“Giving blood is a heroic life-saving act of solidarity.” –The World Health Organization
Today is World Blood Donor Day, a campaign by the World Health Organization to encourage blood donation worldwide. It’s part of a massive effort to establish a voluntary (nonpaid) blood donation system in every country around the globe. Even here in the United States, where donations outpace many other regions, there’s still a huge need for blood supply. The American Red Cross estimates that in 2012 alone, 6 million people may need blood transfusions in the U.S.
I’m afraid of needles. I don’t like the sight of blood. But to support the cause, I signed up for a blood drive in town this week.
By the time I arrived for my appointment I was seriously questioning whether I should go through with it. I’d broken out in a sweat. I felt nauseous. “I can do this,” I reminded myself, so I signed in, took a seat and read through the packet of information that went over what to expect.
After I finished my eligibility survey on a computer in one of the popup booths, a Red Cross worker met me inside. She took my temperature and blood pressure, wiped my fingertip with an alcohol wipe and then pricked it to take a blood sample. The nerve endings in my finger screamed despite such a small injury. As she stuck a band-aid on my finger and smeared my blood on a piece of plastic to test my iron level, I secretly hoped that it would read too low and disqualify me. The minimum cutoff is 12.5. Mine came out 13.6.
“I’m mostly nervous because the last time I tried to do this, it didn’t go so well,” I told the woman.
I was lying down on the donation table in the high school cafeteria, excited because I got to skip class and hang out with two of my friends as we gave blood together. Everything seemed to be going well until the blood bank worker poked around in my arm and couldn’t get a vein. “I’ll try the other arm,” she said, as the attempts into my flesh continued. This was pretty standard for me (I’d long gotten the painful “Hmm, I can’t seem to find a good vein…” when I had to get my blood tested), but this poor woman was really having a tough day on the job. We finally got hooked up and the blood started pumping…or rather, slowly dripping at a leaky faucet’s pace. After about 10-15 minutes my friends sat up, got a tight crepe papery bandage wrapped around their arms and went off to get a cookie. “Uh, are you okay?” they asked when I was still lying there 15 minutes later after they’d rested, the color drained from my face. “Sure, yeah,” I said.
They had to leave for their next class, and I became the lone donor in what had become a quiet room.
By the time the worker finally said, “I guess that’ll be enough” and wrapped me up, I’d been hooked up for over an hour and had a huge bruise growing across my inner arm. I was dizzy. I rested, had a snack, and then went back to class with an ice pack strapped on.
I wondered why I never got a donor card in the mail, but I felt like I’d done a good deed nonetheless. The poking and prodding wasn’t in
vein vain–that blood would save LIVES! Then five years later when I called the blood bank to ask about my blood type, they looked up my file, and I learned that they never ran any tests on my blood. Apparently they had to toss it since it had sat out for too long (y’know, while my arm was still attached to the needle and all). Sad.
“Don’t worry, I’ll only stick you once. If it doesn’t work, I’ll send you home,” the Red Cross lady reassured me as we walked over to the donation chair this time around. “I don’t want to traumatize you again like that!” She also mentioned a new policy where if they don’t get the pint after 20 minutes, they up and stop. Things had improved in the past 9 years, I thought.
I laid back and tried to go to my happy place as she rubbed iodine over the target site for what felt like an alarmingly long time. Finally, she said, “Now’s the time to look away.” I’d already covered my entire head with a scarf, so that wasn’t a problem.
I felt a sharp pinch, followed by, “Alright, we’re good! And you’re flowing really well.” Whew, not as comforting as it should have been, but I was grateful that the worst part was over.
While the pint bag filled up, I asked the woman random questions about her job and she told me stories, and I laughed, partly still out of nervousness and partly because she was pretty funny. The most common reason people don’t donate, she said, is a fear of needles. The fastest donation she’s ever seen only took 3.5 minutes. “And it was this teeny woman, and I swear her veins weren’t much bigger than the needle!”
A nearby volunteer commented, “You guys are having too much fun over there.”
Finally, I’d just about filled the whole bag. “Hang in there,” she said. “Now just the tubes left!”
15 minutes from the time she stuck me, it was all over and I was holding my still sorta ghostly pale arm up in the air, smiling, and sipping a dainty child-size can of apple juice. I stayed put until I no longer felt queasy, and then ate some trail mix and Cheez Its over at the snack station. The woman manning the table announced, “Stuffing extra snacks in pockets for the ride home is 100% allowed!” I was straight up jolly at that point, and she capped it all off by giving me a first-time donor pin. I felt like a downright hero, and I’ve been on the so-called donor high ever since.
Second try’s a charm.
I often wish I could do more to help worthy causes. I can’t always give money, but I can do this. It’s free, and it can seriously help someone. Who knew donating blood could be so…almost…dare I say…fun?
Still iffy about giving blood?
Afraid of needles? Read this.
Don’t know if you’re eligible? Go here.
Not sure where to donate? Consult the American Red Cross, find a local blood bank, or donate with to the Armed Services Blood Program.
Not eligible, or just reaaally don’t want to? You can still help. Consider hosting a blood drive, and encourage friends and family to donate.