Donating Blood

I started donating blood during my third year of vet school. For a long time, I wasn’t eligible for various reasons (like weight then travel history.)

I went in one day essentially on a whim and because I have a friend who had been recently diagnosed with leukemia. While she wouldn’t get my blood, I felt like I was karmically contributing for her (or something.)

I found out after that visit that my blood type is O negative, the universal donor. This means the Red Cross really keeps in touch with me and reminds me when I’m eligible to donate again (you can donate whole blood every 56 days.) There are so many people that benefit from donated blood that I feel drawn to donation.

The process isn’t as scary as a lot of people think it is before they try it.

You sign in, read some educational information then have a brief physical exam. The exam includes having your temperature, pulse and blood pressure taken. (The lady time took my blood pressure twice then asked to check my other arm because my average is so low she was startled. This happens to me a lot with a BP of 96/70.) After that they do a finger prick using a little lancet device and collect a single drop of blood to check your hemoglobin. You have to be above 12.5 to donate. If you fail, they may ask to check your other hand, because you can get different readings from each hand. After that, you answer some medical, travel and sexual history questions that may disqualify you from donating (the conditions are described in the educational material ahead of time, so you should know if you don’t qualify.) After that, they take you to the donation room. A phlebotomist (person trained in blood drawing) puts a tourniquet on your arm then feels the veins in your arms and picks one (for my difficult veins, they outline where it is with a surgical marker.) Then they use a 16g needle attached to tubing to a blood bag. They cover the needle with gauze while the bag fills so you don’t stare at it and you just sit there and roll your fingers around til the bag is full. At the really nice places, they’ll bring you juice or water while you sit. After the bag is full, they crimp off the line and attach a vacutainer drawing device to the line then fill some vacutainer tubes (used for testing and research.) Then they take the needle out and have you apply pressure while they clean up your arm and put a little bandage wrap over the site.

So far, the Red Cross phlebotomists have been much better than any doctor’s office I’ve gone to. They can use that giant needle and hit my tiny, low pressure veins on the first stick whereas regular nurses have dug around and hit my tendons and bones (which is AWFUL.)

Anyway, blood donation is not scary, it’s life-saving and I really encourage you to do it!

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