September 10, 2012

giving blood : a virgin tale

I have always felt compelled to donate blood. I'm not entirely sure why, but it has always just seemed important to me. I used to walk past blood donor clinics when  I was in university thinking "I should give blood". Then, years later, I would see signs at the College where I work and think "I should give blood". But, I just never have.

Last year, for my 30th birthday, I created a list of 30 Things I want to do - outlining both long and short term goals for myself. In that list of 30, I identified a number of goals that I wanted to complete this year, specifically. One was to give blood. With my birthday quickly approaching, this was one goal that was lingering on my list, and I was determined to meet my deadline. I set an appointment for Saturday, September 8th.

I arrived to the Canadian Blood Services office to be greeted by a very friendly woman, welcoming me and thanking me for taking the time to donate. Upon learning that this was the first time I was donating blood, she gave me a sticker identifying me as a 'newbie'; I was to wear it on my shirt. After a brief wait, I was summoned by the first nurse who checked my iron levels to ensure I was okay to give that day. Three points above what was needed, I was cleared. Onto the next station where I had to enter a 'privacy booth' and fill out a short questionnaire.

Following that, my next stop was to visit nurse number two, a very friendly blonde woman with a warm smile. She led me into a private room where she took my blood pressure and temperature, and then proceeded to ask me a number of more personal questions ensuring I was right for a donation.

This particular nurse asked me what made me decide to donate blood, and I told her about my list of goals. On my form she could see that my birthday was just 8 days away, and said something that struck me. "Wow, what a great birthday present", she said. "And even better, your blood will likely be infused into someone on your actual birthday, allowing them to have another birthday". Well, if I wasn't happy to be doing this already, I certainly was now.

Before I left that private room, the nurse handed me a piece of paper containing two stickers, one labelled 'yes', the other 'no' on the page, but containing only a barcode on the actual sticker. The nurse explained to me that I could choose one or the other, and place it on my donor form when she left the room. Once the sticker was taken off that page, there was no way to tell which I had chosen, just a barcode that would be scanned after my blood was taken to be processed. The nurse informed me that this was for people who knew for some reason that their blood should not be used, but enabled them to go through the process without fear of stigma. For example, they have a number of workplace groups who come through, and it allows a staff member to go through the motions of donating, but perhaps having a reason that their blood should not be shared, ensuring that it is never used. I was very impressed with that option.

So, I placed my 'yes' sticker on my form, and moved along to the next stop on my donor journey: the actual donation! Laying in a relatively comfortable bed, the next nurse came to greet me and ask me which arm I would like to use. I chose my right, seeing as Lady A likes to be carried on my left side, and we were off to the races. It took me only 7 minutes to complete the one-pint donation, and it felt like mere moments as I was chatting with the people around me, and the nurse looking after me. There was music playing, tv's on, smiling people and friendly staff making the whole environment seem very civil and casual.

I had to hang out in my bed for a few more minutes than the seasoned donors; thanks to my newbie sticker, they wanted to make sure that I was ok, not feeling faint or nauseous. I had a delicious apple juice drink box delivered to me and instructed to drink it while still there. I felt great; both physically and emotionally. Once I convinced them I was ok, I was off to the refreshment station where I chatted with some lovely volunteers who were there to fetch juice, speak with people and to complete the already pleasant experience. Of course they're keeping their eye out for fainters, bleeders, etc., but thankfully I wasn't one of them. As I sipped my apple juice I decided that one of the best perks of the experience were the guilt-free oreos I ate!

One of the sweet volunteers brought me a first-time donor pin, and a pin pad where I can collect my pins moving forward, should I choose to give again. I'm told you get another pin on your 3rd, 5th, 10th visit, and so on. I think I'll be quite happy to continue collecting those pins.

You can donate blood every 56 days, so I have already scheduled my second appointment for the first weekend in November. Now that I have taken the uncertainty out of the experience, and finally taken the leap to give my first donation, I know that I'll be doing it again.

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