Giving Blood for the First Time – What to Do and Expect

You may expect only to see calls for blood donations after a natural or weather-related disaster has occurred. In truth, there is a need for good donations of blood of all types throughout the year, and as the months grow colder and people become more preoccupied by the holidays, supply risks an unacceptable decrease. Later this month, you can visit the Bon Secours Health Center for our Virginia Beach blood drive on October 26th from 9AM-2PM, and if it’s your first time giving be sure you’re prepared! We’re happy to provide a few tips for you.

Before You Go

When you arrive at any blood donation center, you will be asked to give some medical history and have a pinprick test to see if you blood has a good iron count. It’s important to know your health history and be prepared to answer all questions truthfully. The questionnaires given to donors are discreet, and if you have concerns about the health of your blood you will usually be given two stickers for your form to indicate whether or not your blood should be used. Don’t forget proper ID when you go.

In the days before your donation, you should eat healthy. Focus on an iron-rich diet – foods like spinach and turkey, fish, beans, and red meat are usually recommended. Drink plenty of water, and drink at least sixteen ounces before you leave for the center.

Wear comfortable clothing, short sleeves if you can, or else loose sleeves that won’t bind as they are rolled up. If you feel skittish about your first donation, ask a friend to come with you – having the moral support of somebody you know is especially helpful.

At the Donation Center

It is most important to relax, and have that water beforehand. Drinking water helps make your veins more visible, so applying the needle doesn’t take too long. At worst, you will feel a stinging sensation when the needle is inserted in your arm, but no excruciating pain. For your first time, you phlebotomist (the one drawing the blood) will ask which arm to use – you might consider using the one you write with if you feel it has the best chance of offering up a good vein.

As the blood is drawn, try not to focus on the blood leaving your body if you think that will make you uncomfortable. Relax, chat a bit, and if you’re allowed to wear an MP3 player, listen to your music to keep you collected.

When You’re Done

Don’t be in a rush to leave. In fact, you will be escorted to a break room when you’re done to have some cookies and juice to help restore your body. If you feel too dizzy to move, let a volunteer know immediately so they can help. Only leave the center when you are absolutely certain you are fine to walk out on your own. If you came with a friend, they should be able to judge when you’re ready to go.

Because you’ve lost fluid during your donation, drink plenty of water over the next two days to replenish yourself. The donation center typically gives you aftercare instructions to take home – avoid heavy lifting, rest when needed – and if you experience bleeding afterward be sure to contact a physician or the Red Cross immediately.

Giving blood is perhaps one of the best ways you can give back to your community. If this is your first time donating, thank you so much!

Kat Lively writes about Virginia Beach health care and Norfolk health care.

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