Sometimes the things on my list are there because I think it would be a good experience, and other times they’re on there for other reasons, like wanting to face a fear or doing something to make someone’s day better. Donating blood was on there for all of these reasons. I know some of you want to donate and just haven’t gotten comfortable with the idea yet, so maybe my story can help. This is how my experience went.
I’ve never liked needles. While I don’t need to face this fear very often, it does contribute to my decision to not get a tattoo, not to have my ears pierced, and to postpone blood donation (despite being a list item) for a very long time. There have been so many opportunities to donate blood, even when I was in high school, but I’ve never done it because I was so uncomfortable with the idea.
I’m afraid of it. I’m worried that it will hurt, that I’ll faint, and that the nurses will think I’m being silly or dramatic.
On the other hand, I know it’s an important way to help people in need, that the nurses are probably very understanding and kind and won’t think I’m being silly, and that they’ve been doing it a lot and are prepared for nervous wrecks like me. And the more I learn in class about how important blood transfusions are in saving someone’s life, and see it in our case studies, I can’t help but feel that now is the time to face this fear.
Somehow I find out (maybe from a poster?) that there’s going to be a mobile blood drive at my university about a week and a half from now. It suddenly feels very important to do at this time despite my fear, but maybe it’s because it’s been a while since I did something on the list and I’m feeling a bit trapped with school. In my mind, I commit to signing up.
I’m already a little nervous when I think about having to pick a day that works for my schedule, because it seems so official, and I don’t want to cancel an official thing (yes, I’m committed, but still feeling like I might chicken out and uncommit!). I go online and sign up anyway.
There. It’s official. I’m donating blood next week and I’m terrified.
I spend a lot of the week thinking about what will happen (there’s going to be a mix up and I’ll donate so much I won’t have any left and I’ll die!) and researching what to do as a first time blood donor (eat first, don’t eat first, wear comfortable clothes with short sleeves, but be warm, no cold…). It’s all conflicting information and I’m so nervous I can’t think about who’s most credible to ask (that would be whatever blood donation organization you’ve signed up with, and/or the Red Cross).
The day is finally here. My donation is in the morning, and then I have an afternoon class. I pack a PBJ sandwich and water for after–should I survive this ordeal–and nervously show up for my appointment.
The check-in person can tell I’m nervous. But just in case, I also tell them that I’m nervous and that it’s my first time donating. And that I’ve had problems fainting before, even when I’m not donating blood. They smile and thank me for donating, then tell me that I should tell all this information to the nurse who takes my blood and she can help make it the best blood donation experience possible.
So I go to the nurse, and explain it all over again, and she assures me they’ll take good care of me. Then she asks what I ate recently, saying that based on her experience with patients, it’s going to be easier for me to have something in my stomach than to donate on an empty stomach – because some people feel nauseated if they don’t eat anything. Great! A new problem to worry about. Since the last time I ate was breakfast, she makes me leave the donation area, to the “canteen area” to eat my PBJ and some juice (now I’m also concerned I’m going to be hungry during class since I’ve eaten my lunch so early).
Once my stomach is “distracted by the food” as the nurse says with a smile, she tells me to lie down on the stretcher. Then she asks if I’m comfortable, sees my face and changes it to “Are you okay?” I repeat that it’s my first time and I’m prone to fainting. She goes to get an ice pack to put behind my neck, and says she’ll use the smallest needle, will stop the donation after the minimum requirement of blood donated, and will require me to stay lying down for a longer period of time after the donation – all of which should help to prevent me from fainting.
After a quick, “Are you ready?” she starts the collection process. My progress is slow. After a few minutes they come by and tell me to open and close my fist to speed it up. Being nervous (stress constricts blood flow to the arms and legs) and a little dehydrated makes this process take FOREVER. They finally stop it and I ask if there’s enough. The nurse makes a face but says, “Yeah, pretty much.” I hope this all wasn’t for nothing. They let me choose the color of the elastic medical wrap they use to hold the cotton ball (green, of course!) and I flash back to memories of being in the doctor’s office and getting a special character bandage (it really helps me feel better).
Because I’ve been a drama queen about the fainting concern, I’m instructed to stay lying down with the ice pack for a few minutes. Then when they tell me to sit up and see how I’m doing, I feel a little dizzy (“You look kind of pale,” the nurse says) and I have to lie down for another 10 minutes. While I feel validated about the fainting concern, I’m also feeling pretty embarrassed. Every other blood donor is over to the canteen area in 15 min. I’ve been there for over half an hour already.
Eventually they let me sit up (where I have to wait again) and then I’m finally released to the canteen area where I’m told to eat at least one snack and drink some juice. The nurse also tells me to get a big cheeseburger for lunch or dinner (something with fat, carbohydrates, protein, and iron to help with the new blood cell production) and to drink lots of water for the next few days (and, she adds, if I want to donate again I should drink more water the few days before donating so the collection goes faster).
Released after my snack and juice (and chatting with the canteen volunteer), I go to class and, I have to admit, enjoy the brief “good for you” moment that my classmates give me when they notice the bandage that declares I’m a blood donor.
So… would I do it again? Probably. Right away? Probably not.
While it was something on my Goal List, and I was very motivated to do it, repeating it will still require a little courage. If you want to do it, be sure to read about the requirements and tips for blood donation, and let the nurse know that it’s your first time and about any concerns you have. They’re very helpful!
If you have donated blood (one-time or on a regular basis), share your story in the comments. If you want to donate but haven’t, what’s stopping you?
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