m Googling West Nile virus and within 30 seconds have convinced myself I have it. Google can be dangerous this way. I once convinced myself I had Housemaid’s Knee by doing too many searches. I start to recover my poise.

The attendant returns and tells me all is fine. I’m taken straight through to a bed.

A kindly attendant called Maurice takes over my care. He prepares my arm until a senior nurse inserts the needle into my left arm. Most people are a bit queasy about this but I’ve always enjoyed watching the bit where the needle goes in and the thick blood rushes urgently through the tube.

We try to make conversation but it’s a challenge. I’m not good at smalltalk in any situation but quite what the social rules are for chatting to a man who has a two inch needle stuck into your arm are beyond me. I end up asking really inane questions and making daft observations.

‘So, how’s business? Well I’m sure it will pick up a bit later on.’

There is a time issue here. If the blood is removed from the arm in less than 15 minutes then the platelets can be removed and used to help leukaemia patients. The red blood cells are stored separately for transfusion. Beyond 15 minutes and this process can’t be done.

Luckily my blood is flowing readily today and we’re comfortably within that time. He dresses my arm and I sit up. Painless and stress free as ever.

I go to get a biscuit and a cup of juice with the other donators. This is the point where I usually put on my best scowl, scaring people away from talking to me.

But I’ve kinda been on a journey the past couple of weeks so I decide to try something new; being nice. I meet a lovely family, Amy who has just qualified as a geography teacher and her mum Julie. Amy tells me about her career plans and they listen with interest as I tell how I crashed mine.

Others join in the conversation, talking about the need for more people to come forward. We all have wee plasters on our arms. It feels good, as if we are all part of something together.

I’m in a good mood as I leave. I’m on my way to pick up my son, mummy is on her way home too, I’ve given blood and I’m certain I don’t have West Nile virus. What more could you want from a day?

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