Not all TikTok topics are obscure or silly. In fact, there’s a sizeable number of TikTokers who are using the platform to raise awareness about charities and document what they’re doing to help — including things like donating blood.
In mid-May the Canadian Blood Services issued an urgent plea for donations, as the national blood supply had dropped by 25 per cent since the start of April. The concerning trend was due in large part to where the pandemic is now: many donors had canceled appointments due to COVID symptoms, and travel rules meant many other people were not eligible. (Until May 9, many people who traveled had to wait to donate blood at least 14 days after returning home.)
The blood donation experience
A quick confession: I’ve never donated blood before. I previously had a fairly harmless medical condition that, while it didn’t exclude me from donating blood, made me nervous enough about the process that I didn’t try. I’ve had a clean bill of health for several years now, so when we heard about the call for donations I — along with several other Healthing teammates — volunteered to go.
I arrived at the Canadian Blood Services permanent donation centre in downtown Toronto on Thursday afternoon. There was no lineup, so I was quickly able to get through the COVID screening and set up an account at the small reception desk (photo ID required). Once that was done, I was handed a sticker with “First time donor” splashed across and asked to wear it for as long as I was at the clinic.
“It’s not for you — it’s for us,” the man at the front desk told me. Wryly wondering what, exactly, my reaction would be to donating half a litre of blood, I was directed to the computers next to the check-in station.
The small touchscreens are tucked away to the side of the big, open-concept donation room, granting donors some privacy. Once I scanned the bar code I got at check-in, a series of personal medical questions began to pop up on the screen. Questions regarding my previous medical history, if I had taken specific medications, if I had got any tattoos or piercings in the past several months, as well as my sexual past — including if I have ever paid for sex or if I have ever tested positive for HIV.
The Canadian Blood Services recently ended its policy on restricting blood donations from men who have had sex with men in the past three months and will instead focus on what is considered to be high-risk behaviours. This includes having sex with multiple new partners in the past three months (regardless of gender) and whether anal sex occurred in any of these instances. The new policy isn’t expected to be rolled out until the end of September, however, so for now the survey still asks questions relating to sexual orientation. (Women are currently asked if they have had sex with a man who has had sex with another man in the past 12 months, but this is also expected to change when the new policy comes into play.)
Once I assured the computer that I had never taken illegal steroids with a needle and haven’t got a tattoo in the past three months (you’re welcome, Mom!), I was told to move on to the next step of the process.
Within a matter of minutes I was called into a private office to see a nurse, who went over some more medical history and then checked my hemoglobin levels by taking blood from a quick finger prick. I didn’t find it painful. Actually, I think it was the clicking sound of the device that made me jump more than the prick itself.
Hemoglobin is the iron-rich protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen to our cells, so it is important to have healthy levels before donating any blood. If hemoglobin stores fall below 125 g/L (12.5 g/dL) for females or 130 g/L (13.0 g/dL) for males, then it’s not safe to donate and you’ll probably be directed to speak to a doctor about getting your levels back up (which often includes eating iron supplements or a lot of iron-rich foods like red meat).
Once I passed my hemoglobin test, a lovely nurse came to collect me and took me to the back of the room where the donation chairs were located. Likely recognizing the “First time donor” sticker I still had plastered to my shirt, she walked me through the entire process. First the chair was positioned with my legs elevated, to help keep the blood flow concentrated to my donating arm and, more importantly, my chest and head. I was then instructed to practice squeezing and releasing my legs and butt, which would also help focus the blood away from my legs.
I was given a stress ball wrapped in layers of new paper towel (everything here is sterile), and then the nurse checked to make sure she could easily access my veins. (This wasn’t a problem — if there’s one thing we like to brag about in my family, it’s our good veins. Every family has their thing.) She sterilized the area in the crook of my arm for a solid 30 seconds and tightened a band around my arm to make the veins pop. She then inserted the needle and we were off.
The process wasn’t as comfortable as chilling at home at home on my couch with my feet up, but it wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable. Besides a quick pinch when the needle went in (which we were politely asked to not film), I was just kind of hanging out, chatting with the nurse and going through emails on my phone. The oddest thing was the tubes connected to the collection bags felt warm — which, of course, is fairly obvious since you would hope the blood coming out of you is warm. But I had never thought about it.
The entire process took less than 10 minutes, after which the nurse asked me what colour pressure bandage I wanted (turquoise). My arm was bound up and the nurse helped me to slowly stand up and make sure I was steady on my feet before heading to the snack bar.
After donating, I was invited to grab a drink and sit for about five minutes — just to make sure there was no light-headedness. There were plenty of options for snacks, so I went for the Oreos and a can of Coke and grabbed a seat.
The Canadian Blood Services might be one of the only health care centres that not just encourages, but actively facilitates, eating salty, sugary junk food. Because donating reduces the total blood volume in your body, you also lose sodium and sugar. It’s important to get those three measures back up quickly, hence the absolute buffet of snacks. Hydrating is also really important, as your body will need to replace the fluids lost through your donation.
Blood donation also burns about 650 calories, so if you ever want to go for the real Coke and not the sugar-free version, now’s the time.
No heavy lifting allowed
I was told to stay away from exercising and/or lifting anything heavy with my donation arm for the next 24 hours. I felt fine, but tired afterwards — although it’s not unusual for me to want a nap after work. After a fairly uneventful night (except for trying to remove the taped on bandage from my arm — that thing was stuck good) I was back at work like normal the next day.
Over the next several days I was aware of the small pinprick to my arm, even though it wasn’t sore, but that could also be due to the fact that I was paying close attention to how I felt before sitting down to write this article. The area around the vein is also slightly itchy, which doesn’t surprise me. I have dry, sensitive skin, which probably didn’t appreciate the solution used to clean my arm. It’s not a problem, though — next time I go I can simply ask for a different sterilizing solution. And yes, I do plan to go again.
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