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Giving blood is a simple process that involves first determining if an individual is eligible to be a donor. Once eligibility is verified, the donor usually locates a blood drive or location at which to give blood. The donor must next register, answer questions about his health history, and undergo a mini-physical prior to giving his blood. The blood is then taken using a needle in the donor's arm. This short process usually concludes with refreshments to help the donor adjust to the slight decrease in fluid volume.
The first step in the process of giving blood is determining eligibility. There are a few general guidelines to follow, though specially trained technical staff members are typically available at each blood collection center to help address individual health histories. These basic guidelines include a minimum age requirement of at least 17 years, weight of at least 110 pounds, and the donor must not have given whole blood in the last 56 days — or donated double red cells in the last 112 days. The donor must be generally healthy, feel well, and be able to perform normal activities. Chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, must usually be treated and under control.
Once a donor's eligibility is established, he can search the Red Cross website for a blood drive at which to donate, if he does not already have a location in mind. He may also be able to create a profile and schedule a convenient appointment time for giving blood using this website. The donor will usually need to present an identification card and complete registration forms that include health and demographic questions. A trained technician will usually review these forms and administer a mini-physical to each donor prior to blood collection. This short physical typically includes blood pressure and pulse checks, as well as monitoring the donor's temperature and testing his blood iron level.
To begin the actual process of giving blood, a technician will cleanse an area of the donor's arm and insert a needle into a vein. The donor will then relax for about seven to ten minutes while the bag is filling with approximately one pint of blood. After the donor has finished giving blood, the technician removes the needle and places a bandage on the arm. Refreshments are usually given to help the donor adjust to the small decrease in fluid volume and, after a few minutes, he may usually resume his normal daily activities.
When you're at the Red Cross giving blood, make sure that you are prepared for the questionnaire to be lengthy and to include embarrassing questions! Last time I went, I was able to complete it privately on computer, which saved time, but there are a lot of questions like, "In the last twelve months, have you had sex with a male who's ever had sexual relations with another male?" Or lived in Africa; or if you've lived with a person with hepatitis, and on and on. They ask everyone these questions. It's not personal!
I would also encourage people to plan on taking it easy for the rest of the day. Some people will bounce back very quickly, but
other people will find that they're tired after giving blood and will need to rest. I once had a difficult donate (the person had had trouble finding the vein) and almost passed out in a fabric store! Now I drive straight home. It's a nice excuse to have a lazy day and feel really good about it!
Another rule to know is that people giving blood can't be pregnant or have been pregnant in the last six weeks. Realistically, if you are nursing, it will probably take a lot longer than that for your iron levels to be high enough to give blood.
One of the first steps in donating blood is a finger prick used to check your iron levels. (To me, this is more painful than the needle in the arm, and I hate the sound that the device makes - like a staple gun.) If they're not high enough, you'll not be allowed to donate until they come back up.
In other parts of the world, nursing mothers are not allowed to give blood for six months, a year, or even until they wean their child. The US is unique in allowing a wait of only six weeks. Personally, I choose not to donate when I'm nursing.