How to Save a Life (In One Afternoon!)

I have never been a fan of needles. I understand that they are generally useful in medical and dental work, and while I’m not a very squeamish person, I prefer to avoid them when possible. There is currently only one situation where I will willingly subject myself to needles, and that is when donating blood.

I have a pretty good history with the process; both of my parents have been willing blood donors for a long time, and I grew up attending more than one blood drive with them. The first time I donated was as an 18-year-old CEGEP student at Dawson College, as there was a drive happening at school. I remember trying valiantly to encourage my friends to join me, but they wouldn’t even come in as moral support. I had gone ahead with it anyway, and it was such a positive experience that it began a lifetime of donations.

Until this week, I had donated blood six times before. I had taken a hiatus for a couple of years due in equals parts to an instance where they did not take my blood, and to the fact that my schedule simply hadn’t aligned with any local drives. It was by complete chance that I had been running errands on Monday and saw signs from Héma -Quebec announcing a blood drive the very next day, and realized I had the entire afternoon off. I earmarked a few hours in my schedule, and soon found myself getting excited.

I made my way to the sports complex where the drive was taking place, and soon found a large, quiet gymnasium full of volunteers, nurses and donors. I checked in with two lovely volunteers near the entrance, and was given a number and a pamphlet to read over. I realized it was significantly shorter than the materials I was usually given to read at these drives, and that it was laminated, which was so that they could be reused without wasting paper. I was already liking the new process.

First, I went to a desk with an intake volunteer to check in, receive a bracelet, and have my photo taken. Intrigued, I was then guided to a series of booths where we were to provide our personal information, and I was delighted to find that instead of filling out a long form, I was to use a tablet! There was also a scanner to scan the barcode on my bracelet and record my information! The wonders of technology!

Once my form was complete, I was seated with a dozen or so other donors to wait until a nurse was available. Unfortunately, I had arrived just as a number of nurses were taking their lunch breaks, and the wait stretched on and on. One volunteer told us we could go leave and return at our convenience, and we wouldn’t have to fill out the form again. A few people left, but I chose to stay and make small talk with some of the other donors.

Finally, my number was called, and a nurse came and brisked me away to a small cubicle. Here, she went over my answers from before, which were displayed on an LCD screen behind me. Once that was sorted, she checked my veins, recorded my iron levels and blood pressure, scanned my bracelet to enter the information, and scanned it a few more times as she prepared the materials for my donation. Then I was ready to donate!

She guided me to a seat in a common area with other donors in the process of fulfilling their donation, and helped me get comfortable as she prepped my arm.

Once again, I am not a fan of needles, and knowing I was doing a good thing didn’t necessarily change that fact, so I looked away whenever I saw a glint of steel. Thankfully, it went in just fine, and there was only a little discomfort. The nurse gave me some balled-up paper towel to squeeze in my hand for circulation, and once my blood got pumping, left me under the care of a lovely volunteer.

The rest of the process was a piece of cake. I chatted with the volunteer as we passed the time, and I didn’t have to look at anything that made me squeamish. This was probably the fastest part of the process for me, and it went without a hitch. Soon, the needle was being removed (or so I was told - I didn’t feel the need to watch), and I was escorted over to a snack table to sit, drink some juice and snack on some biscuits.

I took my time recovering, chatting with a cute little girl whose guardian was there to donate, and a young man around my age. When he began to feel faint at one point, the nearby volunteer was first a bit too distracted by the child, but upon noticing his plight sprang into action. The donor was escorted to a place where he could lie down and be monitored, which he clearly needed.

I left the clinic feeling well, and under the instruction to stay hydrated and refrain from exercising for a bit. I took care of myself as per ordered, and promptly posted on social media about my good deed for the day. Then I could relax.

All in all, the experience took up a good chunk of my afternoon, and required that I come into contact with medical instruments of which I am not a personal fan. However, knowing that what I did could have a positive impact on someone’s life, even a complete stranger’s, made the experience well worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Sarah Luger