May 25th, 2012

Blood donor

I've always been a big believer in giving blood. Just for lying on a couch and sticking your arm out, you can get the warm altruistic glow of knowing you're helping someone in a medical emergency and as much tea and biscuits as you feel like. I was a regular blood donor back in the day, but then I got pregnant, and when the waiting period after giving birth had expired I was on antidepressants (which don't necessarily rule you out, but I didn't know that at the time), and somewhere along the line I realised that since I'd socially transitioned I had to consider the ban on men who have ever had sex with men to apply to me, and there things stood.

However, the Blood and Transplant Service have reviewed their guidelines and decided that men who haven't had sex with men in the last 12 months are no more risky as blood donors than anyone else. And since I've been essentially celibate since last April, that potentially puts me right back into the donor pool. A quick call to their helpline confirmed that the only issue with taking citalopram was whether it made me too ill to safely lose an armful of blood, and I was good to go.

I showed up at the Guildhall Arts Centre, which has hardly changed since I used to donate. There was some confusion because my ancient donor card didn't bring anything up on the system - and I'd re-registered through the internet with a brand-new name. Making a note on my donor form telling the data people to merge the two records was easily done, but since I couldn't even remember the year of my last donation with any accuracy I had to go through all the basics from scratch.

As I waited for the health screening, I started to worry that my blood would be considered unacceptable. I'm used to being persona non grata, disabled-but-not-really, a problem everyone has to handle with tongs at arm's length. But apart from a gentle grilling about the citalopram - including a rather touching enquiry about whether the donor form had overwhelmed me - there were no problems. My iron levels were, as always, fine - apparently my body understands perfectly which element I owe my allegiance to.

And so to the couch, the swabbing with something that smelled like cheap vodka, the momentary discomfort of the needle: familiar memories that needed only awakening from their dormancy. My blood, just like it always used to, poured out with no need for encouragement, and the donor carer was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the donation bag filled up. Then a drink and a bag of crisps - it seems returning donors are subject to the same drink restrictions as first-timers, so no tea for me - a few minutes of quietly sitting, and I was off back into the world.