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  • Writer's pictureHeather Green

Everything You Need to Know About Being a Blood Donor

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

I am a regular blood donor, and I happily give blood at bloodmobiles, but I’d like to talk to you about another kind of giving that I frequently do, and that is desperately needed at all hospitals. It’s a different kind of donation in which they take the Platelets contained in your blood. It’s not much worse than donating blood, and I’m going to give you an honest walk through the good and the bad, but I hope this post in the very least gets you in the very least curious about the donation process in general.


My mother donated a ton of blood. She felt very strongly that since she was healthy, she was almost obligated to do to help her fellow man. I can remember as a child going to a clinic and watching her give blood, thinking that’s what she had to do for me to get a cookie. I remember at one point crying saying that I felt terrible that she had to get hurt so I could have a cookie. She explained that she didn’t do this so I could get a cookie. I got a cookie because I was good and the nurses liked me, but she was donating blood because people needed it to get healthy. She told me one day it would be up to me to decide if I want to give blood and help others too.

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The first time I gave blood I was in college. I can remember being extremely nervous. There was a donation van that came to college and I remember them taking me into a little room in the back and asking me a lot of health questions and getting a finger prick to test my iron levels. When that all checked out they got me prepped to give blood. I’ll spare the details only to say that if you’ve had a blood draw for your doctor it’s not much worse than that. It’s a little pinch and then somehow you’re body is like, “okay this is my fate” and it moves on. It doesn’t hurt the whole time which is what I thought as a child. There can be side effects like dizziness, nausea, and headache, but to be honest I rarely experience these. So I tried to give blood as often as possible, that is until I got the letter.

It was Christmas and I had got to Rockport for my annual visit to watch Santa come to town on a Lobster boat (I am not making this up and I’ll be posting about it this December), and I noticed that Mass General had a blood donation van in town. It had been a few months since I had donated so I decided to do that. A few weeks later I got a letter in the mail. It said in big bold letters at the top “YOU’RE BLOOD IS SPECIAL!“. Now It’s not like I’m an elusive O blood type…Actually, for those who care, I’m A+ which isn’t that special. However, what did make it special is that I lack a particular antibody. This antibody occurs in 50% of the population and I happened to be absent of it! Apparently this antibody can wreak havoc on the lungs of patients when it’s involved in a transfusion. I don’t know the specifics because I’m not a doctor, but when a transfusion of platelets without this antibody is given, the doctors have one less thing to worry about. I also have a really high platelet count which means I donate around three times as much as the average person. What the doctor basically told me is that if I was every badly cut, so long as I didn’t hit an artery, I could put pressure on it, and my blood would clot it in a matter of minutes.

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So what’s the deal with platelets anyway? Platelets are what helps your blood clot. Sounds gross, but if you’ve ever had a scab, it was created by platelets. Prematurely born babies, cancer patients, surgery patients and burn victims all need platelets for various reasons. For example, when my mother was sick, the chemo practically knocked out all her platelets. She frequently needed transfusions, and I silently thanked every single stranger who had chosen to donate. So to find out that I was a great candidate to give back, I made sure I did.

The truth is, I have to make sure I’m extremely hydrated when I give blood or my blood will clot faster. One time it clotted so fast it clogged the needle before the nurse could find a vein. So that’s my cool superpower….besides being a blogger I guess.

If you’ve made it here, congratulations! I’m also thinking you’re probably wondering by now, how to go about donating and I’m going to tell you.

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I love to learn, so when I was thinking of donating I did a lot of research to know exactly what I was getting into. If you’re thinking of donating you can look up a couple of options. Your office might have a “bloodmobile” that might visit which is usually sponsored by the Red Cross., or you can go to your local hospital and ask if they take Whole Blood Donations. Whole blood donations are similar to when you give a little blood for a check-up. The needle is slightly larger, but not much and the people on these “Bloodmobiles” are pros at finding a vein. The same goes for the people at your local hospital. I know if you’re in the Boston area, Mass General Hospital has an entire unite devoted to getting blood. Some places will even pay you, but considering they turn around only to sell it to a hospital, I’d rather donate for free and save someone some money. So I can’t speak intelligently about what that is like. In my humble opinion, I would trust a hospital or Red Cross Mobile more.

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2.) Hydrate Hydrate Hydrate!!!: Drink lots of water the day before and the morning of. If you’re donating platelets you’re also going to want to eat a few tabs of TUMs because the blood thinner that will be used on you will bond to calcium. This can leave a cold and kind of unpleasant tingling in your fingers and toes and it can also (at least in my experience) cause your lips to feel a little like they’re velcro if you press them together (as in the tingle is intense, not that they stick together).

Hydrating allows your blood to flow freely. You should be drinking water anyway, but you should do it even more if you’re going to be giving blood or platelets. Let me put it this way…the faster you bleed the faster you’re out of there because we all have lives to live.

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3.) Don’t Fear the Needle: Okay guys…I said I was going, to be honest. Needles are never fun but there’s something that I think of whenever I get nervous. The person you’re giving your blood to is having a much worse day than you…I mean seriously…If you’re donating blood, chances are you’re feeling pretty healthy, you’re not in a hospital waiting for a transfusion. Also, the people who are helping you get set up are doing this all day. They know how to get your blood, and while it might hurt a little, I wouldn’t say it’s excruciating. On the pain scale from 1 being bumping into a wall, and 10 being “Please god put me out of my misery”, this is like a 2.5 if that It’s less painful than a stubbed toe and I’ve gotten pinched by my sisters worse than that. Give it a try, the worst-case scenario it’s not your thing and then you don’t donate again. The best-case scenario (at least for me) was that the pain was minimal and I got a high off of knowing that I helped save a life.

If you’re giving whole blood you’ll just be getting one needle that will go into a vein usually located in the pit of your elbows. When I’m in pain I like to think of something else that hurt that I was able to deal with to relate it to. For my first blood donation, I compared it to giving blood at the hospital for a physical.

When I gave platelets for the first time I compared it to donating whole blood. In order to donate platelets, you’re going to have two needles (don’t freak out it’s not that bad).

One is called the receiver, I will receive my blood back through this as well as a blood thinner at the beginning that will prevent my blood from clotting in the machine… this is a needle that is around the size of the ones they use when you donate whole blood, maybe even a little smaller. It can be put in the vein of the hand (which is super convenient), or arm, usually, for me I have it in a vein located near the pit of my elbow. The other needle is slightly bigger but honestly doesn’t seem to hurt any more than the smaller needle. This is the donator. This is the tube that your blood will leave you through. It will go through a tube and will be spun around in a machine that will separate out the plasma and platelets and then return your blood to you. If you can get past the needles, the experience is actually pretty interesting (and this is coming from someone who is slightly terrified of doctors).

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4.) Take your Time: Donating whole blood can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes depending on how hydrated your blood is. Donating platelets takes around 2 hours. I know that can seem like a long time, but there’s honestly not much going on. I like to put my headphones on and watch Youtube channels or listen to a podcast. The nurses like to check on me and they will treat you like gold usually. They make sure during the winter the heater on my chair is turned up and I have blankets. To be super honest with you’ve I’ve gotten so comfortable that there have been times I’ve wanted to take a nap. They don’t like that because they worry you’ve passed out, but honestly, I feel that comfortable with two needles in me. I find it starts to feel uncomfortable the last half an hour because my arms are at awkward positions, and the needles can feel more like a bruise but aren’t what I would consider painful.

5.) Have something to Eat!: Regardless if you give whole blood, or platelets and plasma, it’s important that you have something to eat and drink after. Eating and drinking helps your body make new blood cells. Plus positive reinforcement is always a good thing. Basically the nurses want to make sure you don’t pass out. Some people just don’t react well to giving blood and that’s okay if you find it’s a negative experience for you. My side effects are minimal. Depending on how well I’m taking care of myself. If I’m hydrated well, and I’m eating properly, there are no problems. If I’m eating badly and I didn’t hydrate as well as I should have, I can experience, slight nausea, and headaches. If you’re not feeling well during the donation process please alert your nurse. They won’t be mad especially if you’re new to this whole thing and they want your experience to be a nice as possible.

You’ll be asked to keep the bandages on usually for a few hours to allow your veins to properly heal, and you’ll also be asked to not exercise or lift anything heavy (you just donated some of your blood for goodness sake!)

After all that you’re done! Thank you! You’ve saved lives and you should totally feel good about that! The recipient of that blood will also be so thankful. You’ve made a lasting difference in someone’s life!

Please consider doing a random act of kindness to show love to your fellow man. You never know who’s life you’ll be saving and even if they never meet you, they will always be aware that their life was saved by a wonderful person who donated.

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If you have any other questions please ask me in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer or find the answer. If you want to show off your donation efforts please tag me on either Facebook or Instagram. Lastly, I want to thank you for reading. If you’ve made it to the bottom of the page then at least you are aware that you (or someone you know)  can donate and help save a life. Giving back to your fellow man is always a wonderful thing. I wish you a beautiful day! -Heather Autumn


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