Volunteering to Literally Give Yourself

One of my resolutions this past New Years was to donate blood on a regular basis I’ve done a couple of times casually in the past, when there was a blood drive near by. I downloaded the app  and have started making my appointments to donate whole blood every 56 days (or so). I don’t mind needles, I’m healthy and don’t feel very effected after donating, and they tell me I’m saving 3 lives, which is a nice energy boost.


Exploring more about it I found out there are four types of blood donation – Whole Blood (typically what we think of), Platelet Apheresis, Plasma Apheresis, and Double Red Cells. They all have different requirements, waiting periods between donations, and blood type needs. Honestly, I’m still pretty confused by it but I am a candidate for Whole Blood and Platelets.


I’ve given whole blood twice already this year. Then I signed up for my first platelet donation this past Sunday. They pretty severely underestimate the time it takes to donate blood/platelets. They say platelets takes about 2 hours and really it ended up taking my whole Sunday so I had plenty of time to think about how this kind of volunteering works.


I made the first appointment of the morning, which I like to do for two reasons – then I have the rest of the day to do my thing, and I can still have my coffee at a reasonable time (caffeine before donation makes me ineligible because of the effect on my blood pressure). Last time I gave blood it was in the afternoon so it was a whole day without morning coffee and I wasn’t happy.


I went to my local Red Cross center. There was someone sleeping on the stoop as I walked in. I went through the pre-test physical. I had to do the worst part (the finger prick iron test) twice but I was ready to go. I had filled out the questionnaire that morning before I arrived; they call it a Rapid Pass. Although you have to do it either way so I don’t think it counts as a timesavings. I picked a DVD – The Martian – and got settled into the chair. I’ve been meaning to see The Martian so I was really excited and thought to myself oh this it just like watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon except I’m doing good. That of course isn’t completely accurate but it’s a nice thought. Unfortunately, the timing worked out that the part of The Martian where Matt Damon is doing surgery on himself happened as they were putting needles into my arms (this center does the two arm method taking blood from one arm and returning it through the other) – all things I normally look away from. Just had to close my eyes for a few minutes and I was fine. They piled the blankets on me and instructed me to hold still except for one hand squeezing a ball.


It’s harder than it sounds to hold still for that long. When I normally watch a DVD, I shift, I eat, pet the dog, etc. The actually process of apheresis took 2 hours. I wondered who came up with this and how. How do you think – hey patients can’t clot properly, what if we take someone else’s blood, use a centrifuge to separate the platelets and then give it to the patient?! I think they should make way more bio-pics about scientific discovery. I think it’s so interesting.


Afterwards it’s the normal cookies and orange juice routine. The person who was sleeping on the stoop when I came in had moved inside. She was kind of talking to me, kind of mumbling. I try my best to acknowledge everyone, even when I have nothing more to give. But it was difficult. I needed this time to recover. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or have to worry about anything. I didn’t want her there but I also wouldn’t have wanted the Red Cross to remove them. No one wants to feel like a jerk after making a donation and this was a catch 22 sort of moment.


Physically it felt a little like I was drunk – tired, clumsy, tingly nose – but overall I felt fine. It felt like it took more out of me than the normal blood donation but it was probably because of the amount of time spent and that it was my first time. I probably tensed my arms too much in an effort to remain still.


All in it took me about 4 hours. Then it took the rest of the day to recover. I was really tired the entire day and now, a couple days later I’m still tired and have a pretty big bruise on one of my arms. I laid on my couch the rest of the day and my dog curled up next to me and gave me a kiss on my inner elbow where the blood had been drawn. It was sweet.


It’s strange because it’s not just time, sweat, and/or skills; you’re giving a literal part of yourself – your blood.


I decided to start taking a multi-vitamin with iron so I can make it through the rest of the year donating whole blood, I think I’ll do platelets again but not on a regular basis and it made me think seriously about registering for the Bone Marrow registry, something which I think I’ll do when I have a better job with health care and vacation days.


Have you donated blood? What are your feelings about blood donation as part of a volunteering repertoire?


For more information call the Red Cross 1-800-RED-CROSS to find out more or visit redcrossblood.org. Or contact your local hospital for more information.


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