How-tos, Life

The Art of Donating Blood

When I was teaching at an independent boarding school I was in charge of coming up with creative ways to get kids involved in community service. Fairly close to packing them up and driving them to a freeway to pick up trash (which isn’t a bad idea, just frightening to me from the cars hitting children perspective), I saw a sign while I was driving for a blood drive.

I started thinking back to my past as a college student and my failed attempts at trying to donate blood and figured if I am horrible at donating, maybe I can run a drive? And how convenient, I have a school gym, and a variety of willing participants (aka-kids needing community service to get into college).

I ended up working with the Red Cross and found out if you have the space and a central location, getting a drive up and running is actually pretty easy. It was really fun and I am hoping to see if we can some drives happening at my current company.

But, me being myself, wasn’t satisfied with running a drive. I wanted to donate, too (of course). Now, I alluded to some failed experiments with this in college. The first time I tried to donate blood I was denied because my iron was too low. Being a Type A crazy, I was DEVASTATED. I cried. It was dramatic. Eventually I did take some iron supplements and was able to boost my iron to the right level. Then, I donated blood, felt like crap, and I was scared do donate again. Although my blood donation isn’t perfect now I have some tips to make it less awful and also to break down how this all happens. Before I ran blood drives it all seemed like kind of a mystery.

Before The Drive

  1. Plan ahead. Browse through https://www.redcrossblood.org/ and see when there are blood drives around you. If this is your first blood donating adventure, give yourself at least 2 weeks to prepare and maybe bring a friend!
  2. Check to see if you are eligible. See Website about blood donation eligibility. Since you never know who will be receiving the blood there is a fairly lengthy list of reasons why you, unfortunately, may not be able to donate blood. Just know, if you aren’t able to, just getting the word out is incredibly important so use your social media skills to share– or like me.. host a drive at your work or school! ❤
  3. Drown yourself in water. Not literally. Duh. But, drink a lot of water. Like a lot. If you love water, well good for you. I don’t love water so this part is a struggle.
  4. Consider taking iron supplements. I am not suggesting that you are anemic in any way but the Red Cross expects you to have a pretty astronomically high iron level to donate blood. So levels where your doctor makes that side comment of “Yeah, you’re definitely not anemic.” In fact, this can be a barrier for many women because although your iron levels are totally 100% fine, they aren’t high enough for the vampires, I mean phlebotomists.

Did I mention to drink water?

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

Day of the Drive

  1. Eat. I don’t care if you are intermittently fasting this week, month, or year. Please skip that and eat. I beg of you. Eat something mostly healthy and avoid fatty foods. Fried and high fat food can actually mess with the blood tests.
  2. Water. Treat yourself like a thirsty plant, drown yourself in more water. The more hydrated you are the more the blood will flow. Weird, but today, blood flow is good.
  3. Stay warm. Personal tip on this one. They will prick your finger to test your iron, and if your hands are cold your iron numbers may be erroneously low. So keep your hands warm and your body at a neutral comfortable temperature.
  4. Download the App. They have this super cool app now where you can answer all these questions before you go. Do this and pre-register. Seriously.

So when you get there, and you have pre-registered like a pro, they will sign you in and you will wait for a nice person to take you into a private area to get iron levels and ask some personal questions. If you are concerned about iron levels, ask for them to test that first to keep things moving on. Again, if your iron is low, they still appreciate you going.

The actual donation.

So if you pass all the tests, you get to donate blood. Yay — I guess? They are indeed going to poke you with a pretty big needle. I would let them choose whichever arm they think has the best potential for a solid blood draw.

They will take you to either a chair or a table and you will lay down. Get comfy! You’ll be there for 15-20 minutes.

Next they will sanitize your arm and give you a squeezy ball. The needle stick is what it is, I can’t make that easier. 100% do not look, at least I can’t. After the needle is in they will be stealing your blood. The bag is being held by a scale below you which will tell them if the flow has stopped or if the bag is full. After the bag is full they will need to take 6 additional tubes of blood after, so be prepared to lose a bit more blood than you had intended.

After you have donated you get to have snacks- glorious snacks! They will wait until you feel ok to get up and move over to the canteen. Then you can relax and have food. I’d wait at least 15 minutes to make sure you feel ok!

What to do if things head south

A few times I have alluded to my blood donation failures. Now, I have donated 7 pints of blood so although I make it sound ominous, I have been successful.

The first time you donate, the nurses and phlebotomists will watch you like a hawk which is great. If they ask you if you are ok, you need to tell them honestly how you are feeling. They are the best judges of whether they need to stop the donation or if they need to make slight adjustments.

I, personally, have a tendency to get extremely lightheaded towards the end of the blood donation process. Now, my type A personality (I am a A+ blood type as proof of my type A ness) forces me to power through, but I totally turn a gazillion shades of white in the process. I now warn the person who is taking care of me in advance of donating. This means that towards the end, they are paying closer attention and they can end the donation to hopefully stop me fully passing out. Often, I need some ice packs and to have a snack and a drink while laying down but I make it through and feel fine after. It is just very important to know your body and let them know how you are feeling.

The last time I donated blood, I donated with my matron of honor and she, unfortunately passed out while having her snack at the canteen. So, even if you aren’t feeling well after, you should absolutely tell someone. Again, some ice packs and more snacks and you’re pretty ok to go.

Don’t be scared though.

Donating blood (or even just showing up to a drive even if your iron ends up being lower than you expected) you’re totally trying to do a great thing and you are basically giving a part of your body to save someone else. How cool is that!? The Red Cross always needs donors, especially now, so just be prepared and be ready and your blood donation will go pretty smoothly! Did I mention to drink lots of water?

If anyone has any questions about blood drives or donating, I am happy to answer with what I know — so feel free to post in the comments below!

Thank you for contacting support! ❤