A couple of years ago, I tried something new: I donated blood. I'm not sure what held me back for so long, unless it was the one distinct discouraging memory that goes back to my high school days, where I remember witnessing several of my classmates sprawled out on stretchers in the school gym, their blood slowly being siphoned out of them like a scene from a horror movie. My best friend at the time and I bristled and vowed that we could not, and should not, ever willingly subject ourselves to needles and syringes.
Flash forward fifteen years, and I realized that the notion of donating blood was still on the back burner of my mind as one of those good deeds that everyone should try once. Sadly, the Red Cross can never seem to obtain enough healthy blood to regularly meet demands, especially during the holiday season when people are simply too busy to think about it. Donated blood from one person can benefit up to three people, proving that blood is sometimes worth more than gold to an ill person. And the components of blood have a limited shelf life: platelets must be used within five days the donation, and plasma must be used within one year. So when the call went out from the Red Cross to our office park, I answered. Afterwards, I don't know what took me so long. Donating blood is painless, easy, takes up about a half hour of your time, and most importantly, saves lives.
Always a stickler for prevention, after signing up for a timeslot through my company's human resources department, I visited the Red Cross' website (http://www.givelife.org) to find out what, if anything, I should do to prepare my body for giving blood. It turns out that there are several basic requirements: you have to be at least 17 years old, weigh a minimum of 110 pounds, have not donated blood during the past eight weeks, and be in generally good health. I also found out that there are several recommendations that donors should follow to ensure they have what the Red Cross defines as a "good donor experience." These include getting a good night's sleep the evening before your scheduled donation, having a good breakfast or lunch before your donation that includes iron-rich foods, avoiding fatty foods, and drinking extra water and fluids to help replace the volume of blood you are donating (taking care to avoid caffeinated beverages.) It's also a good idea to wear a top with sleeves that can easily rolled or pushed up. Like any good dooby, I did all of the above, although one of my coworkers tragically missed the tips (the Red Cross is not always good about ensuring human resources personnel communicate preparation steps to all employees who have signed up) and she subsequently passed out while having her post-donation snack. She recovered quickly and suffered only embarrassment, but it demonstrated the importance of donating on a full stomach.
When I arrived at the assigned location and time for the blood donation, I showed my identification, signed in and filled out the usual forms. A friendly nurse took my temperature and blood pressure, and then she asked me a long series of questions about my health and lifestyle. This is the only part of the experience that, in my opinion, I truly found to be a pain (more so than the needle) because it was so tedious. Although the Red Cross tests all of their received blood for diseases, all donors are still required to answer about fifty questions pertaining to their sexual history and where they've traveled out of the country, since blood transmitted diseases are more prevalent in certain areas overseas.
After the interview was over (which I passed with flying colors, by the way) I was led over to a medical examining table for the actual blood collecting procedure. I'm pleased to let anyone who is squeamish about needles know that I found it completely painless, except for the usual little pinch. The nurse gave me a foam stress ball and instructed me to keep slowly squeezing it to help push the blood through my arm and into the collection bag. I actually found it to be quite a meditative experience to rhythmically squeeze a stress reliever with my eyes shut in a quiet place, and it was relaxing to be taking a break from my desk.
Then in about ten minutes, my bag was full, the needle was removed and a band aid placed over the injection area. I was told to lie there for another minute to make sure I wasn't woozy, and instructed to sit up and then stand slowly. I felt completely fine and headed over to the snack table for some juice and cookies. After about five or ten minutes I was told I could leave.
For the rest of the day, I treated myself to healthy snacks and water, a larger serving of dessert with dinner, and passed on my regular workout routine (tip: donating blood gives you a great excuse to forget diet and exercise for a day!) I also avoided alcohol for a couple of days, since drinking it when your body is depleted of its usual blood level can really exacerbate its intoxicating results and make you very lightheaded.
And that's all there is to it. The Red Cross has since followed up with me in the mail several times with my own donator card and notifications about where collections are being held. One of my New Year's resolutions for 2008 is to give blood again. If you're interested in learning more information about becoming a blood donor, visit the Red Cross' site at http://www.givelife.org.