January 18, 2013

Becoming a Blood Donor

This week I crossed something off my ever-growing bucket list: Becoming a blood donor. I am not going to sit here and preach to you the merits of becoming a blood donor and all of the reasons why you should donate, as the Canadian Blood Services and/or the Red Cross do enough of this. Also, I realize that this is not an activity for everyone, as it surprisingly took a lot for me to actually go through with this.

I woke up late that morning, as my alarm clock chose not to go off. Once I recovered from the panic of being late for work before I even woke up {oh ya, it was that bad}, I started into a brand new sense of panic that filled me with dread: It was blood donation day. I know that it sounds incredibly silly for me to be stressing out about such a simple thing, but trust me, this was a paralyzing fear. And I felt justified in my terror, as my previous experiences at giving blood have been needlessly traumatic, which made the idea of donating a large amount of blood {a whole pint!} absolutely terrifying.

My concerns stemmed from a horrible blood giving-related experience I had several years ago. At the time I was seeing a family doctor who was obsessed with preventative medicine, which seemed like a good idea to me at the time. I am sure you are all familiar with the routine blood test that typically accompanies a standard annual physical? My doctor at the time of course ordered all of these standard tests, but unbeknownst to me, he also ordered a number of other uncommon tests which, in order to perform, required a much greater amount of blood to be drawn than the status quo. I had sat down in the chair at the blood lab and I suffered through the initial prick of the needle, and after a while I realized that this was taking a lot more time than normal. It was probably around this point that I also started getting a little warm. And not too long after that I started noticing tunnel vision. And then I could hear my own pulse rushing in my ears, just like the ocean...

And that's when I passed out.

Rather than taking the regular 3-4 vials of blood normally required for an annual physical blood test, the lab had taken 16 vials of blood from me, in order to satisfy the numerous tests that my doctor had ordered, all in the name of prevention. Well, his tests didn't detect anything, and they certainly didn't prevent me from losing consciousness. What did happen though, is that I became slightly phobic of having blood drawn. So even though I had made the conscious decision to sign up to donate blood, the thought secretly terrified me.

I had kept the fear at bay by telling myself that I was doing a noble thing and that I was helping other people, and perhaps it might be my bag of blood that made the difference in saving someone's life. Though this is true, it was simply my way of tricking myself to think that I was actually fine with this when really I was not ok with it at all. So when the day arrived and I could no longer tell myself that this is something I didn't have to worry about yet, I was freaking out.

I went to work and tried my best to preoccupy myself with other things, but it just wasn't working. My only consolation was that my husband had said he would rush home from basketball practice to take my to my 7:30pm appointment, and that he would hold my hand and make sure that I didn't pass out. It was the only thing keeping me sane as I counted down the hours. Until my husband sent me a text message informing me that his basketball practice had been pushed back and he wouldn't be able to make it. Nothing could console me at this point, I was tiptoeing across the line between freaking out and succumbing to an all-consuming anxiety attack.

But I held it together throughout the day, made it home, and made dinner. It was just after finishing dinner that I decided that I would write a post about this, and explain to you all just how crazy I was acting about something so silly. I figured that it would be best to write the post after I actually gave the blood, as this would add perspective to how ridiculous my fears had been. In the meantime, I decided to search online for pictures to adorn my post; this was an incredibly bad idea. Googling "Ontario Blood Donation" resulted in several pictures of people with needles in their arms, blood, and other images that I certainly did not need to see in my current state.

Somehow I was able to force myself to put my shoes on and drive myself to the local church where the blood donor clinic was being held. I felt like a prisoner driving myself to my own execution. Knees knocking together, I walked into the church and made it through the registration process. For those of you who have donated blood before, you will know that the screening process is very, very strict. Presenting my ID and confirming my identity was the tip of the iceberg; I was also required to fill out a 40 question form, submit to a needle prick of my finger to test my hemoglobin levels, and then answer a number of verbal questions, asked of me by a nurse. I was so incredibly nervous throughout this entire process, but the nerves that I was feeling had changed from how they had manifested themselves throughout the majority of the day. I remained nervous about the simple fact that I would be donating a lot of blood and my chances of passing out were high, but strangely I was also very worried that I would somehow be precluded from actually donating blood due to the multitude of screening procedures in place. I didn't have any reason to believe that I would be screened out, but it was almost like I was having test anxiety.

I finally made it into the donation chair after what felt like an eternity. I was actually starting to relax a little bit, as I had made it through the screening part of the process and it was time to actually get to the donation. I was still nervous, but I had made it this far and I wasn't going to back out now. But it wasn't long before another panic-inducing situation occurred: The phlebotomist who was supposed to be removing my blood couldn't find a vein in my left arm. Or my right arm. Or my left arm again. I was freaking out! Which, I will take a second to point out, was very ironic given that I was so freaked out about giving blood in the first place. Now I was in the moment, and through no fault of my own, there was a very strong possibility that I would not be able to donate after all. I was actually a little angry; my panic at this point wasn't about being terrified of giving blood, but rather the fear that I wouldn't be able to.

Long story short, the phlebotomist called a coworker over, and between the two of them they were able to locate a vein and start a line in it. After all my stress and strife about giving blood, I was finally doing it! And truth be told, it wasn't bad at all. Once the needle was in my arm it didn't hurt at all, and I am so proud to say that I didn't pass out! All that stress for nothing. Nothing.

After I finished making my donation I got to drink juice and cookies. As I drove the short distance back to my house I felt amazing. Not only had I done something awesome in that I had made a donation that would helpfully save a life or two, but I had accomplished something that I had wanted to do for a long time, and in doing so I had conquered one of my biggest fears. I felt pretty awesome {though this could have been attributed to the loss of blood}. So awesome in fact, that I have signed myself up to donate again in March.

Photo Credit: Keep

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