Featured writer: Brooke Falvey
Today, in less than 10 minutes, I saved three lives.
I can almost hear you gasp and wonder who was crazy enough to let me—the girl who barely passed high school biology—loose near patients (I work in the marketing department of a not-for-profit hospital).
Fear not! I am not about to hit the headlines as the latest untrained quack to try their hand at medicine.
Today, I donated blood.
Every 12 weeks, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service van pulls up outside my workplace and people working in the area pop in to do their bit to keep the country’s blood supplies topped up.
There are more than half a million voluntary blood donors in Australia and, until today, I was not one of them.
I have never been brave enough to donate, always citing a recent cold as a reason not to jump in the chair, but with the Christmas holidays just around the corner the need for blood is now greater than ever.
The statistics speak for themselves:
- 1 in 3 Australians will require blood at some stage during their life.
- 1 in 30 people donate blood.
- More than 27,000 blood donations are needed each week.
So, at 9.50am, I headed down the hill and rolled up my metaphorical sleeve.
First-time donors are required to fill out a questionnaire covering everything from their current and past health status to travel history.
I breezed through with trips to the United States and Fiji in the past three years. A trip to Turkey would have required testing for malaria and those who lived in the United Kingdom for more than six months between 1980 and 1996 are also ruled out due to possible contact vCJD (the human form of ‘mad cow disease’).
Most people are eligible to give blood if they:
- Are fit, healthy and not suffering from a cold, flu or other illness at the time of donation or in the previous 7 days
- Weigh more than 45kg
- Have had plenty of liquid the day before donation, especially in warm weather. In addition, in the 3 hours before donating, have had at least 3 good-sized glasses of water/juice
- Have eaten a good-sized meal in the 3 hours before donating.
I met enrolled nurse Paula who went through my questionnaire with me, tested my blood pressure (low) and haemoglobin levels (within normal range) and gave me an apple juice to drink on top of the recommended three glasses of water.
Then it was time for registered nurse Jenny, who has been with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service for eight years, to get down to business.
One ‘sharp prick’ later, the precious red liquid was flowing from my veins.
As is standard procedure, the first 30ml would be tested for the presence of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and syphilis and once cleared, the blood will then be used when and as needed within the next six weeks.
You may ask ‘why six weeks?’ … well, all blood components have a short shelf life which is why there is a constant need for blood supply. Platelets can last up to 5 days, red cells for up to 42 days and plasma can be kept for up to one year.
Modern processing techniques mean that a single blood donation, when separated into its components, can help at least three different patients and contribute to making up to 22 different products.
And, although most people believe the majority of donated blood helps those involved in accidents and emergencies, the majority of donated blood is actually used to treat people with cancer and other serious injuries.
Nine minutes and 18 seconds later (a fairly slow time but reasonable given my low blood pressure), my 500ml donation was complete and Jenny removed the needled, bandaged up my arm and handed me another apple juice and some cheese and crackers for my troubles.
She also snapped this shot of me (looking rather impressed with myself) with my donation.
After waiting about 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t faint, I headed back to the office.
Now, it’s time to admit I didn’t just ‘head’ back to the office. I kind of jogged. Up an incline. In 32 degree heat. Then as I approached our office, I saw stars—and not in a good way.
But don’t worry, I didn’t faint … I just needed to lie down. On the bathroom floor.
My mate Bels came to my rescue, getting me to the couch in our office and pumping me full of cordial and jellybeans while everyone came to say hello, admire my paler complexion and share their blood donation stories.
As I munched on jellybeans, I looked at the information sheet in my hand which revealed I was in the 0.15% of blood donors who feel dizzy, lightheaded, hot, sweaty or unwell after donating after leaving the donor centre. Talk about being a high achiever!
It also recommended one not ‘rush or do strenuous exercise’ for six hours. So no running up hills then?
An hour later, after drinking lots of water and polishing off a chicken and salad sandwich, I felt as good as new.
Knowing my donation could potentially save someone’s life made the whole experience worthwhile (stars and all) so I’ll be back again in a few months’ time—after a big breakfast!
For those readers in Australia, call 13 14 95 to make an appointment or visit www.donateblood.com.au to make an appointment or to find out more.
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