Account of a Red Cross blood donation

Registration and drawing, after the donation,
and the people

Detail of a print advert by the Hellenic Association of Blood Donors. Close-up of Spider-Man doing his signature ILY sign; an IV from his wrist leads to a blood bag. Caption: “You can be someone’s superhero!”
Click on the image to view the the original poster.
2019.12.18, by Anatolij, Ansel, and Bedivere
Filed under Journal, Personal

[Tolly] The smell of the pumpkin spice candle is hanging over my desk…

I donated blood for the first time in my life on the 13th, to the Red Cross. It was a walk-in, not a scheduled appointment. Here I recount my experience—along with interjections from Bedi and Ansel.

Registration and drawing

Intake asks for your ID, and whether you’ve made an appointment or not. They write a sticker badge for you with your name and type of visit (“Repeat”, “Walk-In”). A phlebotomist leads you to a private vehicle to take your vitals and answer a questionnaire. What prescriptions you take, do you feel sick, have you taken recreational drugs or steroids via needle injection, are you a man who has sex with men or have you had sex with a MSM (they still don’t want gay men to donate blood?!). Ah, and they ask if you have a rubbing alcohol allergy—they disinfect the site with that. When they take your vitals, they prick your finger for a droplet of blood, to check hemoglobin levels.

They mark your vein with an X using a special crayon… They’re so good at sticking you! The phlebotomists are very skilled, and I felt less of a poke than when I inject my testosterone with a 25 gauge.

The vein they stuck was relatively small, so I was given a foam grip wrapped in gloves to turn over in my hand, to encourage blood flow. I don’t know if this was a matter of the equipment that was available, but I and all the other donors were lying on gurneys, not sitting up reclined in chairs.

At first, after the IV went in, I felt faint and shaky due to my acquired needlephobia. Bedi was so nice. He pet my head and encouraged me, even squeezing my free hand. (And he gave me a kiss on the lips, too.) He was holding hands with Ansel—they were such a cute couple. Eventually, after five or six long minutes, the nervousness subsided, though at one point Iseul fronted and stared bored at the ceiling lights.

[Iseul] It felt like a long time.

[Tolly] The last five minutes were really easy. I’d say the worst part was my left hand feeling cold and tingly during the donation process.

After the donation

Tolly cut out the section of the post-donation leaflet given to him by the Red Cross with the phone number to call the lab for concerns. It says: “When you call 1-866-236-3276, we will ask you for the following deferral or donation identification number (DIN):” There’s a sticker with the barcode and DIN.
I saved the phone number in my diary,
taping it to the page with heart washi tape.

After the bag is filled, some vials are drawn in addition, to be sent to lab for culture and testing, before your blood is sent anywhere. (It may be discarded for safety reasons.) The phlebotomist also works to get the last drops of blood out of the IV, since they don’t want any to go to waste. When the IV is out, you keep your arm straight up in the air for two minutes whilst applying pressure to gauze against the site. The phlebotomist then wraps a sterile pressure bandage around the site, which must be kept on for at least an hour but no more than four. They want you to continue lying down for a bit, and warn you to get up very slowly. Throughout the process, someone was always checking on me, asking if I felt all right and how I was feeling. They were very kind and gentle. I’ll speak more of them later.

I was super hungry after the donation! As it was my first time donating, I was advised to take my time eating snacks for fifteen minutes, to keep myself from mistakenly pushing my body, one doesn’t know their limits the first time. The snacks they had on the table were all packaged products, various brands of cookies, crackers, granola bars, boxed apple juice, bottles of water, protein bars. I had earlier grabbed a bottle of water to encourage blood flow before my donation, and finished it after, a mint chocolate protein bar, and a bag of Cheez-it crackers. I was so clear-headed during the last few minutes of the draw and during the snack rest! I must have had quite an excess of red blood cells…

If you feel sick or fall ill within the week following your donation, you’re given a number to call so lab can be aware of possible infections in your blood. Supplies of donated blood typically run low during the holidays—everyone is caught up in holiday arrangements, it doesn’t occur to them to donate, and the donations that are given are less viable as people get sick more often winter season: asymptomatic carriers of the flu, and so on. I’ll receive a letter telling me what type of blood I have, and what facility my blood was sent to. Some of this blood is also used for research purposes, so it may end up in a university instead of a hospital—exciting!

The people

[Ansel] The guy at Intake was pretty handsome, maybe as handsome as me. Clear Middle Eastern heritage: beautiful olive eyes, tan skin, a sculpted face, a buzz cut that really complimented his cheek bones. Tolly noticed his form-fitting sweatpants… He was assisted by a new girl, showing her the ropes of the registration process. I didn’t find anything remarkable about her.

The phlebotomist that took Tolly’s vitals and questionnaire was a pretty mestiza woman of homely beauty—[Iseul] Wow Ansel—shut up—, with her black hair in a bun. She wore a pink Minnie Mouse smartwatch, made conversation with Tolly about his first donation. She didn’t bat an eye when he said he was taking testosterone. When she chose it on the laptop, she was surprised that it asked an additional question, if he needed therapeutic blood draws as a result of his testosterone. (Dr V. laughingly—but seriously—told Tolly not to tell the Red Cross that she sent him, so he pressed “without therapeutic phlebotomy”.) This phlebotomist was the one who inserted the IV, but afterwards, she had to go get lunch. Later we saw her bringing in McDonald’s.

[Bedi] The phlebotomist who took care of Tolly after that was an older guy named Martin. Married, tattoos on his arm, multiple earrings, and a stud piercing on his chin. Long scraggly goatee like either a Chinese or a biker (he could have been both). I appreciated his sense of humour. Told Tolly not to rub off the crayon in the shower or else he’d “start donating in the shower, and we’d look pretty funny setting up everything in your shower.” “I sat up too quick—and I fainted in front of all of my colleagues—it was really embarrassing!” He has needlephobia too, but it doesn’t stop him from donating.

[Ansel] That guy was all smiles around. I really liked him.

[Bedi] You could tell some people were regulars, and others were walk-ins like us. There was a mother who was a frequent donor, brought her two daughters with, maybe eight and ten [years old]. The elder one took a phone call from dad and said “Mom is almost done donating.” The younger asked her mom if it was OK to take a protein bar. “Only one,” she said strongly.

[Ansel] I don’t think the kid would’ve taken two… She was a high-powered, upper middle class, somewhat controlling woman, like Angelica’s mom from Rugrats. The kids used their respective smartphones silently while waiting. They didn’t talk to each other…

Caricature of the mom, after Charlotte McSell-Pickles. Straight, neat, sharply cut dark chestnut hair, a tan suit, dark brown skirt, black pumps. Making an assertive call on her rose gold iPhone.