10 April 2014

Donating blood - the process

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You might remember that I had a very strange experience the first time I donated blood. I felt very weak and started crying. It was very strange because I wasn't upset at all, but couldn't control it. Luckily every time after that has been uneventful and I'm not scared of going at all. I don't look forward to the needle part, but I can deal with it and the cookies are definitely worth it. It also helps to know that donating blood can save someone's life. In fact, one unit of blood can save up to three people's lives because it's separated into red blood cells, platelets and plasma.

I've been wanting to do a follow up post for anyone that's curious or nervous about donating blood. I'm sure it's different at every location, but I'll tell you about my experience. We go to a mobile station that visits Hermanus once a month. I get an sms (text message) and sometimes a call the day before to remind me that they'll be in town.

When you arrive, you fill in a health questionnaire. You have to do this every time because the questions are about your recent health. Everything from how you're feeling that day and when you last ate to what medication you're on and your sexual health. It's a long form, but it only takes a few minutes. Next you get your blood pressure measured and if that's fine, you go on to the next station. I used to think that I can't donate blood because of my low blood pressure, but it turns out it's not too low. It does take slightly longer for them to get the right amount of blood from me, but it's not a problem. They usually put my blood bag lower to speed up the process. You can see the edge of the tool box it's resting on in the top photo.

At the next station your blood iron levels are tested with a finger prick test. Your personal details are also checked. If it's your first time, you fill this in on the questionnaire. We received donor cards after the first time, so they're just scanned and we confirm that nothing has changed. If your iron levels are also acceptable, you get a bundle of blood bags labelled with your details. I was nervous at first because I thought they all had to be filled up. You only need to fill up one and the rest are used when the blood is separated.

Then you get to the scary part where you find an open bed to start donating. It turns out that it's not that scary after the first time and everyone is very friendly. Yes, the needle hurts a bit when it pierces your skin, but it's not anywhere near stubbing your toe or any type of pain most of us encounter every week. It's definitely not enough pain to justify not saving a life. I avoided it for years, but I'm so happy I started doing it because I know now that it's not anything to be scared of. My monthly B12 shot hurts much much more.

The strange metal thing you can see in my hand is a trigger you have to press to move the tiny see-saw the blood bag is on. This mixes it so that it doesn't set. Sometimes these are difficult to press for me, especially towards the end, but if you have trouble you can also ask a nurse to help you. When the bag is full, it presses on a little button that makes a buzzer go off. This alerts the nurses to come set you free :) They will remove the needle and make sure you're fine before taping some cotton wool to your arm and letting you get up. Then you make your way to the table at the back with cookies and juice to help give you a little boost. I feel tired for a few hours afterwards, but I'm back to normal by the next day.

I thought this sign was very interesting. My blood group is A+, so it's pretty common. I hope this posts has helped anyone who was curious about the whole process. Let me know if you have any questions.

If you live in South Africa, you can get more information and see where to donate here. Otherwise you should be able to find information by searching you are and "blood donation" on the internet. You can also ask any health professional and they should be able to help you. We asked the nurse when we got our B12 shots.


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