We are officially in the middle of the beginning of holiday season. While your planning what side dish you’ll bring to your family dinner tomorrow, I implore you to also spend some time thinking about how you can give to others this season. Giving financially isn’t always feasible, which is why I like to give blood. All it costs the donor is some time and blood, which their body will regenerate anyway. I am not an expert on blood donation nor am I a medical professional – please do not take my word as gospel. I am sharing my experience and the experiences of those around me to calm any fears you may have about donating and encourage you to get in touch with a blood donation center near you.
Types of Donations
The following information is from the Red Cross’ blood donation website. The specific types of donation opportunities available near you may differ.
This is the type of donation most people think of when they think of blood donations. These take your red and white blood cells, platelets and plasma – aka your whole blood. A whole blood donation takes about an hour.
Power Red (may be a Red Cross specific donation, not sure)
“During a Power Red donation, you give a concentrated dose of red cells, the part of your blood used every day for those needing transfusions as part of their care. This type of donation uses an automated process that separates your red blood cells from the other blood components, and then safely and comfortably returns your plasma and platelets to you.” This type of donation takes about an hour and a half.
Platelets are the little bits in your blood that help with clotting. “In a platelet donation, an apheresis machine collects your platelets along with some plasma, returning your red cells and most of the plasma back to you. A single donation of platelets can yield several transfusable units, whereas it takes about five whole blood donations to make up a single transfusable unit of platelets.” These are the lengthiest blood donations and take about two and a half to three hours.
AB Elite Plasma (may be a Red Cross specific type of donation)
“In a platelet donation, an apheresis machine collects your platelets along with some plasma, returning your red cells and most of the plasma back to you. A single donation of platelets can yield several transfusable units, whereas it takes about five whole blood donations to make up a single transfusable unit of platelets.” These donations take just over an hour.
The General Process
Make an Appointment
There is a good chance that your community has some kind of blood donation center. I recommend doing a quick search in your favorite search engine for blood drives near you, especially if you live near a high school or college. I find the entire donation experience more relaxed and, dare I say, enjoyable during off-site drives than at a donation center. Blood drives are often in less clinical environments. For example, I’ve donated blood at drives in a frat house, dorm lounge and University gym.
That being said, I have donated in both environments and the easiest way to start any blood donation experience off on the right foot is by making an appointment ahead of time. More often than not, they will be able to see you early if you’re nervous and arrive onsite before your scheduled time. The staff wherever you donate is more than likely incredible nice, knowledgeable and comforting.
Beforehand: Eat Well & Hydrate
Once you schedule your appointment or are thinking of scheduling an appointment, pay attention to your diet and water intake. The process will go a lot smoother as a whole if you are eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and drinking ample amounts of water. Ladies, make sure to eat iron-rich foods, especially if you’re on your period, because they test all donors’ iron levels. Generally, women have lower iron levels than men so it is important to be cognizant of how much iron you’re ingesting.
More on the blog: Different Ways to Give Back
Do not Drive Yourself
I cannot shout this louder from the rooftops. Especially if you are a first time donor, please please please do not drive yourself to donate blood. You will feel light-headed if not immediately afterwards, before you get home. You may faint (totally normal, by the way). With your safety in mind after donating, please find a way to have someone else drive you home.
That being said, I have driven myself home once. I have given blood close to, if not more than, six times and have a pretty good idea of when the light-headedness and/or nausea will set in. For me, that’s about 15-60 minutes after donating depending on if I ate immediately before donating, drank water while donating and/or ate snacks and drank water/juice immediately after donating. For me, that is plenty of time to get home, eat something and lay down on the couch.
Like I said earlier, the staff is very comforting and knowledgeable about the entire process. They are happy to get you a snack or water/juice while you are donating and afterwards. They are there to help and ensure you have a pleasant experience.
Afterwards: Eat Well & Hydrate Again
They’ve got snacks, take them. From different fruit juices high in sugar to salty and sweet snacks, the facility will usually have snack options to help with your recovery. You don’t need to ingest them right away, but you should take at least one beverage and one food item at some point. Have a seat and listen to what your body wants (salty, sweet, something in between). Take the damn snacks, folks.
Listen to Your Body
Congratulations, you’ve donated blood and made it home! If possible, pick out where you’d like to perch for the foreseeable future and grab plenty of water and snacks before changing into sweats or other comfortable clothing. In my experience once the jeans get swapped for sweatpants, I can count on being out of commission (read as: sleeping) for a couple of hours. Don’t plan on getting much work done or having serious conversations; there’s a good chance you may go a bit loopy for some time. I don’t write ‘loopy’ to freak you out, rather to serve as comedic relief. I remember after I gave blood the second time, I had walked through the front door, grabbed my water and snacks on my way to my room, changed into the comfiest clothes I could find and then proceeded to laugh non-stop for 15 minutes. Once my laughing fit ceased, I then slept for 3 hours. Be especially kind to yourself.
The nurses assisting you during your donation should tell you this, but in any case, please do not drink alcohol or engage in other illicit activities after giving blood. Give yourself at least 24 hours to begin to recoup – there may be dangerous consequences if you do not.
More on the blog: 7 Stores that Give Back
Other Things to Know
They give you a lot of documents to read before you are able to donate. Everyone needs to carefully read these documents, but especially those who are on long-term medication, travel internationally frequently or may have been exposed to others’ blood.
I recommend donating from your non-dominant arm. I have found that my donation arm feels tired after donating and I’m more comfortable donating from my non-dominant arm. Personal preference.
While I do not have personal experience with this, know that both vomiting and fainting are normal either from nerves or the physical donation. Trust that the staff is well-equipped to help you should you experience either or both.
After disasters and catastrophic event, the need for blood donations sky rockets, particularly if you have a rare blood type (looking at you A negative folks!), but blood donations are always needed.
Do not, I repeat do not, donate blood while you are training for or immediately before a strenuous physical endeavor. I gave blood while in the midst of training for my half-marathon and it set me back in my training about a month. Turns out, it can take your body upwards of 6 weeks (for me it was closer to 9 weeks) to fully recover. Seeing as your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body, it’s important for your training (and life in general) that you fully recover.
For more medical resources, check out the Red Cross’ website.
If you have questions about my blood donation experiences or want someone to help ease your nerves, leave a comment down below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Always happy to help! Also, please let me know if you think something is missing from this beginners’ guide to giving blood.
Whether you decide to donate blood this holiday season or not, I implore you to find a way to give to others in need however you are able. Wishing you a festive, laughter-filled Thanksgiving.