I donated blood today. As some of my long-time readers know, donating blood is the first pillar of the Church of Catherine ["If you are able to give blood (physically and emotionally), you must do so as often as you can, to the best of your ability."]
If you're thinking about donating, but are nervous for whatever reason, I'm going to describe the process for you in hopes of demystifying it.
Some history: It's been ten years that the Canadian Blood Services opened its doors to the donating public. It was created after the Red Cross tainted blood disaster of the 1990s.
When you go to donate blood, they first prick your finger to do a simple test to see if your hemoglobin count is high enough. (That means you've got enough iron floating around in your red blood cells.) If your hemoglobin is low, you could get faint after donating, so it's for your own good to check.
If your hemoglobin is low, it doesn't necessarily mean you're not healthy, but a nurse will talk to you about your diet and give you some tips to boost your iron intake. You also have to wait another 56 days to donate.
A donation can be made every 56 days because that's how long it takes for the body to regenerate all the goodness you donate. A donation is about 500 ml, or 2 cups of blood. The average-sized person has about 5 litres of blood, so it's a drop in the chum bucket.
If your hemoglobin is good, you'll be given a questionnaire to fill out in confidence. It'll ask you about any drugs you're on, your travel history, if you've had a cold or come in contact with anyone else's blood, and some family-related questions. There's even a question concerning your history of working with monkeys.
Once you're done with that, you go into a private room with a nurse, who will take your temperature, your blood pressure (squeezy squeezy!), and check that you don't have lesions on your arms. He or she will review your answers from the questionnaire, and then ask you some more questions that have to be done in person. It's all very medical and confidential, and it's important to be honest. They'll be questions about sexual history, and any history of drug use.
After that's done, the nurse will give you two stickers with bar codes on them. After he or she leaves you alone, you choose between the one that stands for "Yes, use my blood," or "No, do not use my blood." This is for those who feel socially pressured to donate or didn't feel comfortable telling the nurse the truth, but know that something about their health or history would exclude them from donating, according to the rules.
The blood is scanned anyway, for tons of viruses and diseases. If something turns up, a health official contacts you and the blood is destroyed.
If all is good to this point, you get to go donate! The first time is pretty nerve-wracking. but tell the nurse it's your first time and they'll tell you what's going to happen. Or I can!
(I keep writing nurse, but they're usually phlebologists, or blood and vein specialists.)
You sit in a reclining chair and tell the nurse which arm you'd like to donate out of. Usually, this is your non-dominant hand's arm, but I've found that my dominant hand's arm has better flow. This is something that you can learn as you go.
The nurse will locate the vein, then clean your arm with alcohol, and then with iodine. When that dries, he or she will tap you!
Yes, this hurts a bit. Sometimes it hurts more than others. I just try to think that it hurts a hell of a lot less than having third-degree burns, or having chemo, or the fear involved with major surgery. That thought usually humbles me enough to stop whining.
I never watch the whole proceeding. I think it might make my stomach turn, so I don't. Some people like to watch every move the nurse makes. The needle is pretty big - 17 or 18 gauge, which is a little bigger than when you have blood drawn for tests, but that's just because they're drawing more blood and want to get it over quicker. Now, I say this needle is pretty big, but it's not a cartoonishly-large Jerry Lewis-style needle. It's normal, honest.
Once the nurse finds your vein, the blood should begin to flow. First, there's a little sac that they use for the testing, and then when that's full, they open the flow into the big bag, which rests on the floor (holla gravity!) in a handy gadget that rocks the bag back and forth. It looks like a little blood bag cradle. The blood bag has an agent in it that prevents the blood from clotting.
The nurse will probably give you a ball to squeeze. Squeezing with your fingers into the heel of your thumb helps move the muscles that allow the blood to move faster. You shouldn't reposition your arm, so sometimes it gets achy. Squeezing the ball helps it to not get too achy.
It usually takes between 5-10 minutes for a donation.
Afterwards, the nurse will have you put pressure on the site, and then put on a bandage. Then, you'll go get your juice and cookies! The volunteers vary in enthusiasm. Some are chatty and helpful, and some are surly enough to make you think the time is court-ordered. I once had two Mormon missionaries as my volunteers! Basically, they're there to make sure you get a little sugar and fluid in you before you go, and you don't feel faint.
Envirogeek's heads-up: they usually give out something to drink in styrofoam cups, so if you think of it ahead of time, pack a mug or some other re-usable cup.
If you can give, and need a donating buddy, I'll go with you. I'll donate with you! I'll just sit next to you and distract you, if you're still freaked out.
A touch of controversy: CBS denies the ability to donate to those who have had sex with a gay man, ostensibly, but not in so many words, banning gays from donating. Since there are so many scans run on the blood, including those of HIV and AIDS, I would think that would cover any concerns. While I don't totally understand the outright ban, I think it would be rash to withhold my donation while I do fit into the range of donors CBS looks for. It would be punishing recipients instead of CBS.
Blood donation etiquette tip: never pressure someone to donate or make them feel bad if they don't. The reasons they don't donate could be very personal or painful. You might notice the careful wording of my the first pillar of the Church of Catherine. Don't ask someone why they don't donate. It's kinda like asking someone why they don't have any children: way too personal and maybe none of your business.
Do you know what your blood type is? I have B positive blood, like only about 9% of Canadians. It means other Bs and also ABs can take my donation. Check here on the CBS website to see what the stats on your type are.
Canadian Blood Services needs 85,000 new donors each year to keep up with demand. Your hour of time and 2 cups of blood can save a life. It can save several lives, actually, since preemie babies only need blood by the spoonful to keep healthy.
Think seriously about this.