Today, I donated blood and I thought explaining all about the process and why it’s needed, would be a good way to start this blog. So here goes:
Your blood is made up of a few different things. It contains red blood cells, plasma (the fluid part of your blood) and platelets. After you donate blood, it gets separated into the different parts so it can be used to treat more than one person, depending on what they need.
One of my clients had a major accident in 2016 and the blood she received as a transfusion saved her life. Blood can also be used to treat cancer, anaemia (not enough red blood cells or when the red blood cells have low haemoglobin, i.e. low iron), during surgery and after childbirth (although obviously not every birth results in a large loss of blood).
If you are healthy, you can usually donate blood. I registered online and received emails welcoming me and giving me information about donating. After I booked an appointment to donate blood locally, I received a letter confirming my appointment and there was also a questionnaire that you have to complete every time you donate. It’s just a simple one where you tick Yes or No and sign and date it, so it’s not difficult and it’s quick to fill out.
On the day of my appointment, I make sure I’ve eaten a meal not too long before I donate blood. I skipped a meal once and was very light headed afterwards and felt like I was going to collapse. That’s one mistake I won’t be repeating. You also need to make sure you drink lots of water. The day you donate needs to be a day when you’re not going to do anything strenuous.
At my appointment, I always get given a leaflet to read. It’s the same one every time but they have to give it to you so you understand the process. Then you sit and wait to be called by a nurse who pricks your finger with a needle to take a drop of blood. The blood is dropped into a tube of liquid and if it falls to the bottom of the tube within a certain time, it means you have enough iron in your blood that it’s safe for you to donate. The nurse also asks you a few questions about your health and checks that you are who you say you are and then you go to another chair and wait to actually give blood.
When you get called by the next nurse, you get to sit in a cool comfy chair that tips a little bit backwards so you don’t feel dizzy while you’re giving blood. The actual donation process takes about 5 to 10 minutes. Your blood pressure is tested beforehand and then the area where they’ll be putting in the needle is cleaned with a cotton ball soaked in some alcohol solution, I think. The needle is probably what scares most people, but I’ve become used to watching it go in (okay, maybe I’m a bit strange). It does hurt a bit but not as bad as someone kicking you in the shin. More like a sharp pinch.
The blood then goes down a tube to a bag that it collects in. While you’re giving blood, you slowly make a fist and release it, which helps to keep the blood pumping out by using the action of your muscles. The bag collects 470ml of blood.
When the bag collecting your blood is full, it makes a Vegas casino style noise and the nurse will come and remove the needle and put pressure on your arm to stop it from bleeding. Then you’ll get a plaster taped on that has an extra cotton roll on it which puts a bit of pressure on the area where the needle was. You can take the pressure roll off after 30 minutes. You need to leave the plaster on for 6 hours afterwards.
After you’ve finished donating blood, you can sit down and have something to eat or drink (it’s free and is usually biscuits, crisps, tea, water or squash). This is so you make sure you’re not feeling dizzy when you leave. If you do feel dizzy, they’ll just pop you in one of the cool chairs and tip it slightly backwards so more blood flows towards your head. After a while, you’ll feel better and can have a drink and something to eat.
When I donate blood, I make sure I can take it easy for the rest of the day. Today, I popped over to a clothes shop to see if there was anything I liked (there wasn’t) so I got on the bus and went home. I made sure I booked the appointment for my day off work, so I could easily donate and relax for the rest of the day.
So you probably want to know how long it takes your body to replenish the blood that was taken. The plasma part is replaced within 24 hours. The red blood cells take about four to six weeks to be completely replaced. That’s why you can’t keep donating blood every week or two. It just wouldn’t be safe for you to do that. In the UK, men can give blood every 12 weeks and women every 16 weeks. From reading a few articles online, it looks like the length of time in the US is shorter (8 weeks for men).
It feels good knowing I’ve helped someone who needs my blood. A few weeks afterwards, I receive a text telling me which hospital received my blood. It’s not necessarily even one in your own area. It could be on the other side of the country, so a total stranger who I will never meet has my blood in them. I think that’s really great.
If you want to find out more information or think you’d like to become a blood donor, the NHS Blood and Transplant site is https://www.blood.co.uk.