Your Guide to Blood Donation: The Lazy Person’s Charitable Giving

by Lauren Kirchner

When I was a teenager, I volunteered as a “blood drive captain” — an inherently geeky and self-serious role in the wide social spectrum of high school. My job was to sign up as many of my classmates as I could ahead of the annual blood drive that was held in the school gym, and to answer a lot of anxious first-time-donor questions. The tiny cheerleaders expressed to me their sincere concern that they might not be able to meet the 110-pound weight minimum. The dudes who drove Camaros to school expressed their sincere concern that they might not be able to avoid smoking cigarettes or drinking beer for a few hours after their donation, as advised, because they were, like, addicted. Everybody got into it, it was great.

This past weekend I donated for the first time in a while, and I was reminded just how easy and gratifying the process is, and also just how important. The need in America is constant — for transfusions, for operations, for chemotherapy — especially since blood has a shelf life of only a few weeks, so there’s no way for hospitals to stock up when people give a lot for the times when people don’t. I’ve started preaching to my friends (again) about how they should all donate, and I’ve been getting the same questions, so I thought I’d share them with you here.

(I call blood donation the lazy person’s version of charity because, okay, you could donate money to some good cause, and that’s pretty easy, too. But presumably you had to earn that money somehow. Whereas blood is just inside you, hanging out, circulating, and there for the taking. It’s kind of like when your friend comes over and finds some old weird shirt you forgot you owned and she asks if she can borrow it, and you’re like “Take it! I never wear that, and it looks amazing on you.”)

In brief: donating blood is really easy and not scary at all. If you’ve already donated before, you already know this. But for the uninitiated, the squeamish, and the skittish, a few FAQs.

Q: Does it hurt?

A: No. I mean, there’s a needle-prick on your finger to test your blood (for iron) beforehand, and the needle-prick at the start of the actual donation, but those only last a millisecond each. After that, you don’t feel anything.

Q: Is it weird or gross to watch blood coming out of you and going into a bag?

A: Kind of? But you could just not watch (I don’t).

Q: What if I’m scared of needles?

A: Consider the blood drive a safe space, where you can face and conquer your fear like a total badass.

Q: Do they pay you?

A: No, not in the US, anyway. But! You’ll get all the juice, cookies, and salty snacks you can eat afterward, which is probably what you would have spent that money on anyway. And if you’re like me, you’ll also get a slight light-headed buzz, akin to the effects of two or three glasses of wine — which, ditto.

Q: How much blood do they take?

A: One pint, out of the approximately ten you have inside you right now. That pint will then magically and totally replenish itself within two days (the plasma) to six weeks (the red blood cells).

Q: How long does it take?

A: The actual donation part takes about ten to fifteen minutes. For the whole process, they say to allow for about an hour and fifteen minutes total, which includes the pre-screening conversation beforehand and the hanging out eating Lorna Doones afterward.

Q: Are the nurses nice?

A: So nice.

Q: Where/when can I go?

A: Blood drives happen all the time, everywhere. Find one at the New York Blood Center website if you’re in New York, or if not, the Red Cross website.

Q: What should I do before a donation?

A: Eat! One time I tried to give but couldn’t because my iron was too low, and another time I tried to give but couldn’t because my blood pressure was too low. So now I eat a hamburger or spinach salad the night before and drink a lot of coffee the day of. What can I say — these are just the great lengths I’m willing to go to in order to give the gift of life.

Q: What should I do after?

A: You’re not supposed to exercise or, like, help your friend move, for the rest of the day. (Double bonus!) Drinking lots of fluids while lounging on a couch is the best way to recover, in my experience. (Triple bonus!)

Q: This is awesome, how often can I do this?

A: Yeah, get into it! You can go as often as once every 56 days.

Q: Are you a doctor?

A: Hell no. My information comes from my own personal experience and The American Red Cross website. There are some other things that might prevent you from being able to donate, like medical history and recent tattoos and things, but you can find all that info there.

Q: Can I have a final pep talk?

A: Seriously, go put your blood in a bag. It’s the best.

Lauren Kirchner is considering dressing up as a vampire nurse this Halloween.

Photo via Flickr/MPL