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Afraid To Give Blood? Why Summer is the Perfect Time to Conquer Your Fear

Afraid To Give Blood? Why Summer is the Perfect Time to Conquer Your Fear
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By Kathleen M. Heins

Blood centers have a tough time collecting enough donations to meet patientsai??i?? needs in the best of times. This is particularly true during the summer when families are on vacation and high school and college donors have scattered. Although over a third of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, less than 10 percent do so. I had never given blood but always admired those who did. I decided the time was right.

Walk-ins are welcome at my local donation center, The Blood Connection in Greenville, S.C., but I knew that without an appointment Iai??i??d continue to put it off — so I set a date. Although my fear of needles is not as pronounced as it once was, I am still not comfortable with them. The thought of voluntarily draining my body of blood, even a bit of it, also ranks high on my ick factor. In the days leading up to my donation, I was filled with feelings of uneasiness. So with all this going on, what changed my mind?

The turning point for me occurred when my dad needed a blood transfusion. As the nurse attached a bag of blood to his IV pole, I felt a wave of respect and gratitude for the person who made the donation. The donor never met my dad and would never receive the thanks of my father or his family; yet he or she had willingly given their blood to a stranger. I was in awe of this person who helped give me more time with my dad. So many people ride your bumper, cut you off in traffic, and feel no qualms about talking during a Broadway performance but there are still those willing to do something so generous and self-less. ai???Thank you,ai??? I whispered as I watched the blood flow into my dadai??i??s arm.

On donation day, I had some morale support in the form of my husband who has donated 77 units of blood to date. I greatly admire him but he is kind of fearless; unlike me. The technician assigned to me, Yanti Chappell, 26, says that her work is not just a job; itai??i??s a mission. When she sees a newbie like myself return, she states, she feels personally gratified. ai???I like to make people comfortable so they come back,ai??? she smiles. Indeed, she truly made sure I felt comfortable throughout the process (not an easy task!). ai???You need to pay Yanti double today!ai??? I joked with one of her coworkers.

Before you can give, thereai??i??s a myriad of questions that are asked to make sure that you qualify. Thereai??i??s also a needle stick to the finger for some preliminary testing. Although this admittedly made me cringe, it went better than I had anticipated. The pain factor was minimal and I have learned that if I donai??i??t watch, my brain is chiller when it comes to medical stuff. Kara Lusk Dudley, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross puts it all into perspective. ai???If you think about what emergency patients or long-term blood recipients endure,ai??? she states, ai???a little stick is the least you can do to help save someoneai??i??s life ai??i?? which could be someone you love at any time.ai???

The actual process of whole blood donation takes just about 10 to 15 minutes but donation centers recommend setting aside an hour and 15 minutes from start to finish. Along with the check-in process, youai??i??re also advised to hang out for about 10 minutes afterwards to make sure youai??i??re not feeling light-headed. There are other types of donations where various blood components (platelet, plasma, or red blood cells) are collected and these have different time requirements. Whole blood donors, like myself, can donate every 56 days. Within a few weeks, your body has replenished your donation. The average adult has about 10 pints of blood circulating in his or her body. Youai??i??re not going to miss the pint you donate.

According to Dudley, a single blood donation can help save up to three lives. Thatai??i??s because the donation can be separated into red blood cells, platelets and plasma; potentially helping three people with different needs. ai???The need is constant,ai??? she stresses. ai???Someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds.ai???

The Mayo Clinic has a list of six fears shared by those afraid to donate:

  • Fear of needles. They are actually the same size as those used in a vaccination. If you remember a recent flu vaccine itai??i??s typically a piece of cake.
  • Fear of the sight of blood. Donai??i??t look! Many donations sights have televisions and plenty of magazines to peruse.
  • Fear of fainting. Few people faint especially if they have a bite to eat beforehand and stay well-hydrated in the days leading up to the donation.
  • Fear of nausea. Sip a carbonated beverage or suck on a mint while youai??i??re donating.
  • Fear of being hounded. Tell the center how often they can contact you.
  • Fear of contracting a health problem. Disposable needles are used so there is no risk.

Chappell says finding a buddy to donate with also helps, especially if itai??i??s your first time. You may also want to take along your favorite throw, a good book and your best jams and headphones. Let staff know about your fears. They are skilled at helping you through it.

Besides anxiety, thereai??i??s another surprising reason that people donai??i??t donate. ai???The number one reason people tell us they havenai??i??t given blood is because they havenai??i??t been asked,ai??? states Dudley. ai???If they donai??i??t have a family member or friend who has ever needed blood it can be off their radar screen,ai??? she adds. The fact is one in 10 people going into the hospital will need blood. The average donor gives once or twice a year but if everyone who was currently a donor committed to at least three times a year, it would make a huge difference when it comes to meeting needs.

The donation site where I gave looked like a high end spa. Once finished with my initial screening, I was shown to a comfortable lime-colored chaise which faced an outdoor garden. The needle part still freaked me out and both my husband and Chappell told me I needed to keep my eyes open (It didnai??i??t even register to me that I had them squeezed shut). This was to make certain I wasnai??i??t passing out. When I claimed a bit of nausea, Chappell put an ice pack behind my neck and handed me a Coke and some peanut butter crackers. I thought I would feel the blood pouring out of my body (dramatic, I know) but I didnai??i??t feel a thing. Another couple was also there to donate and we joked that it was the new date night. I was touched to learn that Memorial Day is a major day for donations and that it was usually done in the memory of a fallen soldier or out of gratitude for a loved one who had returned safely into their arms.

Mere moments into the donation, I felt remarkably at peace. ai???Look how calm you are now!ai??? says Chappell. I felt like a student who had just earned an A on an important test. The actual donation took just over 10 minutes and at that point I felt comfortable enough to take a look at my offering; a bag of my own deep red blood. Instead of feeling faint, I was filled with pride. I resolved at that moment to become a regular donor.

In addition to the good you do, I was surprised to learn that donating blood also benefits the donor. Here are the facts:

  • When you donate blood regularly you reduce your blood viscosity. This refers to the thick and sticky characteristics of blood which can be damaging to the lining of your arteries.
  • Reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), those ages 43 to 61 had fewer heart attacks and strokes when they gave blood twice a year. Another study, reported by the American Journal of Epidemiology found that men who donated blood at least once a year had an almost 90 percent lower risk of heart attacks than those who do not roll up their sleeves!
  • Lower cancer risks. Iron is thought to be a culprit when it comes to an increased risk of cancer reports a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Most of us consume more than we need. By giving blood, youai??i??re reducing those excess levels of iron linked to an increased risk of liver, lung, colon and throat cancers. Men and postmenopausal women are most likely to accumulate excess iron. Red meat eaters also have an added risk.
  • Burns calories. The University of California in San Diego reports that blood donors burn an average of 650 calories per donation of one unit, or pint, of blood.
  • Gives you an extra helping of happiness! Doing something to help others has a positive impact on your emotional health and well-being!

The day you donate you should not plan to do any heavy lifting or vigorous exercise (a great excuse for skipping your Zumba class!) and you should also stay well-hydrated. Immediately afterwards you should have some sort of snack (no problem there!). At this particular center they had a room dedicated to post donation snacking. I decided I had earned that cookie!

I was told that after further lab testing my blood, once cleared, could be used as soon as the next day. Babies, moms in labor, cancer patients, and accident victims are all among possible recipients. I tried imagining who might receive the blood that had just recently been circulating in my body. Yes, it would be kind of cool to know, but the realization that I was helping someone, and bringing comfort to their families, was enough. As I checked out, I was handed a robin egg blue tee with ai???#I save livesai??? embossed across the back. ai???Wow, was it really that easy to help save a life?ai??? I thought. I should have done it sooner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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