Proud to Be a Blood Donor Despite First Time Embarrassment
I have always wanted to be a blood donor, but I didn’t get around to doing anything about that desire until a few months ago. Now I have given blood twice. My plan is to be a regular and reliable blood donor, thanks to last week’s good experience. After my first time in May, I wasn’t so sure.
Why Be a Blood Donor?
This chart from Canadian Blood Services shows how many blood donors are needed for different situations.
If you aren’t a blood donor and are sitting on the fence, unsure of whether or not you want to donate, here are seven serious and not-so-serious reasons to give blood.
- Donating blood is the easiest possible way to be a hero. You can save up to three lives with one donation.
- You will weigh one pint less than you did before the donation. (Full disclosure: Your weight loss will be negated by the free juice and snacks.)
- Going to a donation site will make you feel like Norm on Cheers. Everyone will be happy to see you!
- If exclusive membership matters to you, being a blood donor makes you part of an elite group. According to the World Health Organization, 32 out 1000 people are blood donors in high-income countries, 14 out of 1000 in upper-middle-income countries, and 4.6 out of 1000 people are blood donors in low-income countries.
- One in every two people will need blood at some point. That’s you, a friend, or family member.
- Blood for one human can only come from another human. Rich or poor, you possess a valuable resource. And you have enough to spare. A donation takes less than 1/2 litre from the 5 litres (10.5 pints) in your body.
- You get a mini physical every time you donate. Blood pressure, temperature, hemoglobin (iron) are checked, and your blood is tested for various infectious diseases. If you have any, you are notified immediately.
Who Can’t Be a Blood Donor?
Canadian Blood Services uses the tagline, “It’s in you to give.” I chose to be a blood donor because I can. Feeling good about myself after donating makes this a great self-care activity. Helping to save lives makes it an amazing community-care activity.
Each time you donate blood, you complete a lengthy online questionnaire. Reasons people are deemed ineligible to donate include:
|Age restrictions; you must be at least 17||Currently taking antibiotics for an infection||Excessively high or low blood pressure|
|A blood transfusion in the last year||Recent tattoos, body piercings or electrolysis. You need to wait six months.||After a diagnosis of blood cancer; if other cancers, you can usually donate after 5 years cancer-free.|
|Dental work; you need to wait 24-72 hours depending on the work done.||If you’ve had a heart attack, have type 1 diabetes, or various other medical conditions.||Time spent in an area where there’s a higher risk of malaria, Ebola, Mad Cow disease.|
The reasons and length of time a person is ineligible to be a blood donor vary a bit from one country to another.
One of the conditions that renders all of us ineligible at different points in time is our hemoglobin (iron) level. To keep iron levels in a healthy range, men are allowed to donate every 12 weeks in the United Kingdom, every 56 days in Canada, or every 8 weeks in the United States. Women may donate every 16 weeks in the United Kingdom, every 84 days in Canada, or every 8 weeks in the United States.
Despite the various reasons for ineligibility, more people are eligible to give blood than actually do. In Canada, for example, 1 in 2 Canadians is eligible to be a blood donor, but only 1 in 60 give.
Is Your Blood Needed?
Everyone’s blood is needed. People with O-negative blood, are considered universal donors. Their blood is given in emergencies because it works for everyone. People with AB-positive blood, are universal recipients. They can receive blood of any type.
For the most part, however, medical professionals prefer to use donations from a blood donor of the same blood type. That reduces the likelihood of antigens in the individual’s blood triggering an immune system attack on the transfused blood.
In the U.S. population, the approximate distribution of blood types is:
Percentages vary by ethnicity. For example, Latino-Americans have a relatively high number of O+ (53%), while Asians have a high number of B+ (25%). Chances of immune system reaction can be reduced for some patients if they are given blood from someone of their same ethnic group.
My blood type is A-, something I didn’t know prior to donating. What’s yours?
My First Time Giving Blood
I made an appointment online and arrived fifteen minutes early. My pride in finally taking this step was echoed by a volunteer at the community centre door warmly thanking me for being there. When I entered the large room, however, I felt insignificant.
At one end of the room, ten people were in the process of donating. Another ten had finished and were enjoying snacks served by smocked volunteers. There were cubicles around the edge of the room, each with a nurse doing a private health assessment of a blood donor. There was a bank of iPads where we could complete our health questionnaire. And then there were two holding areas, each with a couple of dozen chairs. Every one of those chairs was occupied by someone holding a plastic number of the kind you get at the butcher’s. One area was for those who had completed their questionnaire but hadn’t met with a nurse; the other for those who finished their assessment and were waiting to donate.
The typical time for a donation, from start to finish, is one hour, a little bit longer if you’re a first-time donor. Unfortunately, my first time was on the same day as a busload of high school students, all first-time donors. In the abstract, I couldn’t have been happier. There’s a real shortage of young blood donors. We need them.
However, the backlog created by this unexpected windfall of donors meant that although I was expecting to give blood at 2:05 p.m., I didn’t get back to the nifty reclining chairs until 3:40 p.m. I’m a bit hypoglycemic and when my blood sugar dips, I get grouchy, foggy and lightheaded.
The Embarrassing Part
Giving blood didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t feel the needle being inserted, and I couldn’t see the blood accumulating in the bag. Wisely, that happens below eye level.
It typically takes 15 minutes to collect 450 mL or one pint of blood. It only took 7 minutes for me, a fact of which I was unreasonably proud.
After donating in a reclined position, the chair is put upright and you are left sitting there for five minutes, ten if you’re a first-timer. I watched one of the high school students, a girl, being fanned by a nurse and felt sorry for her. Feeling a bit woozy myself, I casually mentioned it to the nurse who put me back in the reclined position for another five minutes.
When questioned again, I lied and said that I felt fine. I was sure I just needed some food, and really wanted to get to that snack area.
When I’m foggy and lightheaded, all I want to do is eat as much and as quickly as possible. In short order, I downed three juice boxes and plowed my way through two donut holes and a bag of Bits and Bites.
It didn’t work. In addition to being lightheaded and foggy, I was now nauseous. Volunteers noticed me, unsurprising since my face had lost all colour and I was bent over with my head in my hands. People came running, and a garbage can was proffered in case I needed to vomit. In front of all these people at a snack table? I don’t think so!
Eventually, I was able to stand just enough that I could slide onto a gurney and be wheeled into a private hallway. A nurse stayed with me until I recovered.
Blood Donor Observations
Last week’s blood donation was incident-free. I was able to pay more attention to the environment, and I made a few heartwarming observations.
The medical staff and the volunteers were, to a person, kind, friendly, and appreciative. They sometimes appeared distracted and hassled, but the moment you were in their company, they were completely present. It was a wonderful feeling.
Many of the blood donors were clearly regulars, addressing staff and volunteers by name and chatting about their lives. I met one woman who has donated 111 times. She’s trying to beat her dad who has 127 blood donations to his credit. One hundred and eleven donations seemed a huge number to me, until I read of a retired Canadian nurse, Joyce Crompton, who has given blood 450 times. Now, she’s in an elite group – one of only six Canadian women!
After last week’s post about negativity in news broadcasts, it truly was a pleasure to spend time with a terrific group of people, all committed to making a positive difference in the world.
Have you given blood, or done something else that made you feel you were making a positive contribution? Please tell us about it in the comments below.