View Full Version : What I wish I had know before I donated blood

09-30-2007, 02:00 AM
Hello all. As is standard operating procedure, I was to donate a few units of my own blood in anticipation of my surgery. This is called an autologous donation or some such. Never having donated blood before, I didn't know what to expect, and I had some problems that I hope I can help you avoid. (For the bottom-line advice with out the narrative explanation, skip to the end.)

Here's what I did not know never having donated blood before. First of all, it's no big deal unless you're one of those people with tiny veins. If you are, you already know it because you must have had blood drawn before and it was painful. But if you're not--it's a breeze.

The kicker is your iron level. Women are commonly disqualified from donating blood because their iron level is too low (crit level I think they were calling it). 38 is the minimum for a good samaritan donation. You can do an autologous donation with a crit of 33. But the first time I went in, mine was 31. Rejected. Came back a week later after adding iron supplements to my daily regimen. Crit was 38--huzzah! But my temperature was 99.7. Rejected. I felt fine. I think my mistake was eating a cinnamon altoid in the waiting area. Apparently you must avoid all beverages and candy for 20 minutes before a temp reading. I had not known that. Another wasted 2 hours for Holly.

As you may have surmised, at this point, the schedule was getting tight and it was looking decreasingly like I could get 2 units in on time. Everything else would have to go right. And I would have to not be developing an infection. I had to be adamant with the schedulers that day--that I felt fine, that I thought that the temp was an anomaly and that I wanted to come back the next day. They wanted me to wait several days, we compromised on 2.

2 days later, crit was 36, temp was 99.2 (acceptable) and the donation went swimmingly. Not painful, not sick-making. It was a dawdle. They gave me delicious lemonade and fig newtons. And a foot massage. Not really, but that would have been awesome.

I week later. All the delays had made this the last possible donation time. I had continued my iron pills, but my crit was back down to 31. Rejected. Again. Total output in 5 weeks of donations: 1 unit.

It's not even close to the end of the world. I feel comfortable possibly receiving blood-bank blood. It's just that it's such a stressful and hectic time when you are preparing for surgery, that it's best to have everything go as smoothly as possible. 4 trips to the blood bank yielding one measly unit--not so smoothly. It led to a lot of compensatory stress-shopping. Which led to buyers remorse.

So here it is: the fruits of my experience.
1--begin taking iron supplements weeks before your first donation and keep it up until surgery

2--In one of your consults with your surgeon, ask him how many units he wants, and how long he wants it to be between your last donation and the surgery. Then consult with a bloodbank about how long you should wait between donations (this can vary among people). With that information construct your own donation timetable that leaves a couple of weeks of cushion at least--if you get a cold, for example, they won't let you donate, or your crit may fall too low during your period to donate. Then push that agenda aggressively on the sometimes too laid-back and jaded staff who seem so used to what they are doing that they don't seem to get that it is really important to you. Just my experience.

Hope all goes well for you. May they take your blood in peace. Ew.


09-30-2007, 02:23 AM
Hi Holly,

Don't let this discourage you!!! I found that blood donations were a very strange operation!!! Mine was through the local red cross and it was almost funny how it turned out.

Yes we want to donate our own blood, but if we are doing it with a disfunctional organization, it's unfortunate, but not a deal breaker. Your surgeon will make sure there is blood avaliable if it is needed!!!

You will be under enough stress from the anticipation of the surgery, don't worry about the trivial blood donation that you really have no control over. I found it be somewhat of a joke, in my case. I donated 2 units, and my husband, who has the same blood type as me wasn't able to give blood, it was one of their rules. :confused: Their reason being that I may become pregnant in the future??? I was 45 and he was 55. We really didn't have that in our plans.

I had to laugh, who in hell would want to go through this kind of surgery, and then decide to get pregnant at our age???

I could go on and on, but I'll leave it at that!!! :D


09-30-2007, 11:43 AM
Hi Holly...

Enjoyed your writing!

Many surgeons are now semi-recommending that scoliosis surgery patients not even try to donate their own blood. The incidence of complications from blood bank blood is tiny, and the problems with donating one's own blood are numerous. The stress is definitely not good for one's health.

For me, donating 7 units in 7 weeks was a piece of cake.

Good luck!


09-30-2007, 11:46 AM
I think some people dropped the ball for you. For all three of my surgeries (two different surgeons) I was started on iron pills quite a while before the "window" during which I was to donate blood, and was told to continue the pills for a month after my surgery. It's my understanding that you can't donate your own blood too early because it will degrade over time. I also recall for my first surgery my surgeon wanted three pints, but one of the pints didn't pass muster and I ended up with one donor pint. For my last surgery, they required only one pint and I did it through the Red Cross. Red Cross gave me all kinds of good instructions and it went off without a hitch, although I was a little more dizzy this time around. Ironically, that one pint was fine for the surgery, but my blood oxygen level was low AFTER the surgery and I ended up with another donor pint. BTW, I happen to have good veins. But over many, many, many years of being "stuck" for blood, I found a lot depends on the skills of the person doing the "sticking." I've had mostly good ones, but a few really bad ones.

I believe in a perfect world your own blood is the best solution, but failing that, we have to trust that donor blood is safe.

09-30-2007, 11:46 AM
My surgeon has told me I'll be better off with someone else's blood than with my own - I have a suppressed immune system. So I will pass those tips on to my boyfriend (who says he loves me enough to give me the blood from his own veins) who will donate on my behalf!

Thank you, and best of luck on wednesday!

09-30-2007, 12:06 PM
4 trips to the blood bank yielding one measly unit--not so smoothly. It led to a lot of compensatory stress-shopping. Which led to buyers remorse.

With that information construct your own donation timetable that leaves a couple of weeks of cushion at least.


Sorry to hear that you had to deal with this when your stress levels already are high.

I laughed at how you dealt with this issue - compensatory stress-shopping ! Save the receipts, so you can return these items, post-surgery, and buy all those form-fitting clothes we all look forward to wearing.

Thanks for all the helpful suggestions. I've been advised that donation restrictions limit the time that un-frozen blood (it is very costly to freeze blood) can be kept to about 33 days pre-op, which means, at best, only 4 units if all goes well (I plan to donate locally and have the units flown to NYC - another worry if there are any air transportation problems at that time! ).

Very best wishes - your sense of humor surely will help during the times you may feel down!


09-30-2007, 07:42 PM
Hi Holly. I can sympathize with you! I too went through much stress when donating blood prior to my surgery. The first time I went, my pulse was too high and it turned out I also had a slight stomach bug, so they sent me home. The second time, my pulse was still high (nerves) and I told them to just give me a chance to relax. Luckily I was able to relax and donated. Then I went back another time as well, but was still short a unit. Then at the last minute, I tried to find someone who had my "not so common" blood type, to donate for me. I did find someone just in time. I found the whole process stressful, especially the part where they tell you that you cannot donate if you are sick. And I was working with preschoolers with runny noses, so I was constantly worried I'd get sick.
My surgeon's office had me on iron weeks before the donations.
Good luck with your surgery!