How to donate blood: Five simple steps
Story and photos by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross
Do you want to give blood but don’t know how? Are you curious about donating blood but aren’t sure what is involved? Join Emmanuel as he goes through the five simple steps of donating whole blood.
1. Book it
The best way to make an appointment is on the American Red Cross Blood Donor app. That is how Emmanuel made his appointment the day before. “It’s too easy with the app,” he says.
You can also make an appointment online at redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.
Pro tip: “Hydrate the day before your appointment,” says Eric Magalued, Team Supervisor at the San Fransisco Blood Center. “The day of the donation: EAT! Have something in your stomach.” Eric has been taking blood donations at the Red Cross for five years. He knows that drinking lots of water the day before and eating before you donate will lesson the chances you will feel dizzy.
2. Check in
The Blood Donor Ambassador at the front desk asks for your donor card and identification (such as a driver’s license). They scan the QR code on your phone if you have a RapidPass. The Ambassador also gives you some material to read about donating blood.
Pro tip: “Complete the RapidPass,” says Eric. Donors can save time by completing a RapidPass which allows them to complete the pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of the donation, from a mobile device or computer.
3. Health history
Complete a private and confidential questionnaire with a trained technician in a separate room or a cubicle. The questionnaire covers topics like travel, medications and health.
The technician gives you a brief physical exam, checking your vital signs, blood pressure, temperature and pulse. They also look at your arm veins to see if they appear suitable for donation and prick your finger for a drop of blood to check your hemoglobin levels.
4. Give blood
Lay down on a reclining chair in the blood collection area and a Phlebotomist will disinfect your inner elbow and insert a brand new, sterile needle there. The needle will draw blood through a tube and into a collection bag. Once the bag is full for a whole blood donation – which is one pint in about 10 minutes – the Phlebotomist will remove the needle and bandage your arm. Other types of donations, like plasma, platelets and Power Red can take up to two hours to complete.
Many people wonder if the needle will hurt. The Red Cross recommends you pinch the fleshy underside of your arm to experience a similar feeling. Emmanuel agrees with that description. He says, “It feels like a pinch, just a split-second pinch.”
Pro tip: If you feel faint, Eric recommends squeezing your legs together to force the blood from your legs back to your heart. Tell the Phlebotomist you are feeling dizzy and then cross your legs, squeeze your inner thigh and stomach muscles, stretch your ankles and hold for five seconds. Repeat five times then switch legs.
5. Snack time
Remain for 10 to 15 minutes longer to ensure you are feeling well after your donation. Get refreshed with a free snack and a drink.
Please don’t forget to make your next donation appointment on the app before you leave.
Emmanuel will be back for sure. He says, “It’s a wonder to think the blood is going to someone who I will never meet, but it’s going to help them.”
Thank you to blood donors like Emmanuel who show up to provide life-saving blood!