A few months ago, my friend Jason made me go with him to his regularly scheduled blood donation. He’s a universal donor and feels morally obligated to give because just about anyone will be able to use his blood. I, on the other hand, didn’t even know my blood type (B+!) and felt kind of squeamish about the whole thing – but then I thought about how after disasters (of all kinds), people rush to blood banks to donate blood – which would probably have never occurred to me. Once I started thinking about that, I decided that I could at least try it out once – if only to just find out my blood type and be reassured that I didn’t have leukemia or HIV (not that I was at risk. But it’s nice to be reassured.)
Jason is new-ish to Seattle and had been a regular donor at the American Red Cross facilities in Boston, but the Red Cross doesn’t have a blood donation facility in the Seattle area, so we ended up at the Puget Sound Blood Center on First Hill. It’s located on the corner of Madison and Terry, just one block west of Boren. For those of you who haven’t given blood before, I’ll give you a brief run-down of how it works:
First, you search for parking in the area surrounding the Puget Sound Blood Center. You’ll have to pay for street parking if you can find it, but luckily there is a parking garage underneath the building. You walk in (with or without an appointment) and speak with the receptionist about donating.
Then, the questions begin. They start by asking you all the basic stuff. Name, date of birth (they ask this throughout the process, like 5 times), whether you’ve donated before, how are you feeling today, etc. and once you’re in the system, they hand you a neat little tablet thing that asks you a series of medical history questions that take about 5-10 minutes to complete. Questions such as have you had a tattoo in the last 12 months? Have you left the country in the last 3 years? Did you receive a blood transfusion in the UK between 1977 and 1996? (I think that I just combined a few questions for that last one, but you get the idea.) And of course, they ask you all about your sexual activity- have you been in contact with anyone who is HIV+ in the last 12 months? Diagnosed with gonorrhea? Been active with someone who does drugs with needles?
Once you’re done with the electronic questionnaire, a phlebotomist! (yes! how great is that word!?) takes you into a little exam room and takes your pulse, your temperature, your blood pressure, pricks your finger for a blood sample and weighs you. If all that comes out well, they’ll double-check to make sure you’re feeling in good health, and then they’ll escort you out into the main room where you’ll join the other donors.
They seat you in a big lounge chair and begin checking your arms for a good vein. Last time I went, I had them do my right arm but I am right-handed so it made the rest of the day a bit challenging. HOWEVER, this time I chose my left arm and it turns out that it’s worse because that’s the side I carry my giant purse on, and you’re really not supposed to lift anything heavy after your donation. On this particular day, I had my computer, a book, my iPad and a whole slew of other things and my bag weighs like 15 lbs. Lesson learned.
After they mark your veins, they put another blood pressure cuff on you and clean your arm and insert the needle. This was about the time that I started to get panicky. I had to look away so that I didn’t see them insert it and totally let out a soft cry when the needle went in, but the pain was over in a matter of seconds. Then, it’s just cool to watch all the tubes that are connected and to see your blood flow into them. They fill up an initial little pouch – then a couple of test tubes, and then the main event begins – the pumping of the full pint. You’re given a little stress ball to squeeze every 10 seconds to facilitate the blood flow.
After being congratulated on having “a very good flow”, my bag of blood filled up in 6 minutes and 15 seconds. They removed the needle and applied a gauzy patch and had me hold my arm up above my head, applying pressure for about two minutes. Then, they wrapped up my arm in this awesome teal-colored tape (they have 11 colors!) and sent me over to the other side of the room, where a volunteer thanked us profusely for our donation, made us hot cocoa and encouraged us to load up on snacks like pretzel goldfish, cookies, and crackers. And after about 10 minutes of snacking, we signed up for our next donation in 2 months and were on our way.
I know that some of you are reading this and thinking, “Gross, Sarah – why’d you post this?” and I am totally right there with you! It is gross, but it’s important.
One pint of your blood (or one lb. if you’re watching your weight) can save up-to 3 different people’s lives. 20% of blood recipients are children and people are constantly in need of blood transfusions – every three seconds, according to one stat I just read. And finally, donating your blood doesn’t cost any money – just about an hour of your time.
So even if you’re squeamish about needles, think about the life-saving opportunity that you have in front of you. I’m just glad that I’m now aware of how important that it really is, and I’m excited to become a regular donor! Next donation is on January 11th at 9:30am – would you like to join me?