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Carnage at the breakfast table

It’s all very well being public-spirited, but the mess! And the angst!

I have been signed up with UK Biobank (UKB) since my last period of unemployment in 2006, when I clearly felt – a rarity at the time for me – I should ‘give something back’. Over the years I have attended one or two examination sessions, and answered numerous questionnaires. 

Now, in this Coronavirus landscape, UKB has really come into its own and has launched a study, using its members and their adult children where possible, to track the virus in the UK population. They requested volunteers to supply a monthly blood sample – taken at home by the volunteers themselves. I signed up. There’s not much else I can do to help ‘the science’.

I received a pack at the end of last week with instructions to take a blood sample on Monday this week. Oh dear – so now I actually had to do this very simple, but rather daunting, task that presumably the diabetic population do all the time.

Monday morning – 8am – I experience a huge enthusiasm for washing up and carefully cleaning more surfaces than usual in the kitchen. Put some washing on. Check my emails. Check the vegetable patch in the garden in case the birds have damaged anything. Check my emails again and my Fitness App. Full sanitisation of the table in readiness. Check my phone again.

9am. I sit at the breakfast table with all the kit out in front of me.I read the instructions. I read them again. I check the various items in the kit – yes, all present and correct. I re-read the instructions – dammit, I have to drink loads of water half an hour before taking the sample.

Half an hour later – I again sit at the breakfast table, hydrated and ready to go. This time I’m quicker to action – open the tiny vial and stand it precariously upright on the clean bit of table. I’ve washed my hands, of course, but have to soak one of them in warm water, then wipe clean with a special wipe, then – oh dear, here goes – stab my chosen finger! They provide a lancet for this purpose. It looks harmless enough – I can’t see a blade at all. It’s somewhere inside a minuscule device. I am brave and decisive here – not going to be feeble and muck about. I select a spot and press hard. I’m not sure why I’m surprised that it actually hurts quite a lot. I assumed I was just being a complete wuss about it and that in fact it would be painless. It isn’t.

The next bit was – with hindsight, and to be honest even at the time – quite funny. The instructions describe how to massage your hand so that the blood flows better out of the hole you have created in your finger (a hole I can still see three days later) into the bigger, but still very small, hole in the top of the collection vial. When looking down on my hand, I can’t really see exactly where the blood is forming a large globule at the end of my finger. I don’t position it accurately over the vial, which I am afraid of overturning anyway. Most of the first drop goes on the table, and almost all of the rest is around the side lip of the vial.

I massage some more. A big drop lands roundly in the vial – hurrah, and it is almost up to the required line already. What fat drops I create! Just one more… but once again, my hand has moved and the table gets some more. Probably best not to soak it up and squeeze into the vial?

A bit more massage and a better aim, and I’m done.

Just as well no one else was around to witness my apparent breakfast massacre. 

In the end, this was a completely successful venture and I managed to clean, label and package up the collection tube and the used lancet, as instructed, and post it in its special sealed envelope, to be analysed for the greater good. Sadly, I will never learn – through this sample, at least – whether I carry antibodies to the Coronavirus. 

I’m inordinately proud of myself. The National Blood Transfusion Service banned me from giving blood years ago because I faint, despite the fact that blood comes so easily out of me. So, in some ways, this was an act of defiance on my part.

Trouble is, now that I know it does actually hurt, the next 5 months’ tasks will not necessarily be any easier…but at least it’s not an ‘armful’.


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