Saturday, August 04, 2007

Donating Blood

In response to the collapse of the 35W bridge, I decided to donate blood. I haven't donated for about ten years, but before that I had earned my gallon pin. I have always held the belief that any pain that I might go through (the needle stick, being dizzy, occasionally fainting) is absolutely nothing in comparison to the pain of those who are getting my blood. That's why I donate.

Some people can't. Jodi got a tattoo within the last year. Another friend of mine is anemic. Still other people can't donate out of fear. This is just as reasonable, to me, as any other illness or preventive reason. If someone told me I should get on a plane every eight weeks because it would help people, I'm not sure I could do it. Giving blood is a totally personal choice, and while I think everyone who CAN should donate, I also don't think anyone should be judged for NOT donating.

That being said, here's the process. Hopefully the explanation will take the mystery out of the process of blood donation and encourage people to give if they can.

I arrived at the Red Cross at 8:20, almost a half hour before my official appointment. I was greeted and thanked for donating by the receptionist and given a booklet of materials to read. The booklet gives all sorts of warnings and reasons why a person might not be able to give blood. When one of the "blood people" (are they nurses? Probably.) came to get me, she brought me into a room and took my temperature, pricked my finger (to test my iron), and took my blood pressure. The nurse then thanked me for donating (2) and left the room while I answered a series of questions on the computer. By clicking "yes" or "no" I let them know if I had been to Africa, had had sex with a man who had had sex with another man since 1977, if I had been exposed to a variety of illnesses, if I took any of a list of specified medications, etc.

Then, another nurse came in and confirmed my information. He asked some follow up questions because I had been to Belize in 2005. He then handed me my bags and my folder and directed me to a waiting area in the vicinity of the other donors. He thanked me (3), and I waited to be called.

When I was called to give, the nurse poked at both of my elbows to see which had better veins (my right arm) and invited me to lay down. He asked me a bunch of questions about what I did for a living, what I like to do for fun, etc. while he entered in my info and my bar codes on my blood bags. He then pumped the blood pressure cuff and asked me to squeeze the little plastic squeeze thing in my hand. This plumps up the vein so that it's easier to put the needle into the right spot. I informed him that I was not a fan of needles and that he better do a good job. He laughed and said that he promised he'd be gentle. He rubbed my elbow with iodine and then told me to squeeze the plastic thing again, and then he put the needle in. My arm felt really hot for a moment, and then a small cramping. He said "Got it!" and I congratulated him on hitting the vein the first time. They usually do, but once in awhile people with itty-bitty veins have trouble. He told me to play with the plastic thing because it helps the blood move faster.

While the blood was pumping out, I read City Pages and tried to catch the eye of Lars, an attractive nurse that seemed to be looking at me quite a bit. It's important to note that while I was giving blood I did not have to look at the needle at any time. I've seen it before, because I used to look. But it's easy to turn away when the nurse puts the needle in, and then he put a piece of gauze over my elbow so I couldn't see it if I didn't want to.

Ten minutes later, I was done. This particular time I felt woozy. I took deep breaths and one of the nurses reclined my bed and another brought me a coke. The first nurse talked to me and put a bag over my mouth so I could breathe into it, which helped instantly. A few minutes later a nurse brought me over to the snack area, thanked me (4) for donating and went back to work. I ate shortbread cookies, fruit bites, and had some water. I talked to the volunteer for a bit and also talked to a man who had been donating platelets that morning. The volunteer thanked me (5) for donating and I filled out an evaluation of my experience and got ready to leave. The volunteer thanked me (6) for donating and wished me well. On my way out, the receptionist thanked me (7) and told me that I was awesome. I grabbed a bottle of water (donated by someone to help during the bridge collapse, thank you!) and hit the road. The total time I was there was just over an hour.

Even though I had a bit of trouble, there was no time when I felt uncomfortable or overly unwell. I was thanked a total of seven times by several different people for donating, every one of them genuine as can be.

As I said earlier, I think that everyone who CAN donate blood should do so. You're the only person who can judge whether or not you can. The Red Cross doesn't bully people into donating; they only want people there of their own accord. But, when you're there, they treat you like gold.

All in all, it was a great experience. I'm home now, sucking on a diet coke and enjoying The Soup and the rain.

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