Sinclaire Sparkman: Giving a little love with blood

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Nov 10, 2017 at 1:00 PM

On Thursday, I went to the Blood Assurance bus on the Lebanon Square to give blood for the first time in 10 years. 

I have no fear of needles or nurses and no reason to not give blood. I just hadn’t thought about it until recently when I read something that recounted how blood donors are in high demand around the holiday season. So I looked on The Democrat’s community calendar and found the next opportunity to donate. It happened to be with a nonprofit called Blood Assurance, and I thought it was cool that my blood would stay local. I scheduled an appointment with the mobile donation center. 

I wasn’t necessarily nervous going in, but I have had trouble with my veins hiding from nurses in the past. But I had recently had a good experience when I got my blood drawn during a physical earlier this week, so I was hopeful. 

I was greeted by Michelle and taken in to a tiny room to answer some questions. It’s important that blood donors answer honestly about their blood history, including sexual encounters and drug use. It feels a little awkward to be asked such questions, but it doesn’t take long to complete the questionnaire. 

After that, Michelle asked me which finger she could prick to do the on-site test for my hemoglobin level, or iron as we plain folk call it. I cringed as she put the little device over my middle finger, but I barely felt a thing. Everything looked fine with my iron, blood pressure and temperature, so I was on to the chair. 

Relax, squeeze the ball and get ready to give. I’ve heard a lot of cautionary tales about giving blood, ‘people pass out,’ ‘you’ll get lightheaded and lose focus,’ ‘you have to drink a lot of orange juice afterward.’ While these things may be true, my experience was pretty easy. 

The first thing Michelle did was try to find a vein. My left arm was a little bruised from having blood drawn at the doctor, so we tried the right. I rolled up my sweater sleeve and the wrist-hem was so tight around my upper arm I thought it might serve as its own tourniquet. The tourniquets used by Blood Assurance have two parts, one ring about 2-3 inches wide goes on first and then the tight band to squeeze the veins. It feels a little better than the run-of-the mill plastic band, but with my sleeve so tight we at first just tried it with the squeezing band. She felt around in the crook of my elbow, but my sweater sleeve tourniquet just wasn’t cutting it, so I got to wear my free t-shirt a little early. After I changed, it was smooth sailing. 

Like I said, finding a vein was an area of worry for me, but these people are real professionals and they know what they’re doing. Michelle found my vein easy peasy, and the blood began to flow into the bag. 

This is where the trouble starts for some. Dizzy spells or lightheadedness sets in because the body isn’t used to losing its blood supply. I didn’t notice much of anything, and I had some nice conversation with the nurses on the bus while I waited for my 500-milliliter bag to fill up. 

Michelle said it depends on the person for how long this process can take. If it takes too long, more than 15 minutes, the blood can’t be used. If it takes longer than 10 minutes, only part of the blood may be used. For some people, it takes only five minutes to fill the bag, and squeezing the ball certainly helps with the flow. For me, my total time was 12 minutes and 22 seconds, and I ended up giving about 450 milliliters. 

After the bag was full, well, nearly full, Michelle tied it off and bandaged me up. I even got a cute little bow on my bandage.

I sat up slowly and didn’t feel strange at all except for a bit of lightheadedness. Michelle offered me drinks and cookies and even socks with sports team colors. They didn’t have Kentucky Wildcat blue, so I chose a pair for someone else. 

I left wondering why I don’t do this every two months, which is how often donors can safely provide blood. 

The Blood Assurance bus travels to many Tennessee towns. Blood goes to Chattanooga for a series of tests and ends up back close to where the donor lives. They are a nonprofit that is not affiliated with Red Cross. The organization serves 51 counties and more than 76 health care facilities throughout Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. The bus that came to Lebanon on Thursday is based out of a blood center in Columbia. 

Blood is in high demand all the time. From victims of car accidents to complicated pregnancies to people going through cancer treatments, lots of patients need it to stay alive, and many people don’t give blood just because we don’t think about it. All in all, I’m glad I thought about it in time to give with Blood Assurance. I hope they bring the bloodmobile to Lebanon again.  

Sinclaire Sparkman is The Democrat’s news editor. Email her at [email protected]

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