WARNING!!! THIS POST CONTAINS IMAGES THAT ARE SLIGHTLY GRAPHIC!!!
If you need a reminder what I’m talking about, here’s a link to the first Giving Back on a Budget post. I’m sorry this post is a little long, but there’s a lot of info that I thought was super important!
Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Everyone has blood, & donating it is free! But, a lot of people are confused about whether or not they qualify to donate blood. Also, no one likes being stuck with needles. That’s why I think this is the 2nd most difficult way to give back on a budget.
A lot of people line up to donate blood after a major disaster. But, they’re less likely to donate blood for every day transfusion needs. The American Red Cross estimates that 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate, but only 10% of them do.
Someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion – at an average of 3 pints at a time – every 2 seconds. Car accident victims, scheduled & emergency surgeries, & people with illnesses like cancer & sickle cell, all need transfusions.
I put my (lack of) money where my mouth is & donated blood on October 8th, 2016. I’m eligible to donate again & – barring flu or infection – I’ll be bracing myself for the needle on January 7th.
It’s incredibly important to donate blood if you’re eligible, & donate as often as possible. Why? Because blood – like milk – has a shelf life. If unused within 42 days (2 days of which technicians need to test it for diseases & separate it into its life-giving components), blood banks have to dispose of it.
Donors need to meet three basic requirements before thinking about giving blood:
- Age: Like fine wine, your blood must age before it’s ready for collection. That, & most states require you to be at least 17 years old. Some states allow 16-year-olds to donate blood, if their parents/guardians sign a consent form. If you want to give the gift of life to someone & you’re 16, check the American Red Cross’s website for your state’s laws & consent forms.
- Weight: Donors over 18 years old have to weigh at least 110 pounds at the time of their appointment. To be honest, I have no idea why this is, but the Red Cross says so. Also, younger donors have to meet certain height & weight requirements based on their age & gender. You can find that information using the link in the previous bullet point.
- Healthy & Feeling Well: Some people misunderstand what blood collection organizations mean when they say “healthy.” Having a chronic illness doesn’t mean you’re disqualified. “Healthy,” as defined by the American Red Cross, “means you feel well & can perform normal activities.”
You can donate if you have the sniffles, allergies, or aren’t feeling 100%, as long as you don’t have a fever & you aren’t taking antibiotics. If you have a chronic illness, however, you have to answer even more questions than the average donor.
You start your donation appointment answering questions, whether you have a chronic illness or not. They’re tedious, & sometimes the organization requires you to use paper & pen (like cavepeople!!) to respond. But, they help keep diseases out of the blood supply. They also keep you safe & healthy (minus a pint of blood, if all goes well).
Every blood collection organization has its own specific questions, with most of them falling into these categories:
Check the American Red Cross’s eligibility criteria to clarify what limits you from giving blood. You can also call 1-800-RED-CROSS. (That’s not a typo; the phone number does have eight numbers following the 1-800. However, leaving the final “7” off the number still connects you with the organization.)
Finally, when you make it past these gatekeepers, you get to donate blood! Congratulations! A nurse then takes you through the following (or a similar) process:
- Taking your temperature
- Pricking your fingertip to test your iron levels
- Checking your blood pressure
- Directing you to lie down on a padded table
- Prepping your arm with iodine (tell the nurse if you’re sensitive/allergic!)
- Putting a rubber band around your upper arm as a tourniquet
- Giving you something – like a stress ball – to squeeze & fill your bag faster
Then there’s the part everyone hates. I won’t describe in case anyone is needle-phobic. Scroll past here quickly if you don’t want to see the pictures.
After you’ve given about a pint of blood, technicians might take a few more vials to test for diseases. Unfortunately, they can’t rely on everyone giving a complete & correct medical history. Taking a few more vials means the entire donation can go to someone in need.
You hop – OK, you’ll crawl – off the table & the nurse shows you to the refreshment area. While you enjoy some water, juice, & other free snacks, volunteers can keep an eye on you for 10-15 minutes. Donating blood leaves some people feeling light-headed, so the staff chats with you until they’re sure it’s safe to drive home.
Too afraid of needles or ineligible to give blood for any reason? Don’t worry! You can always beg, plead, & bribe (or maybe just ask) your friends & family to donate in your stead. I did it earlier this year (before I donated in October) because I was on antibiotics for an ear infection. I asked my Dad to go & give blood.
Now we’re both getting phone calls every 56 days, but I see them as friendly reminders of the desperate need for blood donations.
Coming up next, the final installment of giving back on a budget! I think it’s incredibly hard & time-consuming, but it’s just as rewarding as it is difficult.