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I Donated Blood for the First Time at 27 and Had a Scary Reaction

Photograph by Travelsouls/iStock.com

I've always wanted to donate blood in the past, and think it's not only very important but also something easy for people to do. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I was never able to for a variety of reasons. I didn’t weigh enough for a while. (The weight limit is 110 pounds.) I had traveled to tropical places, and I was previously on a medicine that makes you unable to donate blood for some time after.

But, in December 2018, I weighed enough and there was a blood drive at work, so I was eager to take the plunge.

Although I don't love doctors or needles, I have to admit that the process wasn't bad. I have been told by many nurses in the past that I have good veins, so getting blood drawn is super easy for me. This was no different. They prick you and you lie there for 15 minutes as they take your blood. The doctors were very nice, and it was all going splendidly. I read a book while it was happening. Minus a slight tingling sensation in my arm due to the tourniquet, I felt completely OK.

I will admit, in the past I have once or twice fainted when I've seen blood so I asked them to cover my arm, which they did. But this has never been a justification for not donating, though, as I always thought the duty to donate was more important than being squeamish.

I always thought the duty to donate was more important than being squeamish.

Mentally and physically, I was initially fine‚ but that didn't last.

The donation took place at my office, and I was eager to get back and finish a project that was due in a of couple of hours. When I was done, the nurses said it was OK to sit up, so I did without thinking much of it. Suddenly, I couldn't see and fell back down on the bed.

My entire body went limp. Mentally, I was still aware, and I kept thinking, "What is going on? Get up, this is ridiculous!" but I absolutely could not move or see. Suddenly, my body kept trying to drag me into a passed-out state. But thanks to a team of doctors and nurses who were continuously slapping me gently, that wasn't possible, so I just sort of laid there, feeling paralyzed.

They lifted my feet up, I think to get more blood to my brain, and I had some seriously bad pins and needles in my feet as a consequence. I was starting to come back and had more control over my body when my heart started seriously hurting. It just felt like the area under my left boob was aching and tight—possible signs, I was told, of cardiac arrest. At this point, though, I was conscious again and was even able to send a text to my colleague to inform him I would be late returning to work.

The blood donation staff were completely shocked by my reaction (this was clearly not normal) and called emergency services.

They recommended that I go to the hospital, but I refused because I was feeling better and seriously stressed about finishing this work project. (In reality, this was probably stupid but I am still alive.) At this point, my heart was aching a bit still but I could walk, and my blood pressure was normal again. They made me stay for another 20-ish minutes to monitor me, had me eat something and drink water. Finally, after checking my blood pressure again and telling the office nurse about the situation, they let me go back to work. I felt horrible. I have to admit, I wasn't quite truthful to them about how I felt, but I did successfully get the project done just in time.

The medical staff made me promise two things: to not go home alone and to not sleep alone, in case I had a heart attack in the middle of the night.

I did end up going home alone and even did some shopping because I figured that if I passed out on my bus, people would be around. Running errands was an absolute struggle and was probably not the best idea. I did, however, listen to their advice and went to my boyfriend's that night. I don’t think I have ever felt so tired in my life. I just felt as if all the life and energy from my body was completely gone. I could barely lift my head by the time I arrived at my boyfriend’s apartment, and I just laid in bed all evening.

Again, I sort of downplayed how poor I was feeling because my boyfriend was about to leave a very important work meeting to check on me and I didn’t want that to happen. (He told me later that next time I decide to do something like donate blood, I need to actually tell him so he can clear his work schedule before.) He ended up cooking me a high-protein dinner that night, and I felt so much better. I had been snacking on small things since passing out, but I cannot believe how instantly better I felt after having a large portion of protein.

I slept well that night and went to work the next day. I felt winded walking to work and a bit tired, but better than the day before. My heart was still occasionally hurting, but it was just a dull ache and not the sudden cramping as it was when I passed out. (Again, I probably should've gone to a doctor but I had work to do.) I had more red meat at lunch, and by that evening I felt much better. Overall, it took just over 24 hours to recover from the whole ordeal.

I firmly believe people should donate blood—but I don't think my body is physically meant to donate.

Because of this, I'm not likely to do it again in the future, but I don't think that should deter others. Ultimately, we are not sure why it happened. They did check my blood before to make sure I was not anemic. I had just finished my period, which can make women anemic, but they said my blood was fine.

To be honest, my experience was incredibly scary. I obviously made some stupid decisions, like not seeing a doctor or going to the hospital. (Do not do this. Work is not that important.) I was really shaken up about it all after the fact. That doesn’t mean others shouldn't donate, but I think if you have any problems in the past with blood draws perhaps there are other ways of helping.

This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.