Friday, January 10, 2014

Celebrate National Blood Donor Month

By Caitlin Seida

Did you know that hospital patients across the United States need about 44,000 blood donations daily? I didn't, but seeing as how January is National Blood Donor Month, I wanted to share this with you. According to the American Red Cross, January has been designated for this purpose since 1970, and for good reason: This is the time of year when all but the most dedicated stop giving blood.

Cold weather, snow, ice storms, the flu, seasonal illness, travel and post-holiday blues make for slow blood donations at the beginning of the year. If you're eligible (and the eligibility criteria is rather strict. You may be privy to the fact that the FDA has a lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men - yes, gay men cannot donate blood. If this is the first time you're hearing this, you're probably outraged. I am, too. But don't hold that against the American Red Cross - they're working to change that criterion, along with the American Association of Blood Banks.) you should get out and give some blood. If you're eligible and in good health, you can donate whole blood every 56 days. That's every couple months - hell, schedule your donation days for the same days you get your car's oil changed. 

So what's in it for you besides saving a life? That should be enough - but if it isn't, there are plenty of incentives to donate.

First, you get to learn your own blood type and you get a handy card stating it. This is pretty vital information and most people don't know their blood type. It's of particular importance for women planning to be mothers - if you are a negative blood type and your baby is positive, you may need special care to ensure that your body doesn't develop immunity to your child's blood. I'm O- myself and when I was pregnant with my daughter (who is A+), there were a few times I had to know this and know it quickly. If I hadn't, who knows what would have happened?

Next up? Check your local Dunkin' Donuts. They've teamed up with the American Red Cross for the "Give a Pint, Get a Pound" campaign. If you live in an eligible state (mostly in the Northeastern part of the country - sorry, everyone else!), you can get a coupon for a free pound of Dunkin' Donuts coffee. Trading your blood for caffeine? Yes please!

Also? They feed you after they suck your blood. Sometimes it's just juice and cookies, other times the donation centers or the place holding the blood drive will go all out and order a pizza for donors who show up. It's really to make sure you're replenishing your nutrients after giving up so much of your blood, but hey? Free pizza. And you won't feel the need to run to the gym afterward because, let's face it, you've earned it.

Next? It's gonna sound pretty crummy, but if you're one of the many Americans without health insurance, you basically get a mini-physical.
Obviously I don't recommend that our readers rely on the blood donation process as a screening for sexually transmitted infections (HIV and hepatitis, primarily), but each time you donate, they check your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and iron levels. Even if you do have insurance, wouldn't you rather know sooner rather than later if you have a problem with one of those things? Those of us with insurance usually only get a physical exam once a year (if that - some of us are a little more lax. Oops). But things like high blood pressure, high or low heart rates, and low iron levels are all easier to treat when caught early. And donating blood regularly allows you to keep an eye on those numbers. So you aren't just helping someone else's health, you're keeping an eye on your own, too. 
Pinup Queen Bettie Page as a nurse.

If none of these reasons are good enough for you to even consider donating blood, think to the future. You're not psychic (and if you are, my apologies for the generalization. Please give me next week's lottery numbers if you would be so kind. No, I am not being patronizing. Writing doesn't pay well at all.) You don't know when you'll need someone else's blood. You could be in a car accident, fall from a ladder, bleed out after surgery, succumb to burns from a house or forest fire or any one of a million instances that could require you to receive blood from a donor. 

Someone else was courteous and courageous enough to donate their blood and take time out of their busy schedule to help future-you, so shouldn't you do the same? It doesn't take long and it doesn't require you to give money or anything but your time and blood. So what are you waiting for? Celebrate National Blood Donor Month by making an appointment to give blood. 

Have you donated blood recently? Got a favorite tip for making donations go easier? How about a favorite post-blood donation food or treat? Let us know in the comments below!

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