Note: You won’t see any images of blood or of needles. 🙂 So no worries if you’re a bit squeamish.
I recently had a thought about what it would be like to share the process of donating blood the same way I share skincare treatments. So. Here we are. Me, fumbling through a blog post with no images other than a blurry iPhone selfie. I swear, my phone knows there are newer models available and just decided to lose all photo resolution. Anyhoo, back to the blood donation bit. Here is a bit about the requirements and process of donating blood. A lot of this info is available on blood.ca and you can even book an appointment through their webpage.
Just a reminder, if it’s not painfully obvious just based off of who I am as a person, I do not claim to be an expert. If you have questions reach out to the blood donor clinic in your area. I’m just a girl that was smart enough to throw a website together but debatably not smart enough to do much else. This was my experience donating blood, yours might be very different, and these are the questions that come to mind for me that I tried to find answers for. Please also note that when I talk about men and women I am strictly speaking based on sex assigned at birth, not gender. There is additional information to learn about when it comes to trans-individuals (see here.)
What are the requirements?
There are a lot of things they need to know before you donate blood, but it’s not like you have to pull up with fresh medical records. With Covid-19, the safety measures and questionnaire process is more thorough than I remember, but it’s literally been years since I’ve last donated. When I arrived they took my temperature to make sure I was under 37.5 (which did end up in me getting turned away the first time at a temp of 37.7 – what can I say, I’m a hottie through and through.) and checked my ID and had me fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire is done privately at a little survey station. For a list of questions see here. It is worth reviewing the questionnaire quickly prior to booking an appointment. Important to note, if you say YES to any of these questions that doesn’t mean you are automatically disqualified from giving blood. It just means there will be some follow up questions.
Here is the obvious question that stood out that left me with a follow up question.
In the last 3 months have you had sex with a man who, in the last 12 months, had sex with another man? (Female)/ In the last 3 months, have you had sex with a man? (Male)
I won’t lie… my first instinct was to think that this question is a bit homophobic. There is a whole section on their site about it (see here), the gist being men who have sex with men account for the largest proportion of new HIV infections reported in Canada. Yes, they test all blood, however there is a window post infection when HIV is not detectable. So naturally my follow-up question is: does it mean that men who are in monogamous sexual relationship are allowed to donate? At this time, no, they would not be able to donate due to the high HIV infection rate in men who have sex with men. However, if you’re in Vancouver and would still like to donate you can donate blood at the UBC Research Centre – here your blood is used for research purposes and not given to any recipients.
The needle part
Technically there is two needle parts. The first part is that they prick your finger with what feels like a mini-stapler to collect a small blood sample that goes into a fancy machine that checks your hemoglobin levels. Hemoglobin is a type of protein. It’s what makes your blood red and it’s what transports oxygen and carbon dioxide through your system. This is another little test you have to past in order to donate blood. While the questionnaire determines if your blood is suitable for donation, this finger prick determines if you are suitable for donation. If your levels of hemoglobin are too high or too low you might be prone to feeling lightheaded, dizzy or even faint. This is what makes sure you don’t pass out while donating blood. There is no shame in not being suitable to donate. That just means you need your blood more than someone else needs your blood.
Needle part 2. It goes in your… elbow pit? I don’t know what that part of the body is called. But they take a few vials (to test) and a bag. Overall they take about half a litre of blood. You don’t have to look at it if you don’t want to, I’m a sick fuck and didn’t mind watching. You just have to chill the entire time and watch Planet Earth (or whatever they have on the TV.) It’s a needle in your arm. It does hurt but it’s not unbearable. I’ll be frank, waxing my upper lip hurts more than donating blood.
After your donation has been taken you are required to stay at the clinic for a bit so they can make sure you don’t pass the fuck out. They provide lots of beverages and snacks and it’s important to have something with sugar to help up your blood sugar. I don’t know why, but it’s a proven fact that individually wrapped Oreos taste better. Are they worse for the environment? Absolutely. But in a pandemic and post blood donation, there really is nothing better.
Some questions y’all had on IG:
How long does it take? The entire appointment takes an hour-ish. You could do it on your lunch hour.
How often can you donate? According to the guidelines women can donate blood ever 84 days, men can donate every 56 days. The wait time differs to prevent you from giving away all your iron. Those who menstruate can’t donate as often because it’s hard for them to maintain a healthy hemoglobin range. It’s recommended that if you menstruate to try donating during the middle or end of your cycle.
Is there a blood shortage? I think this really depends on where you live. I’ve seen on the news reports of blood donation shortages throughout Canada, but I am proud to say that Vancouver actually saw a surplus in donations amidst the pandemic. I found it interesting to find out that because of more people working from home the downtown donation clinic is actually finding that they are less busy because less people are downtown. Instead they have increased the hours of other clinics outside of the downtown core.
How did you feel after? I felt fine, but I tend to bounce back quickly from most things. A little tired the day of donating, but manageable. My arm was a little tender, but not nearly as bad as when I have had to get the flu shot. For me, the most discomfort came from the bandage wrap they put on you after your appointment. I can’t say this will be the effect for everyone, but I am definitely allergic to whatever adheres the tape to your skin and did develop a bit of a rash of small bumps.
Still on the fence? I’m not saying it’s guaranteed, but when you get that sticker that says “be nice to me, I donated blood today” you may get a free donut and coffee at your local cafe. I’m not saying I got a bougie $4 donut for free, but just remember, I was instructed to have something sugary.