Okay, before I get into a long, involved, and pretty humiliating (but utterly true) tale, I want to talk about Inspector Sands. Inspector Sands, like his rank-equal colleagues Morse and Gadget, is a fictional character, but this chap appears in announcements made over the tannoys at train stations in London, basically notifying staff that a fire alarm has been set off at some location in the station. For example, ‘Would Inspector Sands please report to the main ticket office, please’ means that an alarm’s been set off there. This, as far as I know, is a system that’s only in use in London, and ironically the attempt to be covert is invariably utterly blown by the fact that the recorded voice of these announcements is really much posher than the vast majority of announcements which blare out of train station speakers, so the fact that something’s up is readily apparent to anyone whose number of ears is greater than zero.
Anyway, that’s all backgroundy stuff, which will come back later. I promise. Right, here we go.
For many years, I’ve felt that giving blood is a good thing to do. In fact, in my teen years I made plans to do it as soon as I was old enough, though that didn’t actually pan out until I was at college, when I went along to a blood donor session being held at the Student Union. On arriving, I was amazed and appalled to see that the Nelson Mandela Bar had been transformed – people were lying on stretcher-type beds with tubes running out of their arms as medical-types tended to them. It looked like a set from M*A*S*H, though with solid walls. And posters for the GaySoc and forthcoming bands on the walls (remind me to tell you about the time I saw Blur for a quid). But you get what I mean.
I turned up, all ready to give the good red stuff, but it turned out I couldn’t donate blood unless I’d registered, which I hadn’t. Tch. So I went away, and didn’t try to give blood until several years later, when I was living in Sheffield, my degree diploma in one hand and my UB40 in the other. Unlike in the USA, you don’t get paid for giving blood in the UK, but I had time on my hands and AB Negative in my veins, so I thought ‘why not?’ and went along to a blood donor session.
I got past the registering hurdle this time, and after having my thumb pricked (insert your own Macbeth reference here) and my blood checked to ensure it was blood and not a combination of tea and liquid chocolate, and a dozen thoughts of Hancock as The Blood Donor later, I was lying down on a bed with a tube in my arm. After a few minutes, I started to feel a bit light-headed, but assumed that was inevitable, so I ignored it. A minute or so later, though, I started to feel that weird feeling in the gut you get when you’re just about to throw up or pass out or both. So I let someone know and they stopped the process. Afterwards, they told me that I probably hadn’t had enough to eat, and that next time I gave blood (or tried to) I should make sure I had a large meal first. Fair enough.
Some months later, I went along to try again, this time having had a good amount of food, and accompanied by an old friend (in fact, who I’m still in contact with now. Have I really known her for 25 years? Crikey). This time, in an attempt to keep myself distracted during the vampiric process, I bought along my Walkman, ready to play Bat Out Of Hell as the blood drained from my arm. I went through the same process, and laid down on the bed-thing, pressed PLAY on the Walkman, and after a few minutes, the music seemed to be getting rather distant. As long-time readers may well know, I’m a huge fan of the overblown musical work of songwriter Jim Steinman, and if any of his tunes (such as Bat Out Of Hell) starts to sound vague or quiet, you can be pretty certain it’s not Jim’s fault – chances are, something’s up with your ears. And indeed there was with mine, as I started to feel the great grey weight of unconsciousness start to press down on me. I feebly raised an arm and said I felt unwell, and…
… well, I guess that the staff must have swarmed around me, doing their thing, because I reckon I passed out for a few seconds. When I came to, there was a cold wet cloth on my head, and the tube was out of my arm, and my friend was standing by the side of the bed-thing, looking concerned (it was only some time later that I realised she’d taken advantage of my out-of-it-ness to stick a ‘Be Nice To Me – I Gave Blood Today!’ sticker on my collar). After an appropriate time to recover, and a cup of tea and a biscuit, I was advised that I had low blood pressure, and that I really shouldn’t try to give blood any more. Ah well.
Jump forward about fifteen years, to last night. It’s been a while, I’ve gained weight – and, I reasoned, must have increased my blood pressure as a result – and as several people close to me have had serious (though successful) medical treatment in the last year or so, I wanted to try to donate blood by way of giving something back. So I went along, and after explaining that, yes, I had tried and failed twice before, they said I could have another go, but I was warned – a little over-sternly, I felt – that the bloodbags are quite expensive, and they just have to be thrown away after people like me fail to make a donation, this would be my last chance. Three strikes and you’re out, it seems.
Time has passed and technology has developed, so this time I had an mp3 player with me (still the Walkman brand, I’m quite loyal when I find something that works) as I laid me down on the stretcher-bed. The needle went into my arm, I pressed PLAY, and as Tubular Bells (I’m not proud, it was on random) started to play, I concentrated on breathing deeply and clenching and relaxing a fist on the arm with the tube in. And everything went as it should.
For about three minutes. Then I started to feel a weird tingling in my gut, and my head started to feel a bit foggy. Now, I know that one of the reasons you faint is because of the blood rushing from your head to the other vital organs, so I guessed that my stomach felt almost like I had dysentery (unfortunately, something I’ve experienced) because something was wrong. So I guessed something was up, and said as much to the nearest attendant. And this is where things got really rather strange, and then awkward.
“Cold Square!” she shouted, and suddenly there were four of them all round me. One of them taking the tube out of my arm, another putting a cold flannel on my forehead, and one lifting my legs whilst another put a large wooden block under my feet. And I thought (here’s where the foreshadowing pays off): What the hell does Cold Square mean? Must be code, like Inspector Sands or something.
I swear to you, that’s what I thought – though another thought quickly barged its way to the front of the consciousness queue, as the feeling continued to tingle in my stomach, and I thought: Oh my god. I really, really want to fart.
So I clenched my sphincter – not that easy to do when you’re trying desperately to remain conscious – and gritted my teeth and promised myself that I would not, repeat not, fart when I was the surrounded by four medical professionals.
“He’s all right,” one of them said. “Just needs to rest a few minutes.”
“He still looks quite tense,” another noted, with some concern.
“Are you all right?” one asked, leaning into my field of vision.
“Yeah,” I said, slightly breathlessly, “I’ll be fine once I catch my breath.” But if you hang round you won’t like what you’ll be breathing in, I thought. Please go away.
They left me for a few minutes, and the wooziness passed, and – more importantly, to be honest – so did the need to break wind. I laid there and breathed deeply, until I felt all right. After a bit longer, they sat me up and gave me some water and said that, for some reason, my body just reacted really badly to having blood removed, and that I really shouldn’t try to give blood any more.
Fair enough, I said, and slowly made my way home, where my beloved asked me how it had gone.
“I had an issue,” I said – our code for ‘it all went catastrophically wrong’ – and then I told her everything. She listened as I told her what had happened, nodding and hmming in all the right places, but then when I told her about straining to keep the fart in, she laughed, and then laughed some more, then tried to hide the fact that she was laughing by going into the kitchen, but I followed her and found her bent double by the sink, red with the effort of holding back the laughter, and looking like she might soon need medical attention herself.
Anyway, in conclusion, I can’t give blood. But if you can, you really ought to.
Just make sure you eat a hearty meal before you go to a donor session. Sausage and chips or something. But skip the baked beans, just in case.