This post may be thought of as an addendum to the previous one, which addresses the ravages of depression. Giving blood is something I like to do when I feel like participating in community service without exerting myself too much physically or socially, or when my feelings take on a graver tint and I feel like my life doesn’t matter at all. This is a way to make it matter.
In case you’re interested or, heaven forbid, feel the same way, let me take you through the highlights of the process of donating blood. Maybe something you read will interest you enough to try this out for yourself!
- If you haven’t given in a while or have never given, you probably won’t get notices letting you know when the next blood drive is. If this is the case, you’ll want to go to redcross.org and click on the “Donate Blood” tab. This will lead you to a box that’ll ask you to type in your zip code to help you “Find a Drive.” Next the site will present you with both a list and an adjoining map of upcoming drives near your area. If you click on an option you’ll be asked to create an account to schedule an appointment or, if you’d just walk in, you can you mark down on a calendar the drive/time you choose.
(I’m almost always a walk-in. I’m too lazy to make an appointment despite the fact that those with appointments take precedence over those who walk in. Meh. We all get in eventually, but if you’re strapped for time, you should definitely consider scheduling a time.)
You can also order a blood donor card on redcrossblood.org. If you don’t wish to, I think you’ll have to bring with you your driver’s license or another form of ID.
- Next comes preparation. They’re going to test your hemoglobin when you go, so if you’re anemic or worry that you may have low iron, you need to prepare beforehand to avoid being rejected.
(Personally I take iron pills every day for week. I also include more iron-rich foods into my diet during that time, such as pork chops and fish (salmon specifically). You know what’s a good food to eat for a couple days before you give? Chili made with kidney beans and lean beef, both of which have iron. It’s also smart to stock up on Vitamin C and other sources of protein and, of course, water.)
- Finally the time has come.
(Be sure to bring your phone or a book unless you want some time to think—you’ll have plenty of opportunities.)
After following the signs with big red arrows you’ll go up to a table and someone will ask you if you have a donor card. If you do, you’ll give it to the person and he/she’ll scan it. If you don’t, I presume you’ll give them your driver’s license/ID—I don’t actually remember—and you’ll provide the volunteer with whatever basic information he/she requires of you. Next he/she’ll hand you a packet of reading material and ask you to have a seat in the first waiting section near the check-in desk.
(If you’ve never read the “educational materials,” you should to make sure you are in fact eligible to donate, but if you’re not new to the process and haven’t traveled extensively, it’ll do to just skim it. It’s usually all the same stuff.)
You’ll hand the packet back to the staff and he/she’ll give you a number and direct you to the second waiting area near the cardboard partitions. Your number (or letter, in some cases) will label you as either a walk-in or someone with an appointment, the latter of which the staff will ask for first. But this is the part where you’ll really want your phone or book because the music they play may get old after a while.
- Once again, finally, the time has come. Someone takes your number (or letter) and leads you behind a black cardboard partition, where you’ll find a small desk, computer, an iron meter and various other medical supplies await you and your nurse. You’ll sit on the side of the table and he/she’ll ask you for your name and date of birth before he/she starts the mini-physical. He/she’ll ask to look at both your arms, will take your temperature, your pulse and your blood pressure before pricking one of your fingers to test your hemoglobin…It’s just a prick. It hurts, but only for a moment. Plus I have no pain tolerance, so it might not hurt you at all. I know many of us aren’t fans of needles, but isn’t it worth it to face a couple if you can save lives?
(My last stats were 98.7, 106 and 112/80. My pulse rate was high—it’s supposed to be under 100—so my nurse offered to take it again within five minutes time. I was nervous about being rejected for low iron; it’s happened a lot and it embarrasses me that I didn’t prep well enough. My iron was 13.8 [it needs to be 12.5 for women]and my pulse went down to 84.)
- Next your nurse will ask you to complete a series of personal questions on the computer. You’ll flip a “Ready” sign over when you’re done. The questions have to do with your medical, sexual and travel history. You’re not allowed to give if you’re pregnant or homosexual (I know, that sucks!) or if you’ve traveled to one of those exotic countries known for one of those oh-so exotic diseases. After you flip the sign, you’ll be waiting again, la la la, haw haw haw, but after a while a nurse will sit down—it’ll probably be a different one than the one who collected you—and ask you your name and birth date again before checking to make sure your answers are acceptable enough to continue the process. If they are, you’ll sign an electronic agreement and follow your nurse to the collection of beds.
- You’ll lie down and your nurse will give you a squishy item and ask you to give it a couple of squeezes. He/she’ll mark your vein and grab the blood bag and vials, all that good stuff. Then he/she’ll coat the crease in your arm with iodine before inserting the needle.
(I know, I know. Yes, to me, it hurts but again, only for a couple moments. As long as your nurse does it with confidence, you’ll be fine. I usually like to watch the nurse do it—pressure him/her into being careful, YEAH.)
- And so the process begins. You have music or your book or phone or, if you’re lucky, witty nurses to entertain you while you squeeze for four counts and rest for another four, then squeeze for four, and, well, you get the idea. Here, the waiting’s not so bad. You’re doing what you came to do and you’re surrounded by people doing the same. Plus it’s all uphill from here.
- When you’re done the nurse will ask you to stop squeezing, take away your squishy and unclip your blood bag. He/she’ll fill some vials, as you’ve agreed to allow your blood to be used for research, and then remove the needle. He/she’ll press a gauze pad to the site and ask you to both apply pressure and raise your arm in the air. You’ll hold it for a minute before the nurse straps it in place with tape. Then you’ll get the cool wrap bandage, the colored one with the scratchy fabric. Your red badge of courage…I hated that book. Anyway, you’ll sit up and the nurse will hand you a pamphlet you’re supposed to use in case you experience complications upon going home. If you prepared at all with food and water, I’m fairly certain you’ll be fine.
(One thing that really works for nausea is lying on your back and raising/propping your legs in the air—that’ll take it away right away.)
Then you head over to the snack table! Yay! And they’ll give you good stuff too: oreos, trail mix, fruit snacks, juice, water.
(Cheez-Its and water are my go-tos.)
Here you’re supposed to relax for 15 minutes, which creates another opportunity for you to partake in some self-provided entertainment. That’s perk number one, the free food and drink.
Number two? No exercise or heavy lifting for the rest of the day. YES. An excuse!
And finally perk number three, literally…you just potentially saved three lives. WOOOO!
I gave today for the 16th time. It’s such a good feeling, so fulfilling, and such a simple way to give back.
So be proud, and be brave. Give again! It matters. It really does. And so do you. This is just another way you can.