I am a whole blood donor, veteran of six donations at the Toowoomba Blood Bank, in Queensland, Australia.
It is an amazing experience. The moment you walk in your heart is racing. You're nervous-it'll hurt (those are big needles they shove in your arm), what if your haemoglobin levels are too low, what if the blood doesn't flow (the latter two have happened to me before!), what if you faint?
But you feel better once the lovely receptionist smiles at you and asks if you have an appointment or if you're a “walk-in”. They give you a form to fill out, and you have to weigh yourself and more recently, give your height. The questions are fairly straight-forward, ranging from drug use (including prescription medicine and painkillers) to places you've travelled, and yes, even some of your more private habits. This is done as a preliminary screening, making sure that your blood is okay for them to use.
A few moments after you hand your form back (depending on how busy they are), a nurse will check your haemoglobin levels and your blood pressure. In my honest opinion, the little device they use to prick your finger to get a small drop of blood to test your haemoglobin levels is much, much, MUCH worse than the actual donating. I don't look until they start squeezing the blood out of the tip of my finger. They wipe away the first little bit of blood that comes out, then they collect some of the blood in this cool little plastic thingamabob and put it in a machine that calculates the haemoglobin. Meanwhile, you're given a band-aid (sorry, no dinosaur or fairy band-aids) and your blood pressure is taken.
Then you sit back down and wait until another nurse comes and takes you into an office. She asks you about the answers on your form, checks your address and blood donor card, and types a bunch of stuff into the computer. This bit usually takes longer for first time donors. This is also where you get your key chain for being a second-time donor (shaped like Australia, with a gold back where your blood-type is engraved, I'm O-) and a small badge for being a five-time donor. I'm curious as to what I get for being a ten-time donor!
Then she asks you to sit down back outside, where you can see others giving up their crimson gold. You're asked which arm you wish you use (usually I get it taken from my left arm, but my left arm has started playing up and not giving a strong enough blood-flow, so I had to use my right arm for my latest donation), and then you're sat down on a very comfortable chair which they then raise up so that you're lying back. They give you some sort of squeezy thing wrapped up in medical paper and they ask you to squeeze it hard while they locate your veins. Then they get this green stuff and rub it on the inside of your elbow, and then it's time. Personally, I look away when the needle goes in. Otherwise I'd scream or cry (or both). I actually watched my fiancé have his needle put in, which simply confirmed my resolve never to see the needle enter or exit my body. Once it's in, however, I'm quite curious. I watch the blood shoot through the tube to a small pouch which they use to fill up test tubes so that they can test your blood. Once the test tubes are filled, the blood is then redirected to the huge bag that is rocking back and forth on this cute little machine that beeps when you are done. There are a number of bags on the machine, but you only fill one. The others are for when they separate your blood into plasma and platelets.
While you're filling up the bag (rolling that little squeezy thing in your hand, feeling your arm start to ache or itch, or whatever your arm does) you can watch the many television sets scattered around the place. The nurses sometimes come to talk to you (they're starting to get to know me!) and try to make sure you're as comfortable as possible.
Finally when you're done, they remove the needle (look away! Look away!) and they wrap your arm in gauze. They then lead you to an area where you can relax, eat biscuits, crackers and cheese, lollipops, fruitcake and my personal favourite sultanas. They offer you tea, coffee or cordial. They also recommend that you stay there at least 15 minutes after donating to make sure you're not going to faint or be ill. You do feel a little woozy at first, and your arms are sore for the rest of the night (and you sleep rather soundly too!) but you feel like you have done a good thing.
One donation can save up to three lives. Three people get another shot at life because you opened up your heart and veins. Crash and burn victims, people needing surgeries, children with blood disorders, they all benefit from your kindness.
I recommend that anyone who is healthy, young and able to donate blood go and give up one evening every three months. If not for the peoples whose lives you will save, then do it for that good feeling that you get when you stumble out of the Blood Bank.
Now if you will excuse me, I think I'm going to pass out.