Caution: If you are squeamish with the idea of blood, turn away now. I’ll understand. Blood is gross. Don’t worry.
Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those who do, I’m Mary Marvel.
Today, kicked off the 2017 Bucket list with one of my worst fears: needles. Just like many others, I have a fear of needles. Shots, IVs, tattoos, sewing; if it involves needles, I make sure to steer clear of it. Maybe not sewing, but you catch my drift. Needles= Bad.
I decided to confront my fear head on and donate blood. So a large needle in my arm for a long time. Sounds… not fun at all. That’s why I’m doing it. If my 15 minutes of discomfort can save a life, it’s worth it. Hence my superhero persona for the day
After reading up on blood donations (because I torture myself with too much information), I’ve learned the following:
- The human body holds up to 10 pints or 5.5 liters of blood. When you donate blood, the physicians take 1 pint of that.
- The donation is sent to a lab to be separated into red blood cells and plasmas, labeled by blood type, tested for disease, then frozen/refrigerated and distributed to hospitals all over the country.
- Refrigerated blood can last for 42 days before being discarded, but frozen blood can last for 10 years. However, freezing blood deteriorates the quality of the blood, so refrigerated is preferable.
- Less than 10% of eligible, healthy blood donors actually donate blood.
- One donation can be used to save more than one life. Some patients need less than a pint of blood while others could need 100 pints for serious cases. The average transfusion is about 3 pints.
Now that you know some facts, here is my experience with donating blood:
This morning, I went to a mobile blood bank. I always thought those Big Red Buses were kind of sketchy. When I walked into this one, it was clean, everyone was friendly and they had elevator music playing. What could possibly go wrong with elevator music in the background? One of the physicians, Shawn, asked some health questions and ran some tests to see if I was fit to donate. When he tested my blood pressure, the automated blood pressure monitor was struggling to calculate my blood pressure. It squeezed my arm maybe 6 or 7 times to try and get some sort of measurement. Turns out it was broken, but I didn’t know that. The squeezing made me really nervous. Along with the idea of a needle going in my arm, my heart rate went up. Apparently, I can’t donate if my pulse is too high. So I had to sit to the side and calm myself down. I brought the book The Picture of Dorian Gray with me, which is kind of boring at the beginning, before the whole picture-is-possessed part. Within reading two pages, I was ready to take a nap at 10:30 in the morning. I was calm… kind of.
My second attempt at the blood pressure test was successful. After another 5000 questions, I was ready to give blood. If I was anxious before, I was frantic now. I sat on the bed, iPod in hand, ready to drown out the thoughts of needles and blood with the La La Land soundtrack (my current obsession) and trying to remember what normal breathing feels like. The bag came out and I was close to bolting out the door. The physicians could obviously tell I was really nervous. They kept reassuring me that it would be fine and it didn’t hurt. They were very kind and God bless them for that.
The other physician, Calisha, gave me a stress ball, then used some weird tool to find a good vein. It was basically a stick they pushed against my skin to mark where the needle should go. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t the needle, so I squeezed the stress ball as hard as I could, losing my cool a bit. Calisha was surprised by my obvious overreaction and she said, “No no no. Gently squeeze it, like this. Squeeze for 5 seconds, rest for 5 seconds.” My squeezes were more like squeeze gently for 5, squeeze a little less gently for 20. I was on edge.
Then, the needle. Mercifully, she told me it was coming. I quickly averted my eyes toward the wall and prepared for pain. My worst fear was that I would feel the blood rush out of my arm, very similar to the movie Hercules when Hades takes all of Herc’s godly powers before setting the Titans loose on Ancient Greece . Needle went in: no problem. Just a little pinch, then I couldn’t feel it at all. Blood started flowing: no problem. It’s very similar to an IV, if you’ve ever had one. Idea that blood was leaving my body: problem. I still couldn’t look at the needle or the bag. This picture to the right was taken blindly (just to prove that I actually did give blood). Shawn and Calisha would come by and say “Halfway done”, “Almost done”, “You feel ok?”, “You’re doing great”. They were really nice. I can’t stress that enough. They even gave me a free t-shirt! I’m sure they did that with all their patients, but I felt special all the same.
After laughing nervously at random things for the majority of the 15 minute donation, Calisha took the needle out (which I didn’t feel, thank God). To my dismay, she bandaged up the battle wound with Gator colored tape (blue and orange). Who thought that would be a great color combination? I’m more of a Garnet and Gold gal. Seminole for life. She asked if I wanted a cookie and I obviously said “YES!!” I got extra cookies, because they know me too well. They watched me bleed for half an hour, so I think we got to know each other pretty well. But also, they really wanted me to eat. Calisha seemed nervous when I sat up to prepare for my departure. I sat there waiting for the fuzzy, light-headed feeling, but when it didn’t come, I was pleasantly surprised. The pause worried her. She did NOT want to deal with a fainting patient today. We left the Blood Mobile and went our merry way.
Now I can say I conquered my fear of donating blood AND saved lives while doing it! I want to take a moment to thank Calisha and Shawn from OneBlood for helping calm me down and for being so kind and thoughtful (and giving me free cookies). If you have an hour to spare one weekend, I strongly suggest donating blood. 15 minutes of discomfort for you could save lives, whether they are cancer patients who need platelets, or a child who needs red blood cells after surgery. I would DEFINITELY do it again. Pro tip (because I consider myself a professional blood donor now): RELAX!!! It’s not as bad as you think. Don’t look at the needle and you’ll be fine. The most painful part of it all is your perception of how it’s supposed to feel. Coming from someone who hates needles AND blood and STILL survived the ordeal, don’t worry. You will survive too.
Until next time,
P.S. More on my Couch to 5K journey coming soon.