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Red Cross Blood Donations
I have been a regular blood donor (whole blood, plasma and more recently, platelets) to the Australian Red Cross blood service since 2010-11 and thought I'd share and offer some tips about what to do and expect during the procedure.
Some people (especially those frightened of needles) get worried when they're even near a blood-center - I have a friend who almost passes out every time he has to give a blood-test (let alone a donation).
I won't deny that during the first time I gave blood, I felt a little nervous too - but I can safely say that the process is like a mosquito's bite (once you get used to it after usually 3-4 donations) and you'd walk out of there with the satisfaction that not only have you potentially saved someone's life, but have also given something back to your community.
Here's the four stages of a blood donation at the Red Cross.....
Entering a Red Cross Blood donation Centre
Regardless of whether you're a first timer or a regular, you're required to fill out a detailed and confidential questionnaire in the 'tick whichever's appropriate' format. Some questions are fairly personal with your medical and sexual history but be assured that Red Cross takes your privacy very seriously and your answers are treated in the utmost confidence.
Please do not lie on this questionnaire even if you're hesitant about admitting anything sensitive (such as, having sex with sex workers, are a male homosexual or being tested as HIV positive in the past) - Not only are there severe penalties for giving false information (as it is a legal document) but you could also be directly affecting somebody's life by doing so.
Also, do not forget to produce ID which clearly shows your address, date of birth and full name - Should you not have a driver licence, please show a passport or a state/country issued photo ID.
The One on One Interview Session
Once you hand your questionnaire in, you will be taken into a room for a face to face interview with a representative who'll go through your questionnaire in detail. You'll be asked to stand on a weighing scale to measure your weight followed by a check on your blood pressure.
(So long as your Systolic doesn't exceed 140 mmHG and diastolic doesn't drop below 65-70 mmHG, you're usually eligible to give).
Once your BP and weight are measured, the interviewer will assess your answers on your questionnaire in more detail and here's where it would be decided whether you'll be eligible to give or not. The following factors on your questionnaire will decide the same:
- If you've traveled to a 'high-risk' country (in terms of STD's and water-borne diseases) within the last 3 months, you may not be able to do a whole-blood donation but might be eligible to give plasma and platelets.
NB: You cannot donate plasma and/or platelets if this is your first ever blood-donation.
- If you've stated that you've had sex with sex-workers and/or are tested positive for HIV or other STD's regardless of how you contracted the infection, you can kiss your eligibility to give good-bye for obvious reasons
- If you've not hydrated yourself with 4 good-sized glasses of water or have not eaten well, you'll be asked to do so before you're able to donate blood.
- If you've recently had surgery, are recovering from a stomach upset or a flu, you may not be able to donate blood. In general, if you're feeling unwell no matter how minor the cause, you must honestly disclose this to the interviewer. Also, If you're on regular medication or declare you've taken recreational drugs, this could have a bearing on your eligibility to donate.
- If you've had tattoos or piercings on you, it is like you'll be unable to donate (essentially due to your body coming in contact with potentially used needles).
- If you were born overseas or have spent 6 months or more in a particular country, you'll be asked to provide details before you're assessed on your eligibility to donate.
NB: British residents who were in the UK between 1986 and 1999 are also not elligible to donate.
- Lastly, if, while travelling overseas, you had sex with a new partner, you need to give details of his/her nationality and residence as this could decide whether you're eligible to give on that day or not (Especially if the partner is from a country with high rates of STD's and HIV).
Once you've cleared the questionnaire to the interviewer's satisfaction, they will do a quick check on your blood with a 'finger-prick'. The sting would usually last for under a second but this is a vital step as they do this to measure your hemoglobin. (A good measure is anywhere upwards from 13.7-14 g/litre).
NB: If you're going to donate platelets, they'll verify your platelet count from your most recent donation or your finger-prick. Your platelet-count should not be under 150-200 units (or exceed 450 Units).
The Donation Process
Once you've cleared the interview screening, you're taken into the main room to set you up for the donation (and you'd usually be surrounded by other donors) - You'll be well looked after by staff and they'll make sure that you're at ease and comfortable (especially should this be your first time).
You'll be seated on a comfortable and reclined chair and will be asked whether you'd want to donate off your left or right arm - then, they'll find a good vein in your arm (opposite your elbow bone) which will be inserted with a needle.
Do not be alarmed at the size of the needle which would be used to prick your vein, it actually doesn't hurt much at all and they'll take every precaution to avoid too much pain (Your upper arm will be pressured by a bag to counter the pain and you'll be asked to rest your elbow on a heated-pad and constantly squeeze on something soft to help proper circulation).
Once they initiate the blood-transfer, they'll first collect it into 4 test-tubes (these samples are then analyzed for any diseases and viruses like HIV and Hepatitis). Fingers crossed that you never ever receive phone-call about these!
Now here comes the fine print regarding donating different blood-components:
- If you're donating whole-blood, the process should be over within 20 mins to half hour. They'd usually take 500 ml of blood out of your body. Should you begin feeling weak or dizzy, you must alert staff immediately and they'll stop the donation and check you're doing okay.
- If you're donating plasma or platelets, the process goes for around 50 mins to an hour, depending on what you're donating. A plasma donation can last as long as an hour if your blood-analysis supports a large donation (i.e. 846 to 900 mg) while a platelet donation can last anywhere between 40 to 90 mins (depending on your platelet count).
The advantage with plasma and platelet donations is that you actually never lose your red-blood cells during the process - these are returned to you in cycles along with a saline return.. You may feel a chill in your arm during the saline/RBC return into your body - if you feel too cold, please inform staff and they'll provide a blanket for you to keep you warm.
During the whole process, you can keep yourself occupied by watching TV, listening to music or even reading a book - it is that simple. They usually discourage you from using your phone but people do it anyway especially if they're regular donors and have grown used to the whole errand.
Once the machine reads out that the cycle's complete, you'll be asked to rest on your seat for 5 mins. A staff member will then unhook you from the needle and machine and carefully dress and wrap the area of your arm (where the needle was inserted) with bandage and you'll be asked to keep it on for at least 8-12 hours.
You'll then be taken to an onsite cafe for free refreshments and you're allowed to stay there as long as you like.
On your way out and after a successful donation, you might be asked to book in your nest appointment (or they might schedule you for multiple bookings if you're a returning donor) for either a whole blood donation (after 3 months) or a plasma/platelet donation (after 2 weeks).
NB: If you're really keen and eligible, you can alternatively schedule between a plasma and platelet donation every two weeks and a whole-blood donation every 3 months (You can donate plasma every two weeks and platelets once a month; whole-blood donations can occur once every 3 months and you're not allowed to donate anything for at least a month after your whole-blood donation)
Blood components have a very short shelf-life (Platelets last for 5 days, whole blood lasts for 42 days and plasma can go up to a year) hence its important to keep donating if you're able to do so. While whole-blood and plasma helps with transfusions (plasma's even used to manufacture medical products), platelets can help cancer-patients and those with hemophilia who need them to help clotting.
Lastly, avoid any strenuous exercises or activities during the immediate hours after donating and avoid drinking tea (as it is a diuretic) and alcohol.
The Red Cross will then give you a follow-up phone call to thank you for your generosity, especially if this was your first time donating - if during the days after the donation you do begin feeling weak and unwell, notify them immediately else feel proud and content that you potentially saved 3 lives (on average) with one small gesture :)