What to Expect when you Donate Blood

If you are going to donate blood for the first time it is natural to be a bit afraid, but there is really no need. The process is virtually pain free and the natural high gained from knowing you’re helping to save lives will far out-weigh the memory of the needle prick.

Before you go, be sure to eat all meals that day and even have a small snack. This will keep your blood sugar from dropping too low while you donate. Also, drink plenty of fluids as this will help speed up the blood flow while you donate. Make sure you don’t have any strenuous activity planned for the rest of the day as your body will be weaken by the experience.

When you arrive you will need to register. If it’s your first time you’ll need to present photo ID. Next time your signed blood donor card will suffice. You’ll be asked a few basic questions then your iron level will be tested. This test requires a prick of your finger to collect a drop of blood and ensure your iron level is high enough so that even after you’ve donated it will still be at a healthy level. If your iron is too low you will unfortunately not be able to donate. You can choose to talk to the nurse about how to raise it and you will be invited to try again in no less than 56 days.

Next you’ll need to fill out the first half of the eligibility questionnaire. These are basic questions relating to your medical history and recent activities. Some examples are questions about prescription medications, travel history or if you’ve recently had a tattoo or piercing. The second half of the questionnaire will be filled out with the nurse. These are very personal, but very important questions relating to your sexual history or any illegal substance use.

It is very important to answer all the questions truthfully and accurately because they are screening potential donors for risk factors. While all donated blood goes through a rigorous testing process, it is safer to eliminate high risk donors before their blood gets in the system. If, for any reason, you don’t think your blood should be used, but are uncomfortable letting people know this, the nurse gives you a moment alone to put a “yes, use my blood” or “no, don’t use my blood” sticker on your form. These stickers feature an unlabeled barcode and once removed from the sticker sheet no one will know which one you have chosen.

During your meeting with the nurse you will also have your temperature and blood pressure taken to ensure you are healthy to donate.

Finally, the time to donate has arrived. You will lie down on an elevated bed with one arm out. To help make the veins in your arm visible and to increase blood flow you’ll be asked to make a fist and to open and close your hand. The nurse will clean the area on your inner elbow and insert the needle. All equipment used is brand new and sterile so you never need to worry about unclean equipment. Your blood will first flow into a smaller bag from which the nurse will take several samples for testing then into the larger bag for your donation. Everything from your form to your samples to your donation is labeled with identical barcodes to track all donations and prevent mix-ups.

Your donation is a pint of blood and it will take less than 15 minutes for you to give this much. The average person has approximately 10.5 pints in their body and it doesn’t take long for the body to replace the donated blood. To allow time for a full recovery you must wait 56 days between donations.

After you’re done you need to remain lying down and apply pressure to the area for five minutes. If at any time while donating or afterwards you feel strange, whether light-headed or warm, let the nurse know right away.

Now that you’re done you’ll be rewarded for your generosity with refreshments, usually coffee or juice and cookies. Have a seat and enjoy because not only are these treats delicious they are also important to re-elevate your blood sugar level and it will give you a few minutes to recover.

The whole process is easy and very nearly painless. The staff do all they can to make you feel comfortable and welcome and they won’t let you forget what a selfless thing you are doing. You might be scared at first, but just relax and enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping out. Chances are you’ll become a regular donator and continue saving lives for years to come.

Please note: This article is based on giving blood in Canada. The experience may be different in other countries around the world.