Don’t drink and blood drive
“Can you get a blood alcohol content so high you legally require a liquor license to donate it?”
A Bloody Mary cocktail consists of vodka, tomato juice, Tabasco sauce, and not, to my eternal disappointment, a shot of blood from an alcoholic, who may or may not be named Mary.
When you drink alcohol it’s absorbed by your stomach and small intestine and dissolved in the water in your bloodstream, and it’s this blood that then ferries your drink eagerly around the body, like a swarm of haemoglobic club reps, up to your brain to make it crazy and down to your liver to make it sad. So surely it’s logical to assume that siphoned off and chilled a stein of booze-infused blood would make for an acceptable tipple?
Whilst at University, facilitated by the quantity of spare time studying English Literature provides with its meagre 5 hours of lectures a week, I drank a fairly obscene amount of alcohol. My main liquid vice, as shared by most quasi-alcoholic University students, was Jägermeister, the 35% digestif referred to colloquially in its motherland of Germany as “Leberkleister”, or “liver-glue”. I would partake of this horrible drink so frequently and in combination with so much orange Red Bull mixer that of a hungover morning bowel movements would more resemble having poured a can of tinned peaches into the commode.
During and after some of the more debauched nights of Jäger consumption, I’ve suspected my blood must still be so alcoholic that if quaffed or transfused or otherwise inserted into a light drinker or teetotaller they’d feel at least a bit giddy. I’m sure I can recall donating blood in a hungover state before – if the bag of my arterially-brewed hooch were to then be hooked up to someone under the age of 18, would that be akin to supplying alcohol to a minor? There’s a £5,000 fine for that! Keen to avoid such a penalty, I decided to find out if such an event were possible.
Blood alcohol content (BAC) equates to the amount of alcohol, in mg, present in every 100ml of blood. To have 80mg of alcohol per 100ml would give you a BAC of 0.08%, which is the drink driving limit for the UK and much of the world – the equivalent of knocking back a couple pints of ale. At this level your blood has about the potency of non-alcoholic beer, which is never labelled as 0.0% proof as there’s always some small amount of residual alcohol remaining from the manufacturing process. Alcohol-free Beck’s Blue, for instance, is still listed as 0.05%.
Indeed for a drink to be legally considered as alcoholic at all UK legislation states it must be at least 0.5%, which would classify it as a “low-alcohol drink” so long as it did not exceed 1.2%. Consequently, for your blood to be perceived in the eyes of the law as an alcoholic drink it must have an alcohol content of 0.5%, necessitating you reach a state of inebriation over 6 times the drink drive limit and attain a BAC which most charts agree wanders lazily into the realms of coma or death.
However, these proud zeniths of blood fermentation are possible to obtain and even survive. There are several reported cases of people registered with BACs of 1% and higher, admittedly usually taken at the scene of an accident they can’t remember and just preceding a Biblical hangover. About the highest ever recorded took the form of a South African man who was pulled over whilst driving along the Eastern Cape, and found to have a blood alcohol content of 1.6% in addition to 15 sheep crammed into his Mercedes-Benz which he’d stolen from neighbouring farms. Unsurprisingly, this man was arrested.
Obviously drinking that much is not something you should or could do frequently, however the fact the man survived and even had the lucidity to arrange over a dozen sheep in quite a small space makes me consider that maybe there have been times where my own blood alcohol has spiked into similar territory, making it less blood and closer to shandy that’s running through my veins. The unnamed sheep-smuggler certainly proved it’s possible to have blood that’s legally classed as alcohol – if he were to round his night of drunken farm pillaging off by giving blood, at 1.6mg of alcohol per 100ml and the average blood drive bag holding 470ml his donation, were you to drink it, would be the equivalent of a tequila shot.
So with the potential for alcoholic blood confirmed, what are the legalities of donating it at a blood drive? Could that be considered supplying alcohol without a license, which can come with a £20,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment? If the police find you handing out your bags of bloody moonshine are you expected to keep them quiet with a “couple ventricles-worth on the house for you fine officers”? I went about finding a) if it’s possible or necessary to obtain a license for this activity, and b) whether you’re physically allowed to donate blood when you’re that plastered anyway.
To apply for a liquor license you have to go through your local council, for me that was West Berkshire. Some research indicated I required a Temporary Events Notice, or a TEN, because I only intended to donate alcoholic blood once at a single localized event, rather than trying to turn my heart into an actual pub. This license costs £21 and must be acquired 10 working days before the event; to procure one you must e-mail the licensing division directly. “You must send a copy of the TEN to the police at least 10 working days before the event – if you apply online, the council will contact the police for you” it reminded me as I composed my mail.
I asked sincerely if I needed a one-time personal license were I to supply blood at a BAC of 0.5% or higher at my local blood drive. I also mentioned that although I was aware there would not be a financial transaction in handing my alcoholic blood over, I would almost certainly consume the tea and biscuits they provide after a blood donation and that might be viewed as an exchange of commodities. Their response was curt, dismissive, and bright blue.
It seemed fairly unequivocal then that unless you plan to sell your blood booze to the black market or some college vampires who want to party, you do not need any form of license. However I wanted to test the practical side too – namely is it actually feasible to raise your BAC to 0.5% and stagger your way to a blood drive, and even then will nurses allow you to donate? With the help of an online BAC calculator, the charmingly titled ‘R U Pissed?’, I calculated that drinking 933ml of whiskey (37 units worth) over the course of 5 hours would just about get my blood to the concentration of a low-alcoholic beverage.
The site, which calls itself an ‘online breathalyser’, uses your age, weight and height against what you’ve been drinking and how long you’ve been drinking it for to work out your BAC and let you know whether you’re OK to drive. At a BAC of 0.04% it tells you “you’re feeling a little tipsy”, at 0.05% “leave it an hour or two before you drive” and at 0.08%, “get a taxi!” I wasn’t flooded with confidence at the message it generated for the 0.5% I sought:
Still, it was my journalistic duty to cover this story, even in the supposed face of certain death, so I bolstered my whiskey collection and set about turning myself into a human distillery.
This test actually took two attempts to get right. The first saw me drink the right amount of alcohol but in an even shorter space of time than the 5 hour period I’d set myself, meaning I got absolutely, inhumanly twisted. I left the house but didn’t make it to the blood drive, lost my keys along the way and somehow awoke late afternoon in bed covered in scratches and spooning the house’s mailbox I’d drunkenly torn from the wall brackets.
So for my second try, one week later, I resolved to take my time a bit more. I was drinking Bells, not my favourite scotch but certainly one of the cheapest.
Bright and early I awoke and immediately poured myself a stiff one. I knew from my previous failed attempt I had a morning of not particularly pleasant drinking ahead of me – necking 40% alcohol at such an early hour feels more comparable to taking medicine. It may have been more palatable if I had a drinking partner, but it’s difficult to find anyone who will join you for a quadruple scotch on the rocks at 9am on a Wednesday morning.
At the precise moment of taking the above photo a text rumbled in from the blood centre to remind me not only of my appointment but also that supplies of my blood type were low.
This became even more intriguing – if my blood was currently scarce it had less chance of sitting in a warehouse to ferment and was more likely to be whisked off straight to a hospital to start getting a car crash victim intravenously tipsy. I began to grow concerned that my blood might not get checked for alcoholism en route and actually cause somebody harm, but thankfully whiskey helped me quell these fears and I soon found myself approaching the litre’s end.
I managed to stagger to the small community church where the blood drive was occurring, and clearly took some pictures which I don’t really remember taking.
Stumbling through the doors I found myself standing before a mass of silent, austere, charitable faces, all seated towards me, so I felt like I’d reeled onto stage during an ill-rehearsed school play. A blood drive is not the sort of place where it’s cool to be drunk – it can give you the edge at a house party and is downright mandatory for a night of clubbing, but with 40% of A&E patients admitted due to alcohol, it’s hard not to feel somewhat ashamed to be swaggering and tottering about in front of a crowd clutching their collective arms who’ve just given the very blood you’ll inevitably need one day from trying to climb up a statue while wasted.
It was such a surprising and serious scene to behold I panicked and wheeled around, lurching into the nearby toilets. As I did so I could hear laughter behind me, the bunch of donors clearly tickled by their assumption that I’d suddenly lost the nerve to give blood. Or, alternatively, it was because I’d drunkenly headed into the ladies toilet by accident.
I adjourned to the gents to compose myself and headed back into the hall to end up speaking with a nurse named Carol. Somewhere between my stumbling about, reeking of scotch, and bumbling into the women’s restroom, she could sense something was awry.
“Matthew Rose. Blood” I managed.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked, her jovial tone tinged with suspicion.
I told her I did and she flicked through the pages of her schedule to find me. “You’re due at quarter past 2, yes?” she continued.
“No it’s Matthew Rose!” I reiterated.
“Yes, I know,” she said patiently, and then “are you hungover?”
“Nope!” I declared with proud truth.
“OK..” she said, as I stifled a burp. “But, do you think there may be some alcohol currently in your system?”
For some god-damned reason I put my hand on her shoulder and looked her in the eyes with heart-breaking sincerity. “I think that may be the case,” I told her.
At hearing this Carol said she had to check with the head nurse to see if I’d still be allowed to donate, leaving me holding onto a table for support and bathing in the glares emanating from the assembly of donors. I earnestly had no idea whether I would be allowed to give blood in this condition or not. The council certainly didn’t seem to object, maybe this happens all the time?
When Carol returned however it was with the news that there’d be no giving blood for me today, despite my assurances to her that I didn’t require a TEN to donate it. She told me it would be too dangerous both for me as the donor as well as the recipient, and with that I was left to stagger home, almost getting hit by a car along the way.
So no, a liquor license will never be necessary to donate blood no matter how much you’ve had to drink. Regardless of the procedure not being a transaction and hence not in your local council’s jurisdiction, alcoholic blood is simply not wanted or needed at a blood drive. When someone is recovering from liver cirrhosis the last thing they need is a bag of blood with the same impact as a tequila slammer.
I don’t mean for this article to exude an anti-alcohol vibe, alcohol is a fantastic liquid, but even the stoutest fan of stout must concede that alcoholic blood can be trouble. I awoke from my first attempt with inexplicably tattered arms and my second having narrowly avoided being smashed by a car, not to mention the countless other injuries attained from drunken exploits over the years, and the last thing I’d need if one of these landed me in hospital would be yet more alcohol in my system. Donating alcoholic blood isn’t a licenceable activity simply because it’s a bad idea and nobody does it. Let’s instead give blood whilst we’re sober, so we can get the pure, non-alcoholic artery-juice we need for when we do drink a bucket of daiquiri and try to leap an entire set of escalators.