What donating blood is like

This week is National Blood Donor week!

I started donating blood when I was at university, whenever the mobile blood bank showed up at the Engineering Examination Halls.

I get an email every three months, telling me that I’m eligible to donate again. My donations count towards my company’s position on a league table.

I try make an appointment for 7:30am. You can show up without an appointment but I like to get in while it’s early. You have to drink around four cups of water before you donate so I usually wake up and start skolling.

I like to go the Bourke St donor centre because it has free muffins, biscuits, coffee, chocolate milk, sultanas, chocolate bars, milkshakes, hot pies, lollies, cheese… (not that I let myself have any. I’m trying to be healthy, you see).

When I arrive at the center, I fill in a questionnaire that asks me what countries I’ve been to recently, what medication I’m taking, how healthy I am… It takes five minutes to fill in.

I put the the questionnaire into a box and read the newspaper while I’m waiting.

When my clipboard gets to the top of the queue, a staff member calls me into a small office. The person asks me a bit more about the answers in my questionnaire. Then I get my blood pressure, weight and the iron levels checked.

For the iron test, the person pricks my finger and squeezes out two drops of blood. It stings a little. My iron levels are usually very good, although my next donation will be during my pescatarian experiment and I wonder if the lack of meat eating will show up in my iron results.

Often, my blood pressure is on the low side. Once I wasn’t allowed to donate because my blood pressure was too low.

After the five minute interview, I’m taken to a reclining chair and handed over to someone else. This new person checks what my preferred arm is (I like to donate with my left arm), straps up my arm, looks for a vein, then puts in the needle.

I like to watch the needle go in. It always hurts less than I expect. One time, the nurse commented that I was brave for watching the needle insertion.

Then comes my favourite part — 15 minutes of enforced idleness. Sometimes I read a gossip magazine.

In my left hand, I have a squeezy toy (like a red foam football). Rolling the toy around in my hand or squeezing it gently makes the blood draw faster. The quickest I’ve ever done this bit is around ten minutes.

The machine beeps when it’s collected around 460 mL of blood. Someone comes around, bandages me up and encourages me to the kitchen. I’m meant to stay for a while, have some food and drink to recover. Usually, though, I’m in a hurry to get to work so I have some water, grab a snack (I’m still eating the snackbox of sultans I got at my last donation in June) and go.

The whole appointment takes around 45 minutes. It can take twice as long if you go in the middle of the day so I do recommend the early slots.

Sometimes, I ride the Melbourne Bike back to work. The donation staff said it should be okay to do that, I just shouldn’t operate any heavy machinery or public transport.

I arrive at work with a big bandage on my left arm and get lots of sympathy from my colleagues about my ‘injury’. Then I tell them that the bandage is for blood donation and they say, ‘Ah, I should do that too.’

Yes, indeed you should! Each donation helps three people. You also get guilt-free relaxation time and sugary fatty snacks. Good, eh?

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