Christmas is the time of year when most of us are preoccupied with thoughts of what gifts to buy for family and friends. Toys, appliances, and clothes usually top this list. Well, I'm here today to say that there are better ways to "gift" others, and it won't cost you much more than simply an hour of your time!! I'm talking about donating blood/plasma to your local bloodbanks.
What could be MORE in the spirit of the season than to give a gift of life? You never know when it will be YOUR turn to recieve that gift, either...food for thought, eh? Face it, we ALL know how easy it is to be in an accident on today's roads. Having worked at a bloodbank in the past, I've seen firsthand what one simple blood donation can do for others.
How many of you know that, from one donation, up to 4 separate lives can be saved? A baby who needs transfusions...an accident victim who needs packed cells...a person who suffers with clotting issues...these are just a FEW of the uses for one "pint" (it's actually measured in CC's, typically 1200 to 1300 per donation, based on the donor's weight) of donated blood. Each of the recipients of blood products owes their very existence to ordinary people who simply give of their time. I have donated well over 30 gallons of blood over the years...do the math on how many lives that helps.
Never donated before, and unsure of how it works? Well, let me explain the process, and hopefully take away any fears you might have. Whether you go to a permanent donation center, or one on wheels, the following is typically what you will go through. A quick note...ALWAYS dress comfortably for donating. Once you are in the actual donation process, you can't move around, and if you have on clothes that pinch, it makes you squirm.
First thing the staff will ask for is some form of ID. Normally, you can donate as young as age 17, but some jurisdictions will require parental permission (you can easily call before going to find out). Once they verify your ID, a nurse will then take you into a small cubicle, and ask you a series of health questions. PLEASE, be truthful...your answers DIRECTLY affect the health of potential recipients. Yes, some of the questions seem personal. Several of the questions are about sexual habits, and I know that's offsetting to some, but these questions aren't directed at you personally...they are intended to keep our blood supply SAFE!!
Once the questionnaire is completed, they will then do a simple finger-prick to test the iron levels (hemoglobin...it's what carries oxygen through our bodies) in your blood. It's actually kinda neat...they drop a blood droplet into this bluish colored solution, and if it sinks, you have good iron!! Of course, there are times when it won't sink...it either bobs back to the surface, or just hangs in the middle. Both of these reactions indicate low iron levels. They will usually defer a donation when this happens, because donating when your iron is low isn't good for you. Of course, an easy solution to this is simply to eat a well balanced diet. If you are one of the "middle floaters", they usually will offer to run a sample through a centrifuge to get an exact count, which takes about 5 minutes. It's well worth the wait, so I highly encourage it.
Ok, so now you've done your health questions, you've passed the "iron test"...what happens next? The staff will lead you to a rather interesting looking bed designed to put your body into a semi-reclining position. This is where you will remain until you are done. Dress comfortably...I can't emphasize that enough...because you will be in that chair for roughly 30 minutes or more. Usually they will ask if you prefer to use your right or left arm...this is pretty much a personal choice, but I've found that donating usually goes smoother if you use your stronger side (i.e., use your right arm if you're right handed).
The nurse (called a phlebotomist) will give you a rubber ball to squeeze while you donate, which helps move the blood faster. They'll then tie a rubber strip around your arm (TIGHT), and check to see which vein to use. Then, the nurse will thoroughly clean your arm with betadine. Once the insertion area is sterilized, they will proceed.
Now it's time for the part that most fear...insertion of the needle. Yes, I'll be up front...it's a fairly large needle, and there IS a valid reason for it's size. To remove whole blood cells from the human body, they NEED a larger size...it keeps the cells intact. Your nurse will ask you to pump the rubber ball a few times (builds pressure inside the vein), and will then insert the needle. If you are squeamish, turn your head, and breath slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth. This breathing will help keep your body relaxed. The nurse will adjust the position of the needle slightly to get a good flow, then tape the tubes down so they won't move. That's ALL there is to it.
Normally, it takes anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to fill the donor pack. Basically, during this time, you just lay there, and periodically squeeze the ball. Your nurse will be close at hand, and if you have any questions or start to feel dizzy, don't hesitate to let them know. Their job is to ensure your safety. As the bag nears full, your nurse may loosen the rubber strip a bit (some do it early on, some wait til you're almost done), and will be standing by with a pair of hemostats. When the weight of the donation is correct, they clamp off the tubes. Your nurse will remove the tape holding the tube in place, lay a couple of cotton balls over the insertion site, then quickly remove the needle, applying pressure to your arm to prevent bleeding.
That's pretty much it, folks...you are DONE. Your nurse will have you hold the cotton balls in place while she finishes up with your donation (normally, they use a small part of it to fill testtubes for processing). They'll then come and wrap some stretchable wrap around your arm there. You can't leave yet, though...at this point, you will spend about 10 more minutes sitting in your chair, while your nurse brings you some juice or another drink to elevate your sugar levels (donating can cause your normal sugar level to plummit, which can make you pass out). Once your nurse is satisfied that you are fully functional, you can leave.
Not so bad, is it? Hard to believe that something so simple can make such a HUGE difference to others. One hour every 56 days (that's how often you can donate) truly means the difference between life and death.
I didn't go into the details of plasma donations, but the process is very similar...it just takes ALOT longer. A typical plasma donation takes about 2 1/2 hours to perform, and can be done every 2 weeks (your body makes plasma at a MUCH faster rate than new blood cells). The reason it takes longer is simple...unlike a blood donation, you don't lose any red cells when you donate plasma. They remove the equivalent of 1 pint of blood from you, then run it through a centrifuge to separate the blood and plasma, and put the blood BACK IN YOUR BODY!! They keep ONLY the plasma. To get a full pint of plasma, they have to do this cycle twice...hence the amount of time involved. They never move the needle, though...you just have to be patient through the process. I know it can seem like forever, but it IS worth the time.
If you have any questions, please contact your local bloodbank or donation center. If you aren't sure where to donate, look to your local hospital...typically, they have a donation site right on premises.
I hope this lowered any fears you might have about donating blood. It's really a very simple procedure, and is truly the gift of LIFE!!