Now is a Really Good Time to Give Blood. Here’s Why I Am a Regular
Blood Banks are some of the happiest places on earth. Here’s what you’re missing.
In the spring of 1980, I drove across the US by myself. It was one of the best things I have ever done. When I got to North Carolina, I visited my aunt and uncle, whom I rarely saw because they lived across the country. My uncle Jack worked security at Research Triangle and was a volunteer at the Red Cross Blood Bank.
He convinced me to give my first blood donation.
I was lucky to have him sponsor me for the first time. I got lots of attention, great snacks, and the positive experience stuck with me; I’ve been a blood donor my whole life. It’s doesn’t hurt that I’m O negative and CMV negative, which means I’ve been donating “Pedi-packs” my entire life. It’s easy to feel like a hero when you’re saving babies! But it doesn’t matter your blood-type; all types are needed!
When the pandemic hit and things started to look bad, I realized it was time to head back to the blood bank. It seemed like the very least I could do to make a difference during unprecedented times.
It is truly one of the happiest places on earth.
I give platelets, and that means I can go in every week. I’m unemployed right now (not by choice), and I need a way to feel like I’m doing something meaningful. It’s not a lot, but it is rewarding, and it’s been a lifeline for me — an inveterate extrovert. I arrive in a room full of helpful people who want to do their best to make my experience positive.
I usually end up dancing before I’ve finished my screening — okay, true confession, I typically struggle to pass the hemoglobin test, so I jump around to get my blood pumping. You need to have enough iron in your system to pass the hemoglobin test, and if there’s a screening, I will fail, it’s this one. Less so now that I’ve survived menopause, but it still happens.
There is a huge benefit of this little mini-health screening: I get to make sure I’m staying healthy, and this little vitals check is a great way to ensure my blood pressure, pulse, and iron levels are in good shape.
Sitting in chairs, looking for my broccoli.
Like giving blood, after you’re screened, you are walked over to “chairs” to get hooked up. The platelet chairs have heat because one can get a little cold during the two-hour process. Essentially, they suck my blood out, spin out the platelets, and then put the blood back in. There’s an anticoagulant added to the “return,” and that can make your face tingle and taste a little weird. But they’ll give you some Tums, so the calcium counteracts the symptoms.
I have large arms, so they use a large cuff on my upper arm to support the donor vein. I think that cuff is the only thing I hate about the whole process. You also hold a little squeezy thing to keep the blood flowing, and my favorite is a spongy, squishy toy that looks like broccoli. I love my rubber broccoli because it’s soft and suitable for small hands and prevents my fingers from falling asleep.
Everyone there has opted-in.
While the team who works at the blood bank are amazing, kind, patient, and tolerate me very well, they are not unique. I’ve always experienced incredible positivity regardless of where I’ve donated. But more importantly, every person who walks in to donate is opting-in. They chose to do something motivated by kindness.
At a time when we are sheltered and paranoid, the blood bank has been a sanctuary for me. I can hang out, make people laugh, do good and, since the process takes two hours, I also watch a movie without interruption!
Today I left with a voucher for an adorable Christmas-themed t-shirt (see below - I mean how cute is that?). If you haven’t considered donating before, now’s the time if you’re healthy. There are important questions that might make you ineligible, but they are typically unusual health situations.
Honestly, this is a remarkably easy way to bank some positive karma.
If you’ve never donated, here’s what to expect.
The two graphics below that I swiped from Stanford Blood Center, my bank, explain how to prepare and what to expect afterward. That’s the official description. Here’s my inside scoop:
- Before donating, take care of yourself; you’ll want to eat iron-rich foods and be in good health.
- See if you can complete the “intake questions” online. If you can’t, you’ll do it when you get there. It takes about five minutes. No biggie.
- Eat and drink fluids before your donation. The more hydrated you are, the better the process. I use it as my excuse to get Starbucks.
- The mini-health screening is conducted in a private room where they take your blood pressure, temperature, pulse, weight, height, and a finger-stick for blood for the hemoglobin test. It takes about 10 minutes.
- Go potty. Super important if you’re doing platelets. No an awful idea if you’re doing blood — which is a much shorter process. You just don’t want to pee if you faint. You won’t faint. I mean, you could, but if you do, you’re already in a comfy chair, and you’re not going anywhere, and the place is filthy with healthcare pros, so you’ll be fine.
- Whistle when they stick you. Someone taught me this, and it’s been the best advice ever. Yes, I still feel the stick, but somehow whistling is just hard enough to make me focus, and the distraction works.
- Let it flow. While you’re donating, you can talk to your chair mates (not cool with platelet donors, totally cool with blood donors), look at the blood, appreciate what you’re doing and the magic of medicine and what our bodies produce to protect us.
- Wear your bandage like a badge of honor. They used to give us stickers. I would also wear them for two reasons: to show off and encourage others to donate and to help first responders know why I face plated at Home Depot post-donation. I’m pleased to tell you, while I’ve done a lot of the former, I’ve never plotzed post-donation.
- Get some snacks. I recommend the cranberry juice. I also love the quinoa chips, but I’m from California, and of course, we have quinoa chips.
- Schedule your next appointment. When you get home, get on that blood bank website, and see if you have earned rewards! Some places allow you to build up points and get cool things. I’m working on an item at the highest point value — talk about delayed gratification. But it will be so worth it.
If you take my advice and give it a try, let me know! I’d love to hear about your experience.