I'm a regular platelet donor. It's a form of giving blood but instead of the needle draining into a bag, they plug you into a machine where it sucks out a bit of blood, spins it round to separate the platelets and then pump back what's left . They repeat this many times until they've had most of your blood out for a spin. From me, they take a double donation each time I go and I'm plugged into the machine for just over an hour, with 20 mins either end of the procedure. To do this I go to the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford. I have an appointment at 3-4 week intervals and so it is a pretty regular thing. Yesterday was my first appointment since lockdown and so I thought I'd document how it worked.
Firstly, I usually donate on a Monday night as it suits me. So on Friday, they give me a call to check I'm still coming and encourage me to get there early so that they can get home earlier (NHS slackers!). With regular donors, there's a good deal of banter with the carers, admins and nurses. I told Lucy I was chuffed to be able to do a road trip and so definitely coming. With this call, however, she added a whole new set of questions about my health as part of a triage process and told me that it would be repeated at the centre. I also asked her if I should take any specific precautions, and the answer was not unless I wanted to.
Once I had confirmed my attendance a text arrived on my phone. It told me that my travel for the donation is classed as 'essential travel'. That's new! Presumably this was to show any Police Officers that might stop me for being out of county. As Monday ticked on, the excitement of a real road trip built, with the added thrill that I might have to show my 'essential travel' text to the authorities!
The drive to Oxford was very different from normal. I go the back way, up through Pangborne, Streetly and onto the A4074. The traffic was probably 5% of normal. It is a lovely country drive, and I enjoyed every second. Even Oxford was quiet with the Cowley Road and roundabout at Magdelen Bridge virtually empty, even very few cyclists! To my utter dismay, there were no vigilant Police Officers either and so I didn't get to use my 'essential travel' status.
Donors have reserved parking at the centre but, to anyone who knows John Radcliffe Hospital, that is no guarantee of a space. This time, however, mulitple empty slots!
The corridor to the donor centre had been turned into a triage area. It always has hand sanitiser available, but now it was compulsory along with a stop sign by the window where the reception staff could see me. One popped out and, at a distance, went through the special Covid health questions again and witnessed me using the sanitiser even though I had already done it. Then I was into the reception as 'normal'.
The reception staff were not wearing masks (the remainder of the staff were), however, there was a taped line for donors to stand at a distance to protect them. After normal check-in there's the usual detailed questionnaire to be filled in whilst seated. This time the seats were all at over 2m from each other and there was no delay from completion of form to pre-donation interview.
I was looked after by Pandora who explained about carers and nurses being fully masked up as they have to break the social distancing rules. Apart from that, fairly normal just with extra banter, "I would answer that personal question, Pandora, but I don't recognise you in that mask". I found it funny. That joke was repeated multiple times as I went through the different stages with each carer asking me to identify myself. Finally, one of the carers pointed out that "the needle can hurt cheeky donors!" and I decided that the joke had run its course.
The actual donation process was normal except for the snacks and drinks. As I spend over an hour plugged into the machine, a box of snacks is normally brought to the table for me to pick through. This time, I was shown a menu (at a distance) and the selected snacks brought to the table. One less thing for me to touch I guess. The coffee was normal and served in a china cup (they switched from disposable cups a while back to cut down on waste). I did notice that it was selected straight from the dishwasher and then returned to, what I assume, was a 'dirty' zone in the kitchenette ready for blasting through the dishwasher again.
On my way out, having ensured my next two sessions were booked in on schedule I confirmed they could call me earlier if they needed to. Stocks are low and so this is a possibility. If you are reading this having considered blood donation of any sort, I would encourage you to get in touch with them and get donating.
I would like to be able to finish this entry detailing how I was able to flash my 'essential travel' text ... but I didn't. I just had a lovely drive home.