Blood Donation With the Red Cross: The Do's and Don'ts of Donating and How I Learned Them the Hard Way
Last summer I had the opportunity to gallantly offer up a portion of my precious blood supply to the Red Cross for the first time. I have a late birthday, and when the Red Cross had come to our high school in the past, I had never been old enough to donate (I was also petrified of the process, but to anyone that asked, it was only the birthday issue that held me back from nobly wounding myself for the sake of others).
The day I did it was a day like any other, nondescript and hazy- the sort that precede the glazed days of August. I was driving home from another unremarkable day taking sandwich orders from busy men and important celebrities when I passed my high school and noticed a small sign outside that said they were hosting a blood drive.
I generally try to quell my impulsive, demonic urges, but that day I did not. Instead, I sped home and called my mother for permission. You see, I’m a terribly good, devoted daughter and I apparently felt that I needed her permission to give away my bodily fluids. I was unusually excited by this development for it had seemingly snapped me out of the weeks of sad, bitter mourning I’d been experiencing after my kitten had been hit by a car. My mother recognized this and gave me her usual response: “Shanna, I don’t know why you want to do the things you do, but it’s your choice…” accompanied with a somewhat resigned sigh.
My next item of action was to consult the Great and Omniscient Google for wisdom before proceeding. Besides a few basic pointers on the Red Cross website, I was a bit surprised by the lack of information on the whole leak-blood-into-a-bag thing. I went into my first blood donating appointment entirely unprepared and nearly met with certain disaster. My aim in writing this is to prepare any other first time donors- based on my experiences- for what really is a simple, rewarding process.
According to the Red Cross website, one should prepare for their appointment by consuming sixteen ounces of water or other fluids, eat a healthy iron-rich meal prior to donation and avoid fatty foods like hamburgers. Being the bright, obedient teenager I am, after reading that I sprang to the kitchen and devoured a leftover hamburger, washing it down with not just sixteen ounces of water, but sixty four. That’s right. I drank an entire day’s worth of liquids in about two minutes. Still stupidly exuberant, I collected the required picture ID and drove manically away. DO eat a healthy meal and DON’T drink more than sixteen ounces of water.
Somehow I arrived safely and after checking in, I was given a booklet about donating blood to read and supposedly comprehend. I was also handed a sixteen ounce bottle of water and told to drink it. Drink it all and enjoy it. As I cracked open the bottle, I noticed a vaguely uncomfortable feeling stemming from an overfilled bladder, but I ignored it, because at that point in time, I still naively believed that brainpower was stronger than the need to pee. After downing the bottle and skimming the packet, I was told to wait patiently for my turn to visit the pre-screening booth. DO actually read the packet and DON’T drink as if you’ve been stranded in the Sahara for the past month.
The pre-screening process was relatively quick, but not painless. My finger was swiftly pricked and a drop of my blood examined to be sure that I was not iron deficient. If you are iron deficient, you will be deferred until a later date. You should go home and use this as an excuse to eat the most expensive steak you can find. It’s the kind of sacrifice you have to make if you want to save lives. In all honestly, I remember the finger prick being the most painful thing in the entire donating process, and if you can remember anything at all from your days of pre-kindergarten inoculation, it seems like one of the most hideous things your parents ever subjected you to, but you still survived. After your blood is deemed worthy of donation, you’ll have to fill out a survey asking you about places you’ve been to and what sort of drug-related habits you partake in. DO answer honestly and DON’T fudge your responses. Severely ill or injured people are counting on you to be honest.
I was then released from the pre-screening area and led to a blue gurney where I was strapped down and my vital organs forcibly probed and removed. Uh, okay, not really. I instead was instructed to lie down as a particularly grumpy nurse choked the life out of my arms with a blood-pressure cuff, as she searched for just the right vein to puncture. After examining my left arm, she disdainfully deemed the vessels “puny” and thus unworthy to sacrifice their contents. Luckily, there existed one single vein in my right arm that was large enough and was thus selected. It was at that inopportune point that I realized I didn’t just have to use the restroom… I REALLY had to use the restroom. But the nurse was moving swiftly, and she had just slipped the needle into my arm by the time I became cognizant of this. It became quite clear to me then that this particular venture was doomed. DO go to the bathroom before they insert the needle and whatever you do, DON’T have puny blood vessels—it’s a sin worthy of waterboarding and being sent to bed without dinner to phlebotomists.
My predicament rapidly descended into a whirling vortex of pee-fueled pain. Time dragged on as I squirmed uncomfortably across the gurney like an epileptic seal. My angry nurse grew angrier and angrier as we realized my blood was fundamentally slow. I watched longingly as three other donaters arrived and left in rapid succession, all quickly processed by a decidedly attractive phlebotomist. The need to REALLY use the restroom had long passed and been replaced by I NEED TO GO THE BATHROOM OR SO HELP ME, I WILL WET MYSELF RIGHT. NOW. I remember staring at the ceiling, utterly disoriented with my panicked need to empty my bladder while my devil of a nurse shoved the bag of collected blood into my face. “Push!” she cried, sloshing my bodily fluids to and fro. “Hurry up and push, you’re almost there!” The entire gym fell instantly silent as dozens of surprised eyes turned on me, expecting to see me pumping out a baby right there on that Red Cross gurney. “Donating blood AND giving birth?” I expected them to murmur reverently, “This young lady’s an inspiration! Nay, she’s a hero!” DO bring something (like an ipod or book) to take your mind off the process and DON’T give birth.
After forty five minutes (the donating part should take about fifteen to twenty minutes if you’re normal) my poor, exasperated nurse finally unclipped my bag and removed the needle. Right on cue, she chidingly told me that I should have consumed more water before coming to donate. I would have choked or made some sort of noise in disgust in the back of my throat, had I not been petrified of accidentally setting off some sort of cataclysmic urinary explosion. The second she told me to sit up slowly, I rocketed upright, alert and desperate. “SLOWLY!” she screeched. She clamped her claws on my shoulder and guided me painstakingly to a lone table staffed by four over-excited volunteer middle schoolers. I will never forgive her for leaving me in their clutches. I was their lone victim, and although I pleaded with them, begged them and even tried to bribe them to let me go to the bathroom, they would not budge. Rules were rules, and there was supposedly a distinct danger of me passing out. I had to sit and be good for ten minutes. Just ten minutes. And look! I even had tasty little snacks to keep me occupied! This was their beguiling attempt at reasoning with me and it worked for roughly sixty seconds. DO ask for the Keebler fudge cookies afterward. They are magical. DON’T try to move too quickly. You may feel fine at first, but passing out isn’t fun, I promise.
I was almost in tears about two minutes into my waiting process. This was mostly in an attempt to alleviate the amount of fluid pressure in my body through my tear ducts, but I already knew it wasn’t going to work. The countdown had begun. I was removing my cellphone and other personal effects from my pockets, resigned to the fact that I was just going to have to go to the bathroom right there in front of four pre-teens when an angel of a volunteer approached me, graciously saying she would accompany me to the bathroom. I was tempted to fling myself upon her with joy, but to my credit, I meekly followed her instead. And thus my donating process ended with sheer relief and a coupon for six free pieces of chocolate-dipped fruit from Edible Arrangements.
I had dark bruising on the inside of my elbow for the next several weeks, and my arm was stiff for the next two days, but beyond that, the long-lasting effects of my Red Cross encounter were few and I did, in fact, feel good about what I’d done. I’d saved up to three lives, according to the part of the pamphlet I’d skimmed and managed to see. I imagine it would have gone much better had I not guzzled enough water to sustain a small elephant beforehand, or had I gone to the bathroom prior to being drained. So if you’re healthy and capable, go and donate! You’ve been blessed with a sound body while others haven’t, and it’s a very unselfish thing to repay that blessing forward to others who haven’t been as fortunate. Just pay attention to the Do’s and Don’ts listed here, and check out http://www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood/first-time-donors for more extensive information.
I'm adding this a few months after I wrote this, because I figured out why my blood is so fundamentally slow: I have low blood pressure. It's genetic, and I'm usually about 105/65 or something like that. I've been told that they usually take your blood pressure when you're there, and if it's too low or too high, you can't donate.
They didn't take my blood pressure that day, and that was why my donation process took so long. If they had taken my blood pressure, I likely would not have been allowed to donate. So keep that in mind if you're interested in donating.