Donating blood is one of the simplest, yet most important things that a person can donate. I have been donating blood since I was first eligible at age 17. I don't know the exact amount since I have worked with three different blood agencies over the years, but estimate I have donated at least eight gallons of blood.
Donating blood takes about an hour for most people. Upon arriving you check in with the attendant. This person keeps track of when you last donated and gives you a questionnaire. Some of the information they ask of you is to list all foreign countries you have visited in the last three years, what medications you are taking and what illnesses you have had. After filling out the form a nurse takes you into a small, but private screen room where he or she takes your temperature, blood pressure and pricks your finger to do a hematocrit (red blood cell) test. They also review your form to make sure you didn't miss anything. If you are accepted then you wait for the first available chair. Let the bloodletting begin!
The phlebotomist (person who draws blood) first sterilizes your arm with iodine, a dark yellow liquid on a large q-tip. Then an additional sterilizing agent is applied by a small sponge. The phlebotomist then hands you a small vinyl ball and asks you to squeeze it several time so your vein will appear. They refer to it as "popping" the vein. The phlebotomist then marks the vein with a marker or by applying a pressure mark with a fingernail or plastic tube. Once the vein is marked, the blood press cuff (sphygmomanometer) is put on your upper arm and tightened. This fills the vein making it even easier to see and preps it for the needle. At this point, you are ready for the stick. They use a large needle so the phlebotomist will give you the option to look away if you want. Yes, you can feel the needle go in, but once set, that feeling goes away. Sometimes it stings, but only briefly. Once the needle is inserted and the blood flowing, the phlebotomist tapes the needle down with a sterile cloth to keep it in place.
There is a ten minute time limit for blood donation. Most people can fill a pint in less than ten minutes, however, I am a slow bleeder. The cure for this is to drink lots of water prior to donating. Whether you fill up the bag or not, the phlebotomist will stop at ten minutes so you don't have to sit there for too long.
I have been deferred from donating three times. Once was because my blood pressure was too low, however, I blame the Broncos football team for that. It was during the Broncos Blood Drive back in 1999. Thousands of people were there so I had over an hour wait just to get to the pre-screening area. I had fallen asleep while waiting so my blood pressure was at sleeping level by the time they got around to me. I now make my own appointments with the Bonfils center in my neighborhood. The second time was because my iron levels (hematocrit) were too low - by only one point!!! That shows how strict they are. Then I had the deferral last year from my trip abroad. I don't consider myself to be an exotic traveler so I was quite surprised to discover Belize was on the list. (It is not listed on their website, but on a larger list kept at the center.) I was told that malaria is prevalent in many Central American countries, such as Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua. While rare to develop it in Belize, it is all the same geographical area, so Bonfils erred on the side of caution. Other places on the deferred list are most African countries, Haiti, Indonesia, Vietnam and, surprisingly, several locations in Mexico. I was also surprised to discover that extended travel in Europe can also lead to deferral, but they determine that on an individual basis. Extenuating factors include specific locations, such as rural England (remember Mad Cow disease?) and whether you had medical treatments while there.
Creepy as it sounds, I enjoy donating blood. I find it quite relaxing. You get to put your feet up and nurses are at your beck and call. Cold? Ask for a blanket. Thirsty? Ask for bottle water or juice. Some places you can watch TV. There have been several occasions when I have almost fallen asleep during the procedure. Unfortunately, the nurses won't let you fall asleep because you have to keep squeezing the ball to keep the blood flowing. Then afterwards, they give you cookies. How cool is that?
I currently donate blood to Bonfils Blood Center in Colorado. They supply up to 80% of the blood used in Colorado's hospitals, however, less than 4% of Colorado's population participates. There are many ways that blood is used and one pint of blood can help up to three people. In times of need, Bonfils can supply blood to out-state agencies. They supplied blood to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and to New York after 9/11. They even supply blood to the US Military so my blood could be going to help the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.*
Little has changed in the procedure for drawing blood in all the years I have participated, however, the rules and restrictions for who can and cannot donate have changed greatly. HIV was little known when I started and global travel wasn't as common back then as it is now. The basic requirements* are:
- Must be 18 years old (16 or 17 with parental consent)
- Weigh at least 110 pounds
- Be in good health with no history of hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
- Been at least 56 days since your last donation
Here are some suggestions if you are interested in donating blood: 1) Make an appointment rather than attend a crowded blood drive; you can always tell the attendant if you are donating for a specific organization; 2) Drink plenty of liquids, but not caffeine, before you go; 3) Relax!
People have told me they want to donate blood, but then find excuses not to. Some say it takes too long, but if you follow my suggestions above, it won't take more than an hour. Some people complain that it hurts. Please! I've had paper cuts that hurt worse. Stop making excuses and do something that will immediately benefit your friends and neighbors. Donate blood today.
You can find out more information and even make appointments at the Bonfils Blood Center website. For those of you outside of Colorado, check the American Red Cross to learn more about blood donation in your area.
*Information from Bonfils website.