Humour / short story

For the Faint-Hearted

“Next there, please!” the nurse at the desk announces.

Mark gives a courtesy glance around the waiting area of the Blood Donation clinic although he knows that he is next in line.

“Hello,” he says, approaching the nurse, “I have an appointment.”

She takes Mark’s name and rattles through his details. In spite of being a regular donor, the everyday hero as they are rightly known, Mark stumbles through simple questions such as his address and date of birth. “I’m not on the ball today, I suppose,” Mark says jokingly. Even so, everything seems to be to the nurse’s satisfaction.

“That’s grand,” she says, handing Mark a folder. “Take a seat and fill out the questionnaire. No need to sign it yet. You’ll find the FAQs inside as well, read through that and if you have any questions, just ask.”

Mark takes the folder and pen back to his seat. Still standing, he looks around the waiting room. It seems quiet enough today, occupied seats appearing fewer than those available. A nearby sign points to a water cooler, advising that drinking plenty of water before a donation significantly reduces the risk of feeling faint afterwards. Mark considers this for a moment, before sitting down. “I had a bottle earlier today…” he assures himself. After all, he’s been through this process a few times now and knows how to handle it. He’s one of the everyday heroes. He scans through some of the questions:

Have you been outside of Ireland or the UK in the last 12 months for any reason?

Have you had a tattoo? Any ear, face, or body piercing?

Have you had a Sexually Transmitted Infection?

This is followed by an entire section of questions on sexual activity and lifestyle that Mark feels his face actively blushing as he reads.

“I must be rather dull,” Mark concludes, ticking ‘No’ to every question. Not so much as a paracetamol taken in the last couple of days, never mind ever being imprisoned or snorting cocaine. With everything completed barring his signature, Mark places his questionnaire in a tray as directed and returns to his seat to skim through the FAQs. He reaches for a pamphlet that encourages him to also think about platelet donation. Two seats away, there’s a copy of today’s newspaper. When he finishes with the pamphlet, Mark reaches for the sports section.

A few minutes pass, until another nurse introducing herself as Donna invites Mark to an interview room. “All well and healthy at present?” she inquires, as they take their respective seats at the desk. Mark nods affirmatively, his nerves rising as he sees the various bits and pieces laid out for the Haemoglobin test. He’s been through this process how many times, yet Mark still feels the jitters. Donna goes over a brief selection from Mark’s questionnaire to which his answers do not change. With everything in order, Mark adds his signature and Donna proceeds to explain the Haemoglobin test which will require a gentle pricking of one of Mark’s fingertips to retrieve a blood sample.

All standard stuff – mostly white noise to Mark who is already distracting himself from the inevitable prickle. He’s one of the everyday heroes but this is when Mark needs to be his bravest. He focuses on every other part of the room than where Donna is currently sterilising his left middle-finger. Pinch! Mark looks at his hand and Donna has drawn one small dot of blood, which she wipes away with cotton wool before gently squeezing the tip for the necessary sample. After this is placed into the scanning device, Donna attends to Mark’s finger, placing a round plaster over the point of entry and asking Mark to keep pressure on the plaster for a moment. A sharp beep-beep indicates that the scan is complete. “That’s 13.2,” Donna explains, reading the device on the desk, “and 13 is our minimum requirement. So you will be able to make a donation today. I’ll just ask you to take a seat outside again and someone will be with you shortly.”

Mark returns to his seat once more. This time, he has barely settled before Gareth introduces himself as the nurse who will look after Mark’s donation. Gareth directs Mark to an available seat. “Lean back and get comfortable!” he says with a grin, helping Mark to relax. For some (everyday hero) reason, the needle in his arm doesn’t bother Mark nearly as much as the finger-pricking. He follows Gareth’s instructions and lays back. In what seems like no time at all, Gareth finds a suitable vein, inserts the needle, and with all checks proving positive, Mark’s donation is underway. He looks up at the ceiling lights, occasionally clenching and un-clenching his fist to maintain the blood-flow in his arm. Gareth makes some small talk while attending to another donor, joking about “double-jobbing” to everyone’s amusement. The minutes tick along and Mark’s donation is nearly finished.

As Gareth returns to Mark’s side, Mark notices the ceiling lights appear less sharp than before. “That’s odd,” Mark says. A look of concern crosses Gareth’s face.

“What’s that, mate?”

“Well, it’s just…” Mark hesitates, “the lights are a bit blurry, or something.”

Gareth looks up and around him at the ceiling lights, quickly looking back to Mark.

“OK, so we’re just about done here,” he begins, “but I want you to stay just as you are until I have everything sorted here, alright?”

Something about the change in Gareth’s tone makes Mark feel uneasy.

“Alright,” Mark agrees, not having any other option.

Gareth tidies up all the bits and pieces, storing the blood bag and removing the needle from Mark’s arm securely, placing a long plaster over the point of entry and asking Mark to keep pressure there as best he can.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Gareth explains, “In all likelihood, you’re just feeling a bit faint after that. We need to let you rest over here for a few minutes so we can be sure that you’re alright. So, I’ll help you up now, slowly does it, and we’ll move over to this bed here by the side.”

Mark follows Gareth’s every instruction, but he is crestfallen. He knows where he is headed. Mark has been to this clinic before, after all. He knows the bed by the side, he has walked by it every time before now while some other donor sat or, worse still, lay there. It is not the “bed by the side” for Mark. It is the “bed of shame”. Gareth helps Mark to sit on the bed. As he does so, Donna arrives over with a cup of water for Mark to drink.

“Don’t rush yourself at all,” Donna says, “and in your own time, when you’re good and ready, make your way to the canteen for a drink and some snacks. You’ve done so well…”

“Really, really well,” Gareth adds.

“It means a lot that you’ve donated today.”

On one hand, Mark knows they mean well and that Gareth and Donna are offering genuine concern for his well-being. But, on the other, his irrational other side feels so condescended against. While Gareth and Donna return to other duties, Mark has a terrible sulk. He has never felt faint after a donation before. There is no health concern here other than wounded pride. Make his way to the canteen? No… Mark feels undeserving of the treats on offer there. He waits on the bed of shame until he is sure that both Donna and Gareth are occupied with other tasks. With all clear, he gathers his things and goes.

“Everyday heroes don’t end up on the bed of shame,” Mark taunts himself as he skulks out of the clinic. “Only everyday heroes deserve fizzy drinks and packets of Tayto…”


[Author’s note: Anyone who takes the time to give blood is a hero. Please visit the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to see if you can be a hero too!]