I decided I needed a friend to help keep me accountable, so I sent messages to some people that I know give blood regularly. One of them said he was free and we made a booking. On the day, we had lunch across the road in Westfield. Then it was time to go and the nerves started to settle in.
I was greeted by an older lady who knew my friend by name. He donates regularly and keeps a running tally. He's into the triple-digits now. The lady gave me a form to fill out and we sat down so I could do it. They were very detailed questions - have you been to North Queensland in the last six months, have you been overseas in the last two years, have you ever been diagnosed with hepatitis in any form, are you currently on a prescription for Ankyloriamin Five... I ticked "No" for all of the boxes and then waited to be called, the nerves - and subsequent laughter - still growing as I watched people relaxing in beds with tubes sticking out of their arms. I don't know if it was the nerves or what, but I started making mistakes on my form.
|Let's see, country of birth... Michael. Wait, what?|
|I was starting to feel phantom pinching in the crook of my arm.|
After a solid half-hour, my name was called and I went into a side room for a preparatory interview. The first step was to take my blood pressure. The nurse wrapped a sphygmomanometer around my arm and it started to inflate, tightening in order to constrict the veins. At this point, more nerves turned into genuine fear and discomfort. I could feel the blood in my arm struggling to pump its way through the constricting velcro strap and it was freaking me out. I started sweating and fidgeting wildly. Even as the strap deflated in increments, it only served to give me a split second of relaxation and then tense up again when I realised it wasn't over. The nurse was busy on her computer and didn't seem to notice. Eventually she got her reading and the strap deflated.
'That's good, you've got nice healthy blood pressure,' she said without realising the irony. Then she got out the tiny pinprick needle that would be used to test my blood sugar. I grabbed my hand and as she placed in on the underside of my middle finger, I shut my eyes.
This time she did notice. As she squeezed a drop of blood out, she asked my if I was okay.
'Yeah it's fine, I've just got a phobia of needles,' I replied. The nurse's face dropped.
'Oh. Well if that's the case, I don't think we should be taking blood from you...'
'Oh it's okay, I'll deal with it,' I said. 'I've had loads of blood tests before.'
'This isn't like a blood test. The needle is a lot bigger and stays in for ten minutes.'
'Yeah I know, I've given blood before.' The nurse hesitated. She could see on her computer screen that this was true. But I felt that complete honesty was vital here.
'The phobia hadn't really set in by then...' I conceded.
'Ah yes,' said the nurse reanimating. 'It's a lot worse now. I can feel how clammy your hands are. We just can't risk you having a freak-out or collapsing during the process.' Now I was the one to hesitate. Is that what's meant to happen with a phobia? Had I jumped the gun with my self-diagnosis and caused a big worry for nothing?
'I've never collapsed or anything,' I said quickly, and then the honesty thing kicked in again. 'Well, there was one time, but it wasn't out of fear. I'd fasted too long before a blood test and they had to take a lot of blood.'
'I'm going to have to call the head nurse,' she said and leaned out of the door to call over an older, sterner-looking lady with glasses and her grey hair in a bun. The first nurse explained everything she'd heard so far.
'Yeah, I don't think we can go ahead,' she confirmed. Even this sterner nurse was looking at me with concerned eyes clearly seeing that "No" wasn't what I wanted to hear. I'd come all this way trying to try and overcome my fear (and do a good thing). I wanted to try and overcome this unexpected obstacle without being rude or argumentative.
'It's an undiagnosed phobia,' I offered. I just assumed that my level of fear was irrational.
'What happens to you when you have to deal with them?' asked the senior nurse.
'I just get... really, um... scared.' That sounded pathetic. 'Last time I had to get a blood test I was whimpering and I felt this phantom pain where the needle went in for a few days afterwards.'
'That sounds dangerous to me.'
'Maybe, but I can push past nerves,' Both of the nurses looked at each other as they considered that point of view. I decided I'd done all I can. 'My vote is to go ahead with it,' I said, leaning back in my chair. 'The rest is up to you.' A long moment's pause, then...
'I think we're going to have to say no.'
I slumped, defeated, before getting out of my chair and making my way to the exit. The nurses apologised and assured me that they'd love to take my blood, they just couldn't risk it. Frankly, I didn't care. I was looking forward to not only conquering a deep fear, but doing something which could probably save another person's life. Now I'll have to find other ways to do both.