Donating Blood to the Red Cross: My Scare

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I'm not scared of needles, but I had quite a scare when I donated blood to the American Red Cross.

There was a blood drive in my area, and I hadn't donated blood for years, so I figured I would go after work and help do my part. Giving blood is giving an amazing and precious gift that can save people's lives, so it's very important for people to donate blood. I'm not afraid of needles, but even if I were afraid of them, I think the reward of knowing you could be saving someone's life would outweigh any fears.

It wasn't a long wait when I donated blood. I simply filled out my paperwork, which took maybe ten minutes, if that, and answered a few brief questions. Then I was called into a mobile unit where they sat me in a very small room, took my vital signs, and registered me on a computer. I took a "test" with a few more personal questions, mostly health-related, which was, of course, fully anticipated. There were a few strange questions on there. I asked about some of the questions and the attendant explained why these specific questions were asked, and they all made total sense.

After that, I was seated into a long reclining chair and a phlebotomist told me she'd be right over. I could see her working on another person who was donating. There were enough chairs in the mobile vehicle for about 4 donors at any given time. I remember it being a bit chilly in the mobile van, but it was bearable. I'm sure they have to keep it cool for a number of reasons.

The phlebotomist came over and prepped my arm, then inserted the needle and the blood flowed into the reservoir bag. I sat there patiently, happy to know I was doing a good deed. After about twelve minutes (my blood flows pretty slowly!) the bag was just about full and I had the needle removed and was sat up front on a small seat and given some beverages and light snacks. The attendants also briefly instructed me on follow-up care, such as drink plenty of clear fluids, no alcohol, and who to contact in case the site on my arm looked funny for any reason, such as infection. After a few minutes resting in the front of the van, I left.

That day wasn't scary at all. It was weeks later when I received a letter in the mail from the Red Cross that my heart began beating quickly and worries darted back and forth through my brain. I had to read the letter several times. I was in shock. I was always a healthy person...

"Thank you for your recent blood donation. We appreciate the time and effort you spent to donate blood for others. As you know, the American Red Cross tests all donated blood to ensure it is safe to transfuse to patients. When we tested your blood, we obtained some results that indicate you most likely are infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV)." The letter encouraged me to look over the brochure they sent and to consult my physician.

I was devastated. I called my mother, who is a nurse, and expressed my concern. She was worried as well, as my ex-husband was a total loser who cheated on me and did drugs, so I was certain that I must have contracted it from him. However, my mother also stated that they could be wrong, something that never crossed my mind. She explained that it was possible my liver enzymes were up that day and may have indicated something for some of their tests.

I also talked to a very close friend of mine about this dilemma I was slapped in the face with, and she told me not to worry so much and mentioned that her friend donated blood and got a letter stating she likely had HIV! Could you imagine giving blood and then a couple weeks later receiving a letter in the mail that you probably have an incurable disease such as HIV or hepatitis?

I scanned the test results several times and decided to do my own research online before I got too panicked. There were several results, and I had no idea what they meant, but many were negative and some were positive. The test results were actually very conflicting, as I determined from my online research. For example, one test result indicated that I had been exposed to the virus within the last few months, while another test result showed I had never been exposed to this virus.

I quickly set up an appointment to have my blood screened for this virus, and my doctor ordered a full hepatitis screening to test for all three types: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. The whole time I was at the doctor I was very nervous. I don't usually get nervous when going for a physical, but that day my heart rate was very elevated and I even felt a bit nauseated. I knew it would be several days before I got the results of the test, so I just had to be patient and wait, and hope for the best.

Luckily, less than 24 hours later my doctor called and informed me that all tests were negative: I didn't have hepatitis! I was incredibly happy and relieved.

Hepatitis is a disease that can damage the liver and cause other health issues. There is no cure, but people can live for many years with the disease if they take care of themselves, eat healthy foods, and don't drink, among other things. Hepatitis can be managed, but I was ecstatic to be disease-free.

If I ever want to donate blood again to the American Red Cross, I will have to call the toll free number provided in the letter they sent and find out how to get reinstated, but I am not quite ready for that just yet. This was a big scare for me. I had been vaccinated for hepatitis A when I was a teenager, but I only received the first dose. There are three doses required to be fully vaccinated.

What I learned form this scary experience is that life is very fragile, and one quick mistake can last a lifetime. I will donate blood in the future, and I think everyone who is able to donate blood very well should. I also realize how important vaccinations are. If you are one of those people who don't take safety very seriously (for example, safe sex), or just think it will never happen to you so you don't have to worry, that's very foolish. Protect your health while you can, because one day it may be too late. Once you get a disease or make a mistake, the damage is already done.

Thanks for reading my story. If you enjoyed this article, please visit some of my other articles.


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