Here’s why donating for the first time convinced me to keep coming back.

By Melissa Farthing, Copy Editor

If you’re a news-savvy person, you may have noticed that the American Red Cross has been in national headlines recently. Why? The organization currently faces a blood shortage: the worst it has seen in the last decade. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 takes a lot of the blame for this crisis. According to the Red Cross, donations have declined by 10% since the pandemic’s start (March 2020). Dozens of blood drives have been canceled over the past two years due to illness and staff shortages, including 62% of high school and university drives. The Red Cross has been begging donors new and old to roll up their sleeves for people in need of this vital, maroon liquid. 

If this were happening at this time last year, I would have shrugged my shoulders and gone on my merry way. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t have cared about the cause, but the thought of draining a pint of blood from my body, even for a good reason, used to make me squirm. This mindset changed a few months ago when I decided to donate blood to the Red Cross for the first time.

My blood donation journey began in an unexpected way: I needed a haircut.

Last semester, my dear mother kept nagging me to trim my locks to a more manageable length. Being a broke college student, I didn’t want to shell out money to a service I could do myself at home with a pair of safety scissors (not that I’m suggesting that’s a sensible idea). So, when Huntington University distributed blood drive flyers around campus with the promise of a free haircut, my interest was piqued. “This is my chance!” I thought gleefully. “But do I really want to donate blood?”

See, I’ve always been a bit apprehensive about attending a blood drive. I don’t have trypanophobia, but I’ve had some unsavory experiences with blood donation in the past. My high school (a career-tech school) hosted several blood drives that the teenage medical students essentially ran themselves. Not that these students weren’t capable bright minds, but the thought of having my blood drawn by wannabe nurses instead of trained volunteers and Red Cross staff made me queasy. 

Others must have also felt this way; every time there was a blood drive, teachers would constantly send students to the nurse’s office, fearing they would blackout. I don’t know about you, but passing out during a calculus test was the last thing I would want to happen as an eleventh grader. If the blood drives at HU were anything like those at my high school, I knew I’d be out cold by the time I arrived at Professor Martin’s physics class. But I was desperate for beautiful hair, so I reluctantly signed up for my first donation.

Fifteen minutes before the blood drive, I entered the top level of the DC and underwent a smooth check-in process. The volunteers took my information and whisked me away to the Red Cross staff in the other room. A woman took my blood pressure and pricked my finger to test my hemoglobin levels. Too low, and I would be ineligible to donate. Luckily, my stats were healthy, which meant I was ready to go.

The woman propped me up on a folding table (which was surprisingly comfortable) and drew a dot on my left arm with a marker. This helped her know where to drive the needle into my skin, and I was not looking forward to the process. Once my arm was wiped with some rubbing alcohol, it was time to begin the donation.

I’ll admit that the initial jab of the needle did sting a bit, but the pain went away in about three seconds. Then I wasn’t in any discomfort, although my left side did feel a bit warm. I looked over, and I was slightly freaked out to see my blood transversing along the inside of a plastic tube. Hey, at least it was working!

Everything was fine and dandy until my vision started getting brighter and blurrier, and my hearing was reduced by one-half. Immediately, people started crowding around me.

“Get her a fan!” I heard one staff member yell, although, with my diminished hearing, it sounded more like a muffled plea.

Once the fan arrived, I sensed a shower of sugary snacks and drinks falling into my lap (unfortunately, I couldn’t see them as my eyes refused to remain open). I struggled to maneuver my plastic straw into my Very Berry juice box, but once I succeeded and began to sip, I felt better almost immediately.

“That was concerning,” I stated aloud.

“Yeah, you don’t look so good,” replied a male staff member standing nearby. “What have you eaten today?”

I told him I had eaten a yogurt parfait for breakfast.

He laughed.

Apparently, before you donate blood, you are supposed to eat a lot of food (as in, down the whole buffet at Golden Corral before your appointment). Lesson learned.

Soon after this episode, the volunteers removed the needle from my arm, signaling the end of my donation. I proceeded to pat myself on the back for not dying.

I hung back for a few minutes to make sure I wasn’t lightheaded anymore (all while indulging in my treasure trove of carbohydrates). Once I was good to go, I went about my day. The injection site was sore for about 12 hours, but other than that, I felt utterly normal afterward. 

Funnily enough, I never did get that free haircut (unless the email went straight to my spam folder, and I never noticed). However, I did win a $25 gift card to Pizza Junction, which was gloriously presented to me during my Inspirational Design class the next day. While the free pizza and trains were a savory way to end the week, they weren’t what drove me to book another donation appointment. Something inside of me took great satisfaction in knowing that my first blood donation (although somewhat treacherous) was going to help up to three people in need. 

Before my initial appointment, I downloaded the Red Cross Blood Donor App to make my check-in easier. About a month later, I received a notification from the app informing me that my blood had been processed and delivered to Cleveland Clinic. I was amazed to know precisely where my blood went (especially since it traveled to my home city!). I was also able to follow along with my “blood journey” and review the different stages my blood underwent before arriving at the hospital. I loved all of these little touches in the app. Not only did they help me better understand the donation process, but they also opened my eyes to how my specific pint of blood was impacting others.

If you have never donated blood before but are curious about the procedure, I would encourage you to give it a try! Hospitals are always in need of donations, especially now more than ever. Your act of kindness will help so many people and maybe even save someone’s life! Plus, if the experience is scary or uncomfortable, you never have to do it again. There are other ways to support the Red Cross besides giving blood if you desire. Even a $10 online gift can go a long way!

To find out more about the American Red Cross and how you can aid their mission, visit redcross.org.