The United States is suffering from a severe blood shortage, which means anyone who is healthy enough to donate blood should find a donation center nearby. Yet, if you have never donated blood before, you might be nervous — what is the experience like from beginning to end?
This guide should help you understand the process of donating blood, step by step, so you can feel more comfortable giving your blood to help others in your community.
Registering to Donate Blood
Donors who are new to the donation process will need to register with their local blood collection facility before they can give blood. Registration can take up to an hour, but once you are registered with a facility, you typically don’t need to go through the process again unless your health circumstances drastically change.
The initial registration involves submitting your name and identification information. Likely, your donation facility will make a copy of your driver’s license and perhaps your health insurance card, and they will take note of your current address. This will help the facility keep track of your blood donation, pulling it if some problem emerges with your health, and it will keep them in touch with you, allowing them to notify you when you are again eligible to give blood.
Next, you will submit a health history to the blood bank, and you might participate in a mini-physical from a healthcare provider. This helps keep you and the recipients of your blood healthier. For example, if you are anemic, underweight or otherwise unfit, a blood donation could have serious health consequences for you; what’s more, if you are suffering from illness or taking certain types of medication, your blood could be dangerous to recipients, causing them harm. A healthcare provider will likely take a small sample of your blood to test for especially dangerous bloodborne conditions. This simple step of collecting information on your current and past health saves everyone time and grief.
Once you are fully registered and deemed healthy, you are ready to donate blood. The donation itself should take no longer than about 10 minutes, and it is a virtually painless experience that does overwhelming good for your community. If you are nervous about the donation itself, here is a step-by-step review of what you can expect:
Step 1. In the donation room, you will be seated in a comfortable chair. If you are nervous or fearful of blood, you might be reclined to keep your line of sight away from where your blood will be drawn.
Step 2. A phlebotomist will attach a pressure cuff above the elbow to help make your veins more visible. They will cleanse an arm, either just below the elbow or near the wrist. If you are donating platelets, both arms will be cleansed. You might be given something to squeeze, which helps keep blood flowing in your arm.
Step 3. Using a brand-new sterilized needle, the phlebotomist will insert a catheter, or a flexible tool for removing fluid. The catheter will fill with blood. If you are donating platelets, you will have a catheter inserted into each arm.
Step 4. You will wait between 8 and 10 minutes for about a pint of blood to flow into a collection bag. If you are donating platelets, you could wait up to two hours, as your blood needs to be separated by a machine and sent back into your system.
Step 5. When enough blood has been collected, the phlebotomist will remove the catheter and wrap your arm with a bandage to help stem the flow of blood and encourage healing.
Caring for Yourself Afterwards
As long as you are healthy, you shouldn’t have any lasting health effects from donating blood. However, donating blood can result in some temporary effects, like fatigue, as your body works to replace the blood you have lost. You will be encouraged to linger a few minutes in the recovery area of your donation center after you donate, to take in a snack and beverage.
For the rest of the day, you should take it easy, avoiding vigorous exercise, alcohol and other intense and dehydrating activities or substances. If at any point you feel dizzy, you should sit or lie down until you feel better. It might be useful to eat iron-rich foods or take an iron supplement, especially as you get in the habit of donating frequently.
Donating blood is fast and easy, and it can make a serious difference in the lives of those around you. Knowing what the donation process looks like, you should feel confident in your ability to give blood and end the shortage threatening our healthcare system.