Thursday, October 11, 2012


Your Guide to Blood Donation: The Lazy Person’s Charitable Giving

When I was a teenager, I volunteered as a “blood drive captain” — an inherently geeky and self-serious role in the wide social spectrum of high school. My job was to sign up as many of my classmates as I could ahead of the annual blood drive that was held in the school gym, and to answer a lot of anxious first-time-donor questions. The tiny cheerleaders expressed to me their sincere concern that they might not be able to meet the 110-pound weight minimum. The dudes who drove Camaros to school expressed their sincere concern that they might not be able to avoid smoking cigarettes or drinking beer for a few hours after their donation, as advised, because they were, like, addicted. Everybody got into it, it was great.

This past weekend I donated for the first time in a while, and I was reminded just how easy and gratifying the process is, and also just how important. The need in America is constant — for transfusions, for operations, for chemotherapy — especially since blood has a shelf life of only a few weeks, so there’s no way for hospitals to stock up when people give a lot for the times when people don’t. I’ve started preaching to my friends (again) about how they should all donate, and I’ve been getting the same questions, so I thought I’d share them with you here.

(I call blood donation the lazy person’s version of charity because, okay, you could donate money to some good cause, and that’s pretty easy, too. But presumably you had to earn that money somehow. Whereas blood is just inside you, hanging out, circulating, and there for the taking. It’s kind of like when your friend comes over and finds some old weird shirt you forgot you owned and she asks if she can borrow it, and you’re like “Take it! I never wear that, and it looks amazing on you.”)

In brief: donating blood is really easy and not scary at all. If you’ve already donated before, you already know this. But for the uninitiated, the squeamish, and the skittish, a few FAQs. 

Q: Does it hurt?

A: No. I mean, there’s a needle-prick on your finger to test your blood (for iron) beforehand, and the needle-prick at the start of the actual donation, but those only last a millisecond each. After that, you don’t feel anything.

Q: Is it weird or gross to watch blood coming out of you and going into a bag?

A: Kind of? But you could just not watch (I don’t).

Q: What if I’m scared of needles?

A: Consider the blood drive a safe space, where you can face and conquer your fear like a total badass.

Q: Do they pay you?

A: No, not in the US, anyway. But! You’ll get all the juice, cookies, and salty snacks you can eat afterward, which is probably what you would have spent that money on anyway. And if you’re like me, you’ll also get a slight light-headed buzz, akin to the effects of two or three glasses of wine — which, ditto.

Q: How much blood do they take?

A: One pint, out of the approximately ten you have inside you right now. That pint will then magically and totally replenish itself within two days (the plasma) to six weeks (the red blood cells).

Q: How long does it take?

A: The actual donation part takes about ten to fifteen minutes. For the whole process, they say to allow for about an hour and fifteen minutes total, which includes the pre-screening conversation beforehand and the hanging out eating Lorna Doones afterward.

Q: Are the nurses nice?

A: So nice.

Q: Where/when can I go?

A: Blood drives happen all the time, everywhere. Find one at the New York Blood Center website if you’re in New York, or if not, the Red Cross website.

Q: What should I do before a donation?

A: Eat! One time I tried to give but couldn’t because my iron was too low, and another time I tried to give but couldn’t because my blood pressure was too low. So now I eat a hamburger or spinach salad the night before and drink a lot of coffee the day of. What can I say — these are just the great lengths I’m willing to go to in order to give the gift of life.

Q: What should I do after?

A: You’re not supposed to exercise or, like, help your friend move, for the rest of the day. (Double bonus!) Drinking lots of fluids while lounging on a couch is the best way to recover, in my experience. (Triple bonus!)

Q: This is awesome, how often can I do this?

A: Yeah, get into it! You can go as often as once every 56 days.

Q: Are you a doctor?

A: Hell no. My information comes from my own personal experience and The American Red Cross website. There are some other things that might prevent you from being able to donate, like medical history and recent tattoos and things, but you can find all that info there.

Q: Can I have a final pep talk?

A: Seriously, go put your blood in a bag. It’s the best.

Lauren Kirchner is considering dressing up as a vampire nurse this Halloween.

Photo via Flickr/MPL

145 Comments / Post A Comment


First try: feeling faint just thinking about it so blood pressure is too low, nurse sends you back to class.

Second try: when the nurse pricks your finger for the sample feel so faint that you have to lie down on the floor, but cute student council rep sits next to you on the floor until you can get up again, and you get a cookie anyway.

After that, I decided to stop wasting everyone's time.


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll My experience was similar. As much as I would love to donate blood, it isn't physically possible for me. Even after trying things like the Applied Tension Technique! http://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/documents/blood_and_needles.pdf


Oh good grief I have to stop reading this because I'm just going to faint straight into my keyboard.

Curiously, I don't faint when circumstances call upon me to deal with traumatic injuries...

seafoam green

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Don't give up! My dad, a big strapping fellow, fainted after donating the first ELEVEN out of thirteen times and still became a regular donor. (Eleven times! Just give up, Dad!) Like MilesofMountains says - just tell the nurse and they'll let you stay prone on that table as long as you want.
That said, my sister can't get past the finger prick and we both get clammy and pale at random moments that may not even involve blood. Once in a Super Target! Thank you, vasovagal response.


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll My one regret from high school is that I told the hot football player thanks but I didn't need him to walk me back to class after I fainted. Sigh.


@seafoam green --Now that you've said "vasovagal response," I don't need to read any further in this thread. I have it, too. I couldn't figure out why I would always feel faint and sick after donating blood or even just getting a blood draw at the doctor's, because I wasn't afraid of blood and would even watch the whole process and advise them which veins were good. But then afterward I would go woozy, cold, and nauseated.

The magic words "vasovagal response" explained a lot to me, especially after I nearly blacked out from the sudden blood-pressure drop after having a procedure I couldn't even see (a pain blocker in my cervical spine). The whole thing is too gross. I used to be very up on blood donation until the cumulative effect of years of failed attempts (it takes a gifted phlebotomist to "strike oil" with me) and the old vasovagal nonsense made me too averse to try. I will definitely try again in future once I get over the aversion, because the stakes are so high for others.


@seafoam green I have vasovagal response too! I've had to have my blood drawn a couple of times in the past few months. The first time I actually thought I felt alright after the draw, only to faint in my car. Luckily I hadn't started driving it yet. The second time I started shaking uncontrollably and nearly threw up. I was actually in the hospital that time and hooked up to monitors so I could see my pulse dropping during the draw. I set off the alarm four times.

Actually, even reading about donating blood made my arms briefly go numb and set off a wave of nausea. So, needless to say, I've never donated blood.


@Lu2 I started having vasovagal reactions to being stuck with large-gauge needles in my mid-20s, for no apparent reason. Seriously. I've never been afraid of needles or blood. I gave blood for years with no ill effects at all. But for some reason, my body decided "nope, you're going to start having vasovagal syncope now."

The worst part is, it's delayed by about 5-10 minutes. So I give blood, I feel totally fine, I get into the Red Cross canteen, get served some apple juice, and start eating a cookie, still feeling fine -- and suddenly I'm passed out on the floor.

(I know it's not the blood loss, because exactly the same thing happened a couple of years ago when I had a fine-needle breast biopsy, where there was no blood loss at all. I was completely fine and chill through the whole thing, but I passed out in the middle of trying to schedule my follow-up appointment at the reception desk. P.S. Biopsy came back normal.)

I still give blood, actually. I just ask the phlebotomists to let me stay lying down for about 15 minutes afterwards, and they bring me apple juice while I'm lying down, and that way I don't pass out. Also, I go with my husband so he can chauffeur me home afterwards. (We're both O-. The Red Cross practically does a dance when they see us coming.)


Don't give up@m

The Lady of Shalott

Yesssss EVERYONE go give blood!!! Do it! I promise it does not hurt at all! I try to give blood all the time because I have that sweet sweet AB+ blood and the blood bank is always begging me for that shit, but the real reason I give blood is for the free snacks.

They give you free cookies! Usually name-brand cookies, too! Shit yes I will give you a pint of my blood for four Oreos and a juice box.


@The Lady of Shalott I always go for the Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. Yum.


@The Lady of Shalott - My place gives Oreos too, but also, curiously, diet soda? If there's no sugar/nutrition in it, doesn't that defeat the point of the after-donation snacks? I don't know, but I get it anyway so I can afford to eat all the Oreos.


@The Lady of Shalott Being an AB must get you on some kind of short list. Donating is also a great way to feel like you're contributing to society when you've been unemployed for *coughcoughcough*

The Lady of Shalott

@Amphora Once the nurse told me that AB+ was the "universal receiver", but they liked to have AB+ blood for AB+ people because then they could give the other types of blood to other types of people because apparently us AB+s are greedy and sucking up all the blood of everyone else. Or something. I don't know, I was losing blood at the time. (Hah!)


@The Lady of Shalott hmmm... i wonder what the market is for AB-? i was all set to donate half a year ago but then stupid me had to go break her nose and lose so much blood and then it didn't seem like such a great idea to suck out more blood on purpose.


@catparty We're in high demand since we're the rarest type ;)


@The Lady of Shalott A friend of mine was O- and they would HOUND him to give blood if he was even a few days late. Apparently O- is super duper special.


@Amphora yussss. i am also unemployed *coughcoughimean* "freelance writing" and need to feel like i am doing something purposeful.


@MilesofMountains I'm O+ and they hound me too. O is the universal donor type, so they must like to keep a lot in stock.

Hellion of Troy

@MilesofMountains If you're O neg sometimes they'll put your blood into these tiny little quarter pint bags and set it aside "for the babies", which basically makes you feel like a superhero.


Advice for people who faint (that's me!):
- tell the nurse. Then, unless your nurse is that bitch who did my donation once, they won't try and make you look at the blood/needle and they'll be extra vigilant to check in with you.
- Don't look, you can bring a book or something and just be like "I'm going to read this, ok?". The nurses will get it.
- Drink lots of water beforehand
- Take your sweater off, you'll faint more if your warm than if you're cold
- Wiggle your fingers and toes when you start to feel the faint coming on. That also makes the blood go faster.
- Don't try to make your muscles relax. I heard that makes fainting more likely.

The Lady of Shalott

@MilesofMountains What, the nurse MADE you look at the needle??? What possible purpose would that serve???? It's not like you had to puncture yourself!


@The Lady of Shalott I don't know! I told her I had a needle thing so I wasn't going to look, but then she fucked it up and after some "Is that a hematoma? I think it's a hematoma" she told me "here, look at this" and I automatically looked down and yup, I was bleeding into my arm and then just about fainted. Thanks, nurse lady!

apples and oranges

@The Lady of Shalott @MilesofMountains
The last time I had blood drawn just at the doctor, the nurse made me watch! After I said I don't like watching them go into my skin. I flicked my eyes over for half a second and then that was it. I don't understand, we want to make it easier for them by not watching!


What if you've had sex with a man who's had sex with a man and are therefore banned for life? Should you lie? I've thought about lying but I feel like I shouldn't have to lie about that. So, i guess what im saying is, the main reason I haven't given blood is spite.

(I live in Canada, don't know what the rule in the US is.)


@amirite The Red Cross has the same lifetime ban in the US. I think it's bullshit, really—what if you're a lady who has had sex with a man who's had sex with a man? What if you're a man who's had sex with a lady who's had lots of unprotected sex? What if you're a lady who's had sex with a man who's had lots of unprotected sex? What if you're a lady who's had sex with another lady who's had lots of unprotected sex? What if you have a lot of unprotected sex? NOPE. Only men who have sex with men.

For what it's worth, though, the Red Cross made this statement as of 2010: On June 11, 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary's Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted against recommending a change to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy of a lifetime deferral for men who have sex with other men. The FDA is responsible for determining donor eligibility requirements and the Red Cross is required to follow their decisions. However, the Red Cross does support the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities. We will continue to work through the AABB (American Association of Blood Banks) to press for donor deferral policies that are fair and consistent and based on scientific evidence, while still protecting patients from potential harm.


@amirite Pretty sure it's the same here. Actually, that's how my bff came out to our friend group!! We were all sitting around playing poker or something one night, and he was just like, "oh yeah I'd like to give blood, but, you know, the whole gay sex thing..."

(Also, while I think that banning men who have had sex with men is a bullshit thing to do in this day and age, it actually was a really serious problem in the early days of AIDS, so I understand why the rule was originally put in place. But seriously, it definitely should be lifted already.)

Beatrix Kiddo

@amirite That's my problem too. I feel like avoiding donating out of spite doesn't really accomplish anything, so I wish I could work on changing the policy, but instead I just silently think they're unreasonable bigots and don't donate.


@yeah-elle Wait, I THINK what it is is that men who have had sex with men have a lifetime ban (which is really dumb). If you are a lady who had sex with a man who has ever had sex with a man (which I think is what amirite is asking about), it's a 12-month ban. And I KNOW that if you are a person who has had sex with someone who has ever used intravenous drugs, it is a 12-month ban.


@amirite I was banned and I could lie but the whole thing made me spite the Red Cross. This is such a fucking stupid policy, AIDS affects everyone equally.


@Beatrix Kiddo But aren't you just punishing victims of horrible accidents for a silly policy? Isn't it easier to just lie on the questionnaire?


@ranran Interesting, ok, in that case I am banned for several months at least. I'm not gonna give up having sex with men who've had sex with men though, so, that number could reset back to 12 at any time.


@amirite Yeah, I think I've been eligible to donate blood for a total of like 4 months of my adult life.

Porn Peddler

@ranran I thought IV drugs were a lifetime ban? Where did I get this from?

This is my new username

@Porn Peddler I think if you actually used IV drugs, it is a lifetime ban, but if you have had sex with someone who has used IV drugs it is a 12 month ban. I think?


@This is my new username In Canada it's also a 12-month deferral for doing blow.


ALSO: Look into eligibility criteria to see if you cannot give blood.

There are some weird lifetime deferral rules about Men Who Have Had Sex With Men (MSM) which is crazy to me. Also, you have to wait at least 12 months after getting a tattoo, and also after traveling to certain countries outside the US, and after getting treated for certain STDs. Also you have to weigh at least 110 pounds.

The Lady of Shalott

@yeah-elle Also there are certain medications which preclude donation: my mom can't ever give blood because of the breast cancer treatments she had. And obvs some types of medications (blood thinners, I think being one?) are not terrific to be giving blood on anyways. So...be in general health before giving blood?


@yeah-elle The tattoos and piercings thing depends on the state and if it regulates tattoo & piercing shops. Most likely if you went to a reputable certified shop then you do not need to wait a year.


@sintaxis Yeah, but the last time I tried to donate blood I was well over the 12-month post-tattoo mark when I went to donate, and I STILL got turned away? It was incredibly frustrating, because I felt like it wasted everyone's time and I still don't get why they turned me away.


@yeah-elle They actually changed the tattoo thing. You can now give if you got a tattoo in a licensed facility, I learned after getting a tattoo a couple of years ago. But they did not change the MSM thing which is awful and I hope they will come to their senses about that soon. A coworker of my husbands who is a bloodbank physician is gay and can not give blood because of that! So stupid.


@yeah-elle I can't ever give blood because I've got a genetic heart condition (and thus, I guess, have to keep all my blood at all times?). And my husband got Hep-A after a trip to Honduras as a kid so he's out too. Sads all around.


In the UK it's three months after a tattoo, and also a three-monthly gap anyway, so i try to time my tattoos for the week after a donation.

Genghis Khat

@The Lady of Shalott I can't ever give blood because I've had cancer, so I think it's the cancer making your mom ineligible. I actually think that's a really shitty, unscientific, paranoid rule, as my chance of developing cancer is exactly the same as a person who has never had cancer since I've been in remission for nearly twenty years.

Obviously people still need blood and people should still donate blood, but there is certainly a storied history of using medicine as a weapon of discrimination, which I think applies here to both people who will seem perpetually unfit because of medical conditions or people who are being discriminated against for sexuality or the lifestyle choices of sex partners. I mean, they test the blood anyway, jeez.


@Genghis Khat It depends: if the cancer was treated only with surgery or radiation and there's been no recurrence for 5 years, they'll let you donate. If you've had chemo or a blood-related cancer (like leukemia or lymphoma), you're banned for life.

Genghis Khat

@datalass Thanks for the additional info. Mine was indeed a blood cancer.


@Genghis Khat Same here. I learned this information when a (weird) coworker pointed out the blood drive at work and then helpfully pointed out that I was banned FOREVER. Coworkers.


first try, high school: under weight
second try, college: the nurse missed my vein when it rolled [away] and it hurt like hell. i got cookies, anyway
third try, 9/11/11: trying to do good for the anniversary of September 11, I go to Fenway Park to donate. I may/may not have weighed enough (thanks, heart-rending break up and terrible family things stressing me out!) and definitely did not eat enough beforehand. So, I actually get to donate blood this time, but I keep getting light-headed and then I plain ol' faint, and keep... almost fainting. I get sent over to a nearby hospital in an ambulance and chill for a few hours. My roommates come by to pick me up and one steals some hospital supplies.

Aside from the do-goodery of giving blood, if something happens to you related to your donation, the Red Cross will reimburse you for any ambulance or hospital bills. And be very nice about everything when you think you're dying.


I got turned away once because of ringworm (I got it from my friend's cat). The second time, the blood somehow coagulated and stopped flowing into the bag about halfway through and they couldn't get it started again, so they wiggled the needle around in there, which HURT, and when that didn't work they had to throw away the blood they'd already collected because I guess they can't use less than a pint! For some reason that made me feel so upset and terrible that I've avoided giving blood since. I don't want to spend an hour and some stress time just to have half a pint of blood pitched into the garbage. :(


@frigwiggin That happened to me the very first time I gave blood, because my friend surprised me with a trip to the blood center and I hadn't had nearly enough to eat or drink that day. After pumping for far too long, the blood bag wasn't full and was unusable. Reason: There's an anticoagulant and other kinds of goodies in that bag that's properly measured to mix with exactly one pint of blood. If the bag is underfilled, the ratio is off. My surefire method of success every other time I've donated blood (which is a LOT), and the way I've gotten other failed donors to give again successfully is by drinking heaps and heaps and heaps of water the day before and day-of. The more hydrated you are, the more your body is willing to let go of some of that liquid. Nine times out of ten, that's the magic trick to having an easy blood donation. (The other one is eating enough damn food that day.) I hope you'll try again sometime. Your blood products are needed!

This is my new username

@littlestcabbage Yes! Tons of water! I also like to make sure to have some juice or pop fairly close before to make sure my blood sugar stays high enough (and also eat enough). I did have one unpleasant blood donation experience where I had not eaten enough that day and felt super dizzy and nauseous. After some lie down time, a cold cloth, and snack I was all better though.

The Attic Wife

@frigwiggin Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! And if your BP is good, you should fill a bag just fine.


@The Attic Wife Yep - I always eat and drink as much as I can fit in myself before donating. The place I go has also started handing out pint glasses of water to everyone and making you drink it while you're sat filling in the forms and whatnot.


Also you cannot give blood if you lived in just about any European country for 5 or more years before 1996, because of Mad Cow disease. So I am banned for life. (In the US).

I assume I could give blood in countries in Europe, though, since we are all running about with Mad Cow disease bacteria anyway and don't give a damn? Probably?

Anna Jayne@twitter

@harebell me too! Moo.


@harebell me too! And you can give in Europe, by the way (at least in Germany). I was living in Germany last year, and somebody asked me to give blood as I was walking down the street, and I said "I can't, I've lived too long in Eu...oh. Ok." It felt kind of good to be back in the blood van, tbqh.

Dirty Hands

@bocadelperro Haha, that's the best. Way to be contaminated.

Sea Ermine

@harebell I'm pretty sure that the 1980 to 1996 rule is just for the UK. There's a second 1980-1996 rule but it's only for people who lived or worked on a military base (or their dependents) in a very small list of European countries (there's also a second military base rule for Holland, Uk, and Germany from 1980-1990). For the longer list of European countries it's 1980 to present, which means if you lived in Germany or Albania or wherever for 5 or more years after 1996 it still applied. Which is why I have never been eligible to donate blood (lived in Poland and Germany from 1998-2004).


@Anna Jayne@twitter Me three!


@harebell And if you've had any medications made with cow products (which was more of A Thing, long ago), you cannot donate, for fears of the mad cow. So, since I was accidentally given beef insulin in around 1997, I cannot donate.

purple monkey dishwasher

@harebell Me four!! Also applies if you were born in the UK. I was born there but grew up in the US, and did not live in the UK for anything close to a total of 5 years. And yet: disqualified! Sigh.

I found this out in college in Canada, my roommate and I had this whole plan where I would run through the donation room in the student center in a batshit outfit yelling "DOCTOR SAYS I'M MAD!!!" and cackling. Never happened, but oh the possibilities!


For the "does it hurt" question....it doesn't hurt exactly, but I can definitely still FEEL it coming out of me the entire time, which is unpleasant in its own way and makes me want to throw up.


@KeLynn Yeah. The one time I donated blood, I felt the needle throbbing in me the whole time (uh...sorry that ended up as a sentence from a trashy romance novel). It didn't *hurt*, and I would donate again, but you can definitely feel it.

Miss Maszkerádi

@wee_ramekin I haven't ever donated blood (I'd like to, but I'm too short and scrawny, I'd have to gorge on burgers the day before to be 110 pounds) but I did have blood drawn for a general analysis once to see if I'd dodged a particular genetic bullet. I also wouldn't say it hurt but I was...weirdly aware of my blood going somewhere other than where it usually went. Or weirdly aware of the pressure within the blood vessels that squirts it along its merry way, or in this case, OUT. It was kind of equal parts intriguing and gross.


@CountessMaritza I had a similar feeling when I had a bone marrow biopsy: it felt like they were extracting my essence.


Just signed up! Thanks for the prompt. :)


That's so true about how quickly some blood products go bad! Did you know that platelets are only good for FIVE DAYS? But they are so important to the people who need them and they always have shortages of them. And you can give double units of red cells and platelets. It takes a little more time because they take whole blood out and it goes through a machine to separate it and then they put some of it back in, but it makes your donation that much more worthwhile. So if you can give extra (ask about this next time you donate) consider doing that as well!


@Punk-assBookJockey yes! FYI world - a family member survived his entire short life based on the generosity of platelet donors.


@theotherginger Wow, yeah a friend of mine recently had a child born with congenital illness, and platelets were very important to his treatment. So I was asking my husband who is a resident interested in tranfusion medicine about it and he was telling me how short the shelf life for platelets is. So if you gave platelets you could be certain that they would help save someones life within a week, which is just mindblowing to me.


In 2011 I was permanently deferred because the intake person misread my medical history. Red Cross reps have since told me that I can, but I don't out of spite and protest for the lifetime ban. On the other hand, I had life-saving transfusions in infancy, and probably should feel more obligated.

So this post inspired me to look into a nearby blood drive and...I re-learned that I'm under the weight minimum. Oh well?


Oh, another thing to keep in mind! If you get any sort of damage or need follow-up for some reason (like if a nurse digs so far into your arm that she not only misses the vein multiple times but also causes tendon damage...), the red cross will hook you up with a nurse to see what's going on and in most cases can help you pay for/can give you free follow up care as long as you report the incident!


@sintaxis which i realize is not super comforting to those who are freaked out by needles or afraid of pain, but I'm the kinda person that LOVES to watch the needle go in and watch the whole thing up close.


@sintaxis Me, too! I think it's fascinating to watch the blood come out. I'm also a "slow bleeder" according to one nurse, so it takes even longer, so more time to watch!


@meetapossum *faints in the FUCKING CORNER at this thread*

JAY-sus y'all. It is like your version of being a human and my version are completely and totally opposite.

Dirty Hands

@meetapossum *barf*


@meetapossum Me three! I think its kind of fun to match the uhm, visuals to the sensations, I guess.


@sintaxis I DID NOT KNOW THIS.

So my horrific giving blood story: Senior year of high school we do a blood drive in the early spring and I am all excited to participate. Not really bothered by needles/shots, so why not? Go in, drink my water, get ready to start. The nurse (who was VERY nice) somehow pokes the needle through (!) my vein by accident. Which causes the biggest, most disgusting bruise on my elbow. It was so gross and didn't go away for weeks. And by a lovely coincidence, this is when Requiem for a Dream had recently come out and is popular. And my arm looks like THE ARM.

It did give me an excuse to class prom the fuck up with some opera gloves, so there is that.

I have not given blood since.


@bitzy Yeah, they will take really good care of you (to avoid lawsuits) if you just call and file a report! I had some pretty bad damage in my elbow pit that caused me to be unable to fully extend my arm. At first I thought it was just some light bruising and that it would go away in a week or so but my mom (an expert/devoted blood-giver) made me call in. Turns out that the pain lasted a month! They gave me special instructions on how to care for that kind of thing and were extra nice. they had me come in for check ups and I got EXTRA COOKIES and juice. Totally worth it.

I have not given blood since either, but on account of living outside the US.


I've honestly had some pretty bad experiences I am a very nervous and reactive type person (and very sensitive to touch, pain, etc. - I can *tolerate* the pain, I can just FEEL IT). I like to give blood and I have done it many times but I always start flinching, shaking, looking like I'm going to throw up etc., all of which is a basically uncontrollable nervous reaction. This makes the nurses nervous and then they miss my veins and then I freak out more and the whole thing is awful. Aren't they supposed to be making sure I'm calm, not the other way around?


@sintaxis --Since this is the area of the thread where we're talking about bad or gross experiences (I didn't want to say up above in case anyone else would be discouraged, but we're sequestered in this gray box here): I've had my share of giant hematomas, multiple sticks (both arms and finally the hand with the 22-gauge), and the poking around in the vein with the needle trying to get the blood to start flowing again, but one time the person stuck me in a nerve in my elbow joint. Holy CRAP the pain and the swelling.


@Lu2 Right? I've definitely had nurses who were new to the whole thing. Once I had a woman insert the needle but miss my vein. She then moved the needle horizontally under my skin to try to find it! I ended up with this crazy windshield wiper shaped bruise!


@sintaxis --Oh, good GOD. I've never had that. The moving around IN your vein is bad enough, but wow. :(


Oh gosh. I have given blood a number of times and am generally comfortable with the whole thing, but this thread is making my face contort into RIDICULOUS EXPRESSIONS. And now my arm hurts. :{

(I'll still continue to give blood!)


Every time my workplace has a blood drive (every couple months or so) I try to give blood. Every time I have a temperature and am turned away. Guess I run hot? The one time I didn't, my iron count was too low. WHEN AM I GOING TO GET THE FREE COOKIES?

I'll keep trying.

acid burn

Also! If you already donate, consider leveling up and trying out platelet donation/apheresis! It's similar to whole blood donation except it takes like two hours, during which you get to watch a movie on a personal television. Bonus!


@acid burn Ooh, yeah; my mom donates platelets (see below cute remarks about her track marks). She's done it for years, and is buddies with all the nurses, and will tell you it is probably the only time she gets through an entire movie in one sitting without falling asleep.

up cubed

@acid burn My work gives us vacation time if we donate, but then always try to upsell you to donate platelets. Blood donation gives me a happy feeling like getting a haircut, they are nice to you and there is lots good-touching. Donating platelets is really uncomfortable (IMO) and it takes SO long... but I do it anyway...


@acid burn I tried to to a double-red at the office blood drive (which we do through one of the local hospitals, not the Red Cross) and I was doing fine until the blood went back IN. Then I felt icky and awful and they had to stop. I felt really bad about it. The nurse said I went so pale I was transparent. But I got my t-shirt and cookies anyway.
The guy doing it said it was his fault, he didn't make sure my arm was 100% in its natural rest position so I rotated it. Which was nice of him.


Why do you have to weigh 110-lbs? I'm a tiny person, but healthy; it seems very unfair and a bit weird. (My parents are like, the Kind and Queen of All Things Blood---they chair the blood drives at their synagogue, and my mother donates platelets so often she has scars she gigglingly referes to as "Teehee, look, I have track marks!" I feel bad that I cannot follow their good example.)


@BadWolf I wonder if maybe you...don't have ten pints of blood in you if you're that tiny? I would imagine that it's easier for them to give you a pass than to figure out how much a tenth of your blood volume is and take that.

Also, I could be completely off-base with this, so.


@BadWolf What wee_ramekin said. Also, this is strictly anecdotal, but everyone that I've seen give blood while being around the 110-115lbs range wound up passing out while giving blood. Just not enough blood, I think?


@wee_ramekin, @celeec4@twitter Actually...that makes all kinds of sense. I don't know how I've managed to get this old while still thinking all bodies have the same amount of blood. Clearly, that is not right. Bah. Well, thanks, guys!


@BadWolf When I was in college and quite a bit tinier than I am now, I was only a few pounds over the weight limit when I tried to give. The nurses put the needle in and the blood just sorta trickled out for a while, and eventually, when the bag was only half full, they were like, "Well, whoops, we can't get enough blood out of you, I GUESS WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO THROW THIS AWAY." I felt weirdly offended by it and a little grossed out by the idea of my blood ending up in the trash. I asked them about it and they definitely seemed to think it was connected with my size. That's not exactly scientific evidence, but I do have to say that now that I weigh more, I've never had that problem again.


@Kristen I wonder why they had to throw it away!! That seems so strange.


@BadWolf They don't throw it away! The first time I donated they couldn't get enough out of me (I have the blood pressure of a corpse) so I asked them to put it back in me so it wouldn't go to waste. They assured me that it gets used for testing and stuff (they were more specific, but it was 10 years ago), they don't waste any blood. So don't worry, your blood was probably used to train people that look at blood for weird junk or something.


The first time I ever gave blood I was right about 110 and they couldn't get enough out either. I begged them to use the other arm and I did, but it was very traumatic, I almost passed out and felt horrible for the rest of the day. Fortunately/unfortunately (fortunately) I weigh more now.


I'm in the 115-120 range, and I give blood. I've found that the trick for me is to 1) drink and eat a lot the morning of (seriously, I eat two breakfasts) and 2) sip on juice (or your sugary beverage of choice) during the donation, from start to finish. I will go through 4-5 of those little cans of cranberry juice while I'm there. Keeps me from passing out!


@Vicky Johnson I would like to believe what you say, but that's what they told me!


Last time I gave blood I was 110 lbs - maybe even a bit under (I didn't own a scale) - and it went fine. They made me squeeze one of those destressing balls to make the blood flow faster, but I'm not sure whether that was related to how small I was or not. All I'd eaten that day was half a bagel so they made me drink cranberry juice, but honestly, I felt A-OK as soon as I stood up. (Also what I didn't tell them was that it was one of those "thin-cut" bagels, so it was actually like ... a quarter of a normal bagel size. Maybe.)

That said, I'm not a fainter, so YMMV. Maybe I just have a heart of steel or something? (That would explain some other things ...)

runner girl

@BadWolf My weight fluctuates, but I'm never over 110 lbs I just lie, because they never weigh me and I've never had any problems giving blood, even when I was under 100 lbs. I do tend to feel too weak to work out for the next day or so, but I think that's normal for larger folks as well.

evil melis


Dirty Hands

@evil melis Did a car accident recently cause you to miss your daughters an sons softball an baseball games?


@evil melis <---- solemate


Do it, it'll be fine.


I just gave blood yesterday and I feel like the lifetime ban on men who've had sex with other men does not apply to ladies who've had sex with men who've had sex with men. The wording of the question was about those activities in the last 12 months. I can't find any confirmation of this on the Red Cross site, however, so proceed with caution.


@aegallagher The thing about it being within the last 12 months applies on the Australian Red Cross Website.
For the skips who love to donate.
A myth that also should be debunked: having had glandular fever in your lifetime does not mean you never donate blood (like my mum says). The Glange is cool by the Red Cross (in Australia).



The only time I ever gave blood was when I was falling in love with a friend and we donated blood together at a work event for a co-worker's leukemia. I am incredibly squeamish about needles, but he cajoled me into it and we ended up lying next to each other with IV tubes in our arms (d'awwwww[?]). And then the girl he had been friends-with-benefitsing texted him to break off their understanding and while it was sort of shitty for him to get that news while being drained of blood, it was kind of nice for me. #TalesOfLove&Blood

Reginal T. Squirge

And then you got married, right!?


@wee_ramekin Best story. <3


@Reginal T. Squirge Haha, aw. Nope. We dated for two years and parted amicably. That was the relationship where I learned that love is not enough to build the foundation of a long-lasting partnership. But it's a pretty sweet story, isn't it :)?

Reginal T. Squirge

Yes, cool story but LOVE IS ALL THAT MATTERS EVER.

...sorry, I can't stop being completely bitter for at least six months.


@Reginal T. Squirge Oh man, ALL THE BITTERNESS. That was not a fun lesson to learn, and it was only after about a year-and-a-half out that I could look back on that lesson/relationship with equanimity. Chin up, old bean.

miss buenos aires

I used to give blood all the time when I lived near a blood center in Brooklyn. If I was bored on a weekend, I'd take an iron supplement and drag my husband down to get a free blanket with me (we have like five and use them all the time). Then I got a letter saying my blood had hemoglobin S and please don't donate anymore. So I feel somewhat rejected, and bummed because yes, it is an incredibly lazy, incredibly helpful way of doing good.


Also, important thing for those who give blood. Eat your meals on time after giving blood! I once was an idiot who let work and meeting tie her up, which meant that I didn't eat lunch until 3pm after giving blood in the AM...totally passed out in the hallways at work like a champ.

All I could think of was, I have sooo much work left to do today, and...I wonder how many gross chemicals have been spilled on the hallway patch I'm lying on?

This event has uhm, led to an understandable aversion to giving blood again? Haven't done it since that incident.


I am really good at donating blood. I always pass the blood pressure and iron tests, my veins are apparently very elastic and well-defined, I fill up the bag relatively quickly, and I never feel bad during or after. I am not an athletic person, I am functionally tone-deaf, I am not especially creative, but goddamn I am good at giving blood. When making travel plans last year I looked up how long visiting that country would prevent me from giving blood.
Also, college/ grad school/ working for a large non-profit means that I am always receiving information about the next blood drive.


@withatwist --You are very cool. :) Super-Donor!


In the neighborhood where I grew up the mason lodge gives a free steak dinner and beer to anyone who anyone who donates blood. My dad and brother did it all the time so when I was first home from college I figured I'd join them. Donation went fine, went down to the lodge, had some steal, drank a beer and started to feel really weird. My cat-wants-to-die-under-the-porch instinct kicked in, I ran for the steps (we were in the basement) and keep slipping and bouncing off the walls. Make it to the sidewalk, immediately pass out. Come to on the ground surrounded by dad, brother, concerned ladies and realize I have pissed my pants. Jump up and start walking home and refuse to sit down and drink water due to my peepee pants. On the way home I had to explain to my dad and brother what had happened and my brother stood outside the door while I showered. My secret shame.


The only time I went to a blood drive, the nurse who did the finger-prick told me my iron levels were so low she was surprised I was able to stand upright. Fun times! I should probably look into it before I get my next tattoo done, though.


I have tried three times and each time been turned away for not having enough blood to share. No idea what that means but they said I should probably just stop coming. :( Goddamn vampires not leaving enough for blood drives apparently.


The Red Cross has been calling me like once a day since my 56 days rolled up in September. I really do need to make an appointment. (I'm a regular-ish donor with a less common blood type, so I get hounded)
My two cents. Eat a good breakfast, and be hydrated but not too hydrated. The only time I've gotten woozy after is when I only had a muffin, but had had a couple bottles of water beforehand.


@LacunaKale ha. they keep calling me except for that I often travel and lots of places have malaria problems. Although, when the capital of a state and resorts are ok, and the rest of the state is not (coughMexicocough) I get annoyed. Pretty sure resorts are near standing water ... in addition to the ocean...

Britta Unfiltered

Eating is important, but don't right before you donate. Otherwise you might throw up. (It might have also been because of a bottle of water I downed right before, but still. The nurse told me eating a hearty breakfast an hour before I donated was a little too close).

Also, if you feel woozy, ask for a wet paper towel to put on your forehead. It feels like the best thing ever.


@Britta Unfiltered Or a glove filled with ice (and tied off) on the back of your neck! The nurse did this for me last time I went, and I think it really did help.

Miranda Loeber@facebook

Note to singers: singing (if you're doing it intensely) also counts as exercise! I donated blood for the first time last week and felt great until I went to choir rehearsal... doing that kind of controlled breathing made me nearly faint, and then throw up. A lot. Yeah... not fun.

The Attic Wife

I have a super common blood type, so the Blood Bank is AFTER ME. I keep meaning to donate, but I never have the time/when it's convenient I haven't eaten or hydrated enough.

That said, I actually enjoy giving blood. I find it relaxing, nothing to worry about, just lie back and play with a ball for ten minutes. The prick at the beginning during the consultation hurts the most, I think.


Do they actually weigh you? I am a certified Tiny Person, always floating somewhere between 105-110 lbs. I have also always wanted to give blood. I used to have to get blood drawn every couple of weeks and I am a weirdo and LOVE watching it go through the tube. I haven't even attempted donating because of my weight, plus the fact that I have crazy low blood pressure and am usually anemic. But sometime I definitely want to pull the hamburger/coffee stunt and see if they'll let me donate.


@glorificus They've never weighed me; the form just asks for your weight. But I weigh twice as much as you, so maybe if you are on the tiny side they do confirm (in the same way that places card people who look young)


@glorificus I am a similarly sized Tiny Person, and they've never weighed me. I've never had a problem donating blood, either. Well, except one time when my pulse was really low - apparently for the Red Cross, half-assed jogging twice a week makes me an athlete, for whom the standards are lower! But the actual donation process has gone well every time. No dizziness or anything.

The Attic Wife

@glorificus Eat some spinach/some hamburgers the day before and your iron levels should be okay. With being very thin, I'd worry that they wouldn't get enough, but if you hydrate, it should flow just fine. And if you feel dizzy, tell them, they can handle that.


Yes, always donate blood if you can! I come from a family where both my parents gave pretty much every 56 days, on the regular, so it was always super normal to me and just something people did. I started as soon as I was old enough -- though I'm like my mom, we can only give about 50% of the time cause our iron levels are usually borderline.

My school ran a regular blood drive too, and almost everybody who was old enough/large enough participated. It was a great gig -- you go donate in the middle of the day, then they sit you down and say "Okay, you need to sit here and eat these cookies, and don't go to class for at least half an hour!"
Needless to say, our school always had really good blood drive numbers.


I feel bad now because I've never donated, but I usually talk myself out of it by imagining the detailed questionaire. What do they actually ask & what will disqualify you?

Other than that, I'm not afraid of needles! I've gotten my blood drawn for a full work-up & loved watching it come out & fill up the little bottle. So quickly!

Lily Rowan

@fabel They do ask you a lot of stuff, but it's all pretty straightforward. Have you taken aspirin in the last 24 hours? Have you gotten a tattoo in the past year? Have you spent any time in prison? Etc. The Red Cross eligibility stuff is online here, but includes a ton of stuff they don't ask about: http://www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood/eligibility-requirements/eligibility-criteria-topic


I started giving blood in college. The first time was in exchange for a beach towel that allowed me to put off laundry for a whole week. Since I have awesome veins and an in demand blood type, I get a lot of calls from the Red Cross and try to donate regularly.

As it turns out, Mr. Vicious has the same bloodtype. Since he can't donate (being in the Army means lots of weird shots and time in areas of contagion), I like to feel I'm picking up the slack.


Giving blood is so weirdly contentious for me.

I don't give blood because nearly all my friends are gay men and I find it appalling that they can't donate blood.

It recently went up against the courts (in Canada) and they ruled they were allowed to keep up their horrible rule. It's simply WRONG. AIDS? That is a bullshit reason. AIDS runs rampant among straight people too. And this implication that gay men are more likely to be slutting it up and not using protection is awful. OR that a gay man would willfully try and give you tainted blood, that's awful.

Imagine if it were black men instead of gay men that were banned. That shit wouldn't fly.

On the other hand, I know they need blood. But it's like IF YOU DIDN'T BAN GAY MEN YOU'D HAVE MORE BLOOD.



@JadedStone I absolutely agree that the ban on gay men donating needs to go, but it makes me sad that it's your reason not to donate. UCD's LGBT group just had a "give blood because we can't" drive with petitions to change the legislation ( http://www.collegetribune.ie/index.php/2012/10/over-600-people-sign-blood-campaign-petition/ ) and I saw similar things from the LGBT group at my undergrad in the States.


@Stasiasaurus I agree; personally I feel that that unfairness means it's more important for those who are eligible to give, to do so.

The Attic Wife

@JadedStone I absolutely agree with you 100% that they need to drop that rule because it's ridiculous. That said, you need to keep in mind that it isn't the Red Cross you're spiting: It's the people who need blood transfusions who are missing out by people boycotting the blood banks - including gay men who need transfusions just as much as anyone else.


Oh man. Blood drive in college were totally how I got over my fear of needles. Pro-tip: drink plenty of water beforehand. If you're well-hydrated it's easier for the nurse to hit your vein, and your blood will flow into the bag faster. They actually have to stop collecting after 10 or 15 minutes whether you've given a full unit of not (this happened to me once and I felt kind of bad about it).


The first time I ever tried to give blood I was in high school. The girls who were running the blood drive sign up just told me I needed to be 17 or older (which I was). But when I went to the gym where they were holding the drive the nurses were dismissive and kind of rude to me when they found out I didn't have a license to prove it. I am still super embarrassed by this experience and have never given blood... I need to grow up and just do it.

The Attic Wife

@Asher I had a kind of bitchy nurse the last time I went, but usually they are VERY nice. They were probably overbooked and overworked, they still should have been nicer to you. I'd look for a smaller blood drive, I find that the friendliness of the people goes down relative to the number of donors who show up. If you go to a fairly small/quiet blood drive or during a slow hour, they probably won't be frazzled.

superfluous consonants

i have fainted, without fail, each and every time i've given blood. once i wandered off to my college's student center bathroom with my friend who'd also given blood, and we totally fainted in the hallway outside the door. and nobody noticed, which probably says more about the student body's general respect for public spaces than anything else.

Tweedle Dumb

I am an RN and volunteer twice a month at blood drives/donation centers. I feel some responsibility to post here because while this article is wonderful there are some dangerous inaccuracies that should be clarified.

1. Eating well the night before is a great tactic. But drinking a lot of coffee the day of is NOT. Coffee is a natural diuretic, meaning it leaches water from the small intestine & tissues on its way out of your body, and dehydrates you. Dehydration is blood donation's #1 enemy. Dehydration makes it harder for us to find a vein, and increases the chances you won't be able to fill a pint. It will also increase your likelihood of headache, nausea, bruising and anxiety. Drink WATER. PLAIN water, and lots of it the day of donation, and hold off on the coffee until after.

2. You will want to avoid strenuous activity or alcohol for the rest of the day. Just relax, eat protein-rich food and drink more water.

3. As much as I want to encourage people to donate, saying it NEVER EVER hurts or misrepresenting the process in any way can actually be counter-productive to donator retention. When you tell people it's not painful at all, or "for just s second" or it ALWAYS takes only 15 minutes, they come in expecting this, and when it's not perfect, like it was sold to them as, they never come back. I prefer to present a more realistic picture of donation. Every donation and every body is different. Sometimes it is more painful for one person than the next. Some just tolerate the pain, some are very anxious about it, some don't feel a thing. Some donate for years with no problem then have one donation that doesn't go well. Some never have a problem and go dancing out of there. The truth is, we use large needles - 16 gauge - so the actual draw goes quickly. But, large needles SOMETIMES hurt SOME people. Large needles make finding a patent vein more challenging. Sometimes the draw takes 30-40 minutes. Much of this depends on the person's physiology and hydration status.

All that being said, I can confidently say 98% of donations go totally smoothly & quickly with no complications whatsoever, no drama and the donator usually being pleasantly surprised at how easy it is.

4. We NEED O Positive! The most common type is the most valuable! Don't think because you have good ol' O Poz, it's not needed......it is DESPERATELY needed BECAUSE it's the most common!

5. Everyone, just get over the requirements already. Yes, if your hemoglobin and BMI are too low you can't. If you are not in compliance with the rules, NO YOU CAN'T. Sorry if the rules seem bizarre, homophobic, anti-tattoo, whatever. They are written for good reasons by really smart people, to keep our blood supply safe and donators safe. I guarantee you'd be a lot angrier if you or your grandma got a contaminated transfusion, or you had to go to ER in an anemic shock - than you are about not being able to donate today. Tough Lorna Doones.

Thanks, Hairpin, for publishing this - we need all the donations we can get - but please consider having articles that contain critical medical information overviewed by a professional. I'd hate to have misinformation cause more harm than damage. I would be happy to offer my services to oversee articles like this, and happy to provide proof of my qualifications to do so.


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