There's a church I always drive by and once every few months Canadian Blood Services visits there and puts up a sign and a banner advertising blood donation in hopes of wooing the public to the clinic inside. I always think, "I should really go do that sometime...", buuuut it never ends up happening. As a nurse, I know the importance of blood donation - I am often the one administering that blood to people in the hospital! So yesterday I saw that sign and I actually turned into the parking lot and went inside - big step, right?! I was a bit surprised at how many people were inside - staff, volunteers AND donors! And yet, the first lady I spoke with told me I was lucky to have come at a quiet time.
Before you actually sit in the chair and offer up your arm, there are several stations you pass through to collect different information and determine your eligibility to donate. The first person takes your ID, your height, weight and age and then gives you a pamphlet to read. If you are too young, too old or weigh too little, you get the boot! The second person pricks your finger and measures your hemoglobin level - mine was 137 g/L, woot woot! If yours is less than 125 g/L, you get the boot! Next you move onto a questionnaire about your health history. A nurse will take your vital signs (blood pressure, temperature, pulse) and interview you about the questionnaire. If anything concerns the nurse, you get the boot! Someone who gets turned away might think, "I thought they were desperate for blood? How come they are so picky?" It's an understandable feeling, but if you imagine that your blood might end up transfusing a preemie baby or sick child, you'd hope it was absolutely clean and perfect.
I passed all 3 stations (go me!) so I took a seat and waited for a reclining donor chair to become available. One of the staff members had given me a "1st Time Donor" sticker to wear so everyone knew to explain things thoroughly and check on me frequently.
Soon I was seated and the lab technician started looking at my veins. I was surprised she had a little bit of trouble finding the best one to use and had to have a second tech come look for a second opinion. I think I had pumped my fist 100 times before they finally found the perfect one to use. One thing I hadn't considered before walking into the clinic was the size of the needle they use. I'm not queasy with needles or blood, but this needle was a 16 gauge and simply massive. As per the tech's suggestion, I looked away during the insertion and she kindly put a piece of gauze over the site for the rest of the donation period. If someone tells you that the hemoglobin finger prick hurts more than this step, they are lying - don't trust them.
The donation part went pretty quickly, about 20 minutes for me, but it can be faster or slower depending on the size of the vein, angle of needle etc.. One thing that did happen to me was that my fingers got cold and a bit numb and tingly. The staff said it happens to a lot of people and brought me glove full of warm water to hold. Although I'm a nurse, I personally have never had an IV or surgery or anything major so I was thoroughly impressed at the amount of blood they took out of me! The bag was so full and fat I couldn't resist taking a picture.. the tech was a bit amused.
When you're all done, they have you stay in the chair and hold pressure over the site for 5 minutes. If you are feeling fine, a volunteer escorts you to the snack station - deluxe, right? They had mango juice, Oreos AND Peek Freans! Those retro little cookies are freaking delicious and remind me of my grandma. After a few minutes I was feeling up to par so I headed home with instructions to take it easy and drink a ton of fluids to help replenish my circulating volume. I made the mistake of jogging up the stairs at home and ended up a bit lightheaded but today I've been feeling really good!
In the next little while I'll get a letter from Canadian Blood Services telling me my blood type and when I can donate next - usually 56 days between donations. Now that I know how everything works and what it feels like I think it'll be a little easier to pull into that church the next time the clinic is in town. It's for a good cause and a pretty legit excuse to gorge on cookies! I hope you'll give it a try soon if you've been thinking about it!