Thursday, January 7, 2010

Giving Blood

I gave blood yesterday at the local Red Cross. I try to make a habit of it, but still find it an irregular exercise in samaritanship. Not enough folks donate, though, and my blood type is highly coveted, so I do what I can. Maybe people don’t know what to expect when donating, and so they are fearful? Allow me to share my own history of experiences and allay any trepidation.

Like most guys, I like to think of myself as fairly tough and at least somewhat pain-tolerant. Fear of fainting or otherwise appearing weak and fragile kept me from donating until I was in my thirties. I was on a temporary job assignment when a couple women co-workers asked if I’d like to go with them to donate blood. I decided I might as well give it a try. They told me that as long as you eat a good healthy meal beforehand, you are not likely to even become light-headed. True enough.

I don’t have a fear of needles, but you do get put through the ringer before you even get to that point. Every time you donate you face a battery of tests including blood pressure, body temperature and, ironically, a prick to your finger to get blood for testing your level of iron. Too low in iron and you can’t donate. The most daunting of all, though, is the litany of questions you must answer.

I suspect that one reason women might not donate is because you have to admit you are over 110 pounds, the minimum weight for female donors. Men face even more ego-deflating questions after “Do you feel well today?” I sometimes find myself reduced to tears when I answer “no” to questions involving my international travel history (non-existent) and, worst of all, my sex life (or lack thereof). I don’t participate in risky behavior with drug addicts, prostitutes, or other men, here at home or abroad; and I don’t sport any tattoos or body piercings (with no plans to be incarcerated, either). How boring am I?

Once it is determined that you really are a mouse and not a man, you are ushered to the room where they do the actual blood-letting, er, taking. You get to recline in a comfy chair, and then recite your name, address, and social security number for the umpteenth time. A technician swabs your arm with iodine (provided you assured the staff you are not allergic to that substance), and an effort is then made to find a vein in the crook of your elbow. That reminds me to do more arm curls at the gym….

Eventually you are encouraged to “look away,” if you need to, so as not to see the medical equivalent of a sewer pipe headed your way. I’m kidding, of course, it really isn’t that bad (or that big). I feel more pain from the stupid finger prick for the iron test. After the insertion of the needle there is little left to do besides gently roll a toy ball in your hand to keep the juices flowing.

When you have passed a pint, the little machine beeps, alerting the technician to disengage you, but not before about three additional vials of blood are taken for testing. Even though you were honest in how you answered the ream of questions, no chances are taken when it comes to blood-borne diseases, and so the vials will be used to test for those.

Finally, you are bandaged and given post-donation instructions that include no rigorous exercise for the next 24 hours, and more than your usual intake of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages (read “water”). Then you are sent to the canteen for recovery and refreshments. Yesterday I donated “2RBC” or “double reds,” and responded accordingly at the canteen, downing two juices and eating two snacks.

One other thing used to bother me about donating blood: You don’t get to choose who it goes to. Yes, you can help save a life, and it might be a baby, or a cancer patient. It could also just as easily be a drunk driver who wrapped his car around a utility pole, or a gang-banger who got himself shot. Maybe your blood will go to that guy from the Jackass show. You just don’t know. Notice that it doesn’t stop me from donating just the same.


  1. I've given blood since I was 18 (minimum required age) and it stuns me how difficult it has now become to donate. Back then, you walked in, they asked you about a dozen questions, you got stuck, you got fed, you went home. Now you practically need a passport just to get in the door! I suspect this is why many people don't donate any more: the hoops you have to jump through just to get to the cot are often not worth the bother! Still, we should all take the time to bother, for some day it may be us who need that donation to save our own lives. Well done.

  2. Well done Eric. I've tried numerous times over the years to donate and I was always sent home with the same response....I'm anemic. I've not tried for more than 10 years, so perhaps I could give blood now. While I'm not scared of needles, in fact I usually watch them take my blood at the doctors office, weirdly fascinated as my bodily fluids fill that syringe. I do have a problem with getting myself all worked up into a nervous fit, and could see myself doing a half-gainer right onto the floor as soon as I am upright. Could make for an interesting experience.

  3. I've never gone to give blood because I have a mild needle phobia. However, I've had blood taken, several times, when I was going through my barrage of surgeries, and of course the IV is a rather impressive needle in its own right (didn't have fabulous experiences with the IV; I now wear my watch on my right hand instead of my left as a persistent holdover from post-surgery soreness from the IV one time). Probably I could survive donating blood, now that I've done all that surgery stuff, but man, would they have to give me a big-ass cookie at the end of it. Preferably two. With lots of chocolate chips.

    I agree re: who the blood goes to. On the other hand, perhaps if the drunk driver or gang-banger reforms as a result of their incident and starts to lead a good life, maybe it was worth it. Or perhaps they might not.