How to give blood if you're terrified of needles

Love the idea, but afraid of the process? Given every blood donation can save three lives, needle-phobe Mel Hearse shares what she learned from her first donation.

Like many others, I hate needles – the first time I had to have a blood test as an adult there was sobbing, shaking, and when I finally did sit down and the needle was inserted, I passed out in the chair, woke up and cried when I realised I’d have to come back the next day. Not my finest hour.

The lovely phlebotomist explained to me some people hate needles because it makes them faint and as a result, they stress when having a test. She said even the biggest, toughest people are not exempt, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

After this first failed attempt, I’ve learned lying down makes it less stressful - removing the fear of fainting and allowing me to concentrate on keeping my breathing even. She also taught me a few other tricks like looking away, bringing a distraction – something you can concentrate on squeezing in your other hand is great, especially if it has a nice squishy texture you can focus on, or practice the lyrics to a fave song in your head. 

My first donation

That said, while I’ve gotten better about blood tests over the years  – I can hop up on the bed, close my eyes and deep breath my way through now, my first blood donation was another matter. That can take 15 minutes!

Giving blood is something I’ve always wanted to do – I worked in Health for over a decade, my Mum is a nurse, and frankly, their public awareness campaigns are excellent at selling the benefits. But my fear of needles has always allowed me to think of it as something to do another day.

This year I’ve been focussing on talking less and doing more, so when the ad popped up on my Insta, I clicked the ‘make an appointment’ button, made it for the following day and promptly tapped out a freaked post on Facebook.

I was inundated with great tips of how to handle it, and reminders of how important it is to do. So as I sat on the chair in the waiting room and not-so-slowly started freaking out, I scrolled through them again:

  •  Don’t look. It reminded me that this works for me when I have blood tests. I also looked around and saw there are TV’s and posters everywhere to look at instead (I read Dave’s motorcycle story about 15 times when they got the needle in!)
  • Talk to the staff and tell them you are scared. The lady at the counter already knew because I was the colour of porcelain, and the other people waiting were happy to chat when I asked if anyone else was scared.
  • Update my Facebook to let them know I was there. I did so, and straight away got a few messages of support. Which took my mind right off things as I asked them about how their day was going.
  • Remember the people getting the blood appreciate it. I’ve almost been on the other side of this, and so have my kids – we had a nasty skateboarding accident only weeks ago that could have required one. I figured whatever happened, it was going to be less traumatic than the experience of the person receiving it and did some more deep breaths.

When I got called through, the ladies already knew I was, in my own words, “a big scared baby” so they took a lot of care to distract me. The actual donation itself reminded me what I always discover the second the needle goes in – the fear is so much worse than the reality, it literally is a bit of a pinch (to be honest, the prick test when you arrive to check your haemoglobin levels hurts more, and that’s nothing.)

Beyond that, you literally get to sit back, have a great chat if you like, or read your book – basically carve out some relaxation time in your day while feeling like you are making a huge contribution. Win win really – and the after-donation snacks are amazeballs. Yes, I’ve already made my appointment for my next donation.

A few tips before you leave home

  • Drink plenty of water the night before, and in the hours before you arrive.
  • Salty snacks the night before help you replenish your blood supply post-donation.
  • Pack something fun to do that distracts you. And if you can’t bring a friend, have a couple that can message with you while you wait.

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