Oh, to be positive. Oh, to be O positive!
For me, giving blood is like having the oil changed in my car — It’s just something I do regularly. I recently received an email from the American Red Cross stating that I had donated a total of 1 gallon of blood, giving me #DonorForLife status.
Giving blood is a valuable and much-needed service we all can do for our communities (unless we have medical restrictions). Blood saves lives. About every 2 seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. But many people don’t realize that donating blood is a safe and simple procedure. Only 3 percent of age-eligible individuals in the United States give blood each year.
Giving blood benefits the donor, too
But giving blood doesn’t just benefit the recipient; donors benefit as well. Not only does it give us the satisfaction of doing something for humanity; there are also physiological benefits.
One benefit is that when you donate blood, you will get a “mini-physical.” Before you are allowed to donate, your vital signs will be checked to make sure you are fit enough for the procedure. This exam could reveal a condition that needs medical attention, such as high blood pressure or a heart arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation. Plus, you’ll be screened for infectious diseases you may be unaware of. The health screening will also reveal if you have a rare blood type. This information can be useful if you ever face surgery or another medical situation in which a transfusion may be required. Also, donating blood regularly is linked to lower blood pressure and a lower risk for heart attacks.
Why I started giving blood
Back in 2016, my hemoglobin was a little high, and a doctor recommended that I give blood to try to bring the level down. Donating blood helps lower the viscosity of the blood, which has been associated with the formation of blood clots, heart attacks and stroke.
I had never given blood before, so I signed up for a local blood drive.
When I got to the donation center, I was surprised at how professional everybody was and how the system was so streamlined. I was also amazed at how many people showed up to donate their blood. It was an incredibly positive experience — a phenomenal demonstration of humanity and goodwill.
The process took about 20 minutes. Afterward, I had some juice and crackers. I was a little tired for the rest of the day, but I felt fine the next day.
A few weeks later, I received an email from the donation center telling me that my blood was used during surgery at a local hospital. It made me feel great to know I had made a difference in someone’s life.
What’s so special about O-positive blood?
About 38 percent of the population has O-positive blood, making it the most common blood type. It is given to patients more than any other blood type, which is why it is considered the most-needed type. O-positive red blood cells are not universally compatible to all types, but they are compatible to any red blood cells that are positive (A+, B+, O+, AB+). More than 80 percent of the population has a positive blood type and can receive O-positive blood.
In major traumas with massive blood loss, many hospitals transfuse O-positive blood, even when the patient’s blood type is unknown. The risk of reaction is much lower in ongoing blood-loss situations, and O-positive is more readily available than O-negative. This is why type O-positive blood is critical in trauma care.
An unsettling donation experience
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people stopped giving blood. In January 2022, the American Red Cross declared that it was facing a national blood crisis — the worst in decades. They urged people with all blood types, but especially Type O, to donate blood. COVID-19 led to a 10 percent decline in the number of people donating blood and a 62 percent drop in blood drives at schools and colleges nationwide.
Because I was a previous donor, I began receiving emails from the Red Cross, asking if I would donate again. So I did. When I got to the donation center and was being signed in, I noticed an older woman who had just donated blood. She was lying down to rest, and she was wearing a mask. I picked up on the fact that she wasn’t feeling well as she became ill.
They wheeled the cot she was lying on to a different part of the room, and two attendants were tending to her for what seemed like forever. Then they evidently called a family member to come pick the woman up because it wasn’t safe for her to drive. The incident was extremely upsetting. I sat there, processing what had just happened, not sure I wanted to give blood anymore.
It gets worse
A young woman who I heard say she was a college student had just finished donating blood. She stood up and was walking in my direction because I was sitting next to the refreshments table where the water, juice, cookies and raisins were. She caught my eye because she was walking unsteadily. And then she began to fall forward. She tried to catch herself on the table, but her arms went limp, and as she fell to the floor, she hit her head on the table — hard. She landed on the floor pretty hard and hit her head again, on the gymnasium floor — even harder.
This time, I didn’t have to alert anyone because everyone heard her head hit the floor. Attendants rushed to her, got her to lie on her side, and put some compressions and an ice pack on her head. Then they lifted her up to lie down on a cot.
At this point, I wanted to just get up and run away. I wanted nothing to do with my turn to give blood. An attendant finally came back over to me and said, “Do you want to proceed?” I told her, “What I really want to do is go home. But I know you need O-positive blood.” She nodded her head and said, “Yes, we really do. We’ve had a substantial drop in donations since the pandemic hit.”
So I sat still and took a deep breath. The attendant had me squeeze on a rubber ball as she looked for my vein, and then she stuck the needle in my vein and drew my blood for several minutes. Whew, I made it. She removed the needle and then asked me to lift my arm over my head. As I did that, I felt a hot flash jolt through my body, from head to toe. The top of my head started to perspire, and I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I pulled my mask down because I didn’t want to inhale my own vomit, like I had seen the elderly woman do just minutes earlier. I managed to get out the words, “I don’t feel well.”
The attendant lowered my cot and took the hat off my head. She brought a fan over to me and placed a wet washcloth on my face. I lay on that cot for what seemed like a very long time, but it was only for about 20 minutes. They brought me some apple juice to rehydrate. It turned out that I was dehydrated. I got there at the end of my work day, and I hadn’t drunk many liquids that day, except for coffee. They reminded me that when giving blood, it is important to hydrate well throughout the day. This information is clearly stated in the instructions they give you before you donate blood, but I never read them.
I will continue to donate blood
I didn’t let that unpleasant experience stop me from giving blood because I know how important it is. Since then, I have given blood six more times. One or two other times, for different reasons, I felt lightheaded again. But that’s a minor inconvenience, compared to an injured patient who will die without receiving blood. I plan to continue giving blood three or four times each year. It’s a fantastic way to give back. You never know — I or someone I love might need O-positive blood someday.
What’s beautiful about America as a society is that our people are willing to literally give blood to help their fellow man to make this a better place to live.
If you are not a blood donor, I encourage you to consider becoming one. On the Health & Human Services website at www.hhs.gov, you can enter your zip code and find a donation center. If you do decide to donate, please know that you are saving lives.
Also, please take my advice: hydrate yourself (with liquids other than coffee) and eat something before you go. If you don’t feel well while you’re on the table, let them know because they can do some things to help you.
Sources: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: www.nhlbi.nih.gov, American Red Cross: www.redcrossblood.org;