In January I decided to kick off 2017 by doing something I’d always been too afraid to do – donate my blood. The logical side of me knew that thousands of people regularly donate blood, that it’s incredibly important for so many people’s survival and health, that the chances of the donation process harming me were low to none… but I was still scared and squeamish with the thought. I don’t have a problem with needles – three tattoos and probably more to go proves that – but I never enjoyed getting blood drawn or getting vaccinations. The feeling of copious amounts of liquid entering or exiting my veins is not at all a pleasant one. And so previously in my life I’d told myself that there was no reason for me to do something, potentially the only thing, that made me so incredibly uncomfortable.
And that’s the reason I decided to do it. The last ten months or so were full of life changes and overall pretty rough for me – the end of a relationship, a cross-country move, a new job… I wanted to consciously challenge myself in this way, to prove to myself that I could do this thing I was afraid of, that I was stronger than that fear – that irrational fear.
The American Red Cross was hosting a blood drive on January 4th, right within my office building. I signed up and researched what to expect and how to prepare. Hydration and big breakfasts were important, I learned. I regularly empty multiple quart-size water bottles throughout the day, so felt pretty good about my hydration situation, but attempted to increase even that in the days leading up to my donation. I ate more iron-rich foods, avoided caffeine, and finally downed a breakfast of two peanut butter sandwiches and a banana instead of one peanut butter sandwich and a banana.
The staff and volunteers were supportive when I told them it was my first time donating. I provided my information and the needle was inserted into my vein without incident. Apparently my blood runs slow and/or the newer staff member didn’t insert the needle as accurately as he could have, because after a few minutes he called over the resident expert – she fiddled with the needle in my arm until they were both satisfied the blood was gushing as needed.
As time passed and the blood drained from my body, I began feeling incredibly and uncomfortably warm. I started sweating, and as soon as I mentioned the boiling temperature, I was immediately surrounded by people placing ice cold cloths on my forehead and neck. I cooled down, but still was feeling a little faint and nauseous by the time I successfully filled my blood bag. The staff had me remain horizontal while they brought me juice. When I felt better I sat up, only to decide I had better lie down again for a bit longer.
Finally I felt well enough to progress to the recovery table, the table where blood donors sit and eat snacks before continuing their day. After five minutes, I felt faint and needed to rest my head in my lap – to which the staff responded by having me lie down. This cycle repeated itself, causing me to miss my team meeting. My boss came up to check on me once it was finished and I was finally allowed to return to my office with her accompaniment, the whole humiliating ordeal coming to an end. I felt much better – no longer dizzy, but still weak. She pretty bluntly told me I looked terrible and should take the rest of the afternoon off, to which I resisted at first, but finally agreed to.
Apparently, where I potentially went wrong was my morning workout… everything I read said not to exercise after you give because your body is weak and recovering. Nobody mentioned exercising before the donation! But a friend who makes a point to give regularly every eight weeks, a friend who also works out daily, says the only days he skips his workouts are the days when he gives blood. You CAN exercise before the donation, he told me, but “you’ll just feel like shit the rest of the day”. As I did.
I am still unsure if I’ll be giving blood again any time soon. But I am incredibly proud of myself for doing it.