Give Blood, damnit.

Yesterday I once again answered the call of the vampire and visited the friendly neighborhood phlebotomist (there was a blood drive on base). I’ve given blood often over the years, and generally have no problems or after effects whatsoever. Occasionally I’ve had some mild dizziness and had to sit around a little longer than normal before resuming my day, but nothing to write home (or on a webpage) about.

Yesterday was a little different. For one, I felt the effect while the phlebotomist (I’ll just call him “the leech” from now on) was capping off the bag and preparing to fill the mandatory test tubes. I asked to be reclined, and he did so immediately – and I felt better almost immediately. He was actually pleased that I felt it coming and said something, as most folks just wait till they crumple to the floor while trying to stand to mention they’re feeling dizzy. That really obnoxious feeling of wanting to black out pervaded for awhile, mixed in with periods where I was certain I was fully readjusted and ready to get up. The leech got me a little bottle of sports drink and monitored my pulse and blood pressure for about 15 minutes while I remained reclined and chatted up the worried looking donors around me (trying to reassure them that this was not the typical response to donating blood!)

The leech suggested we try sitting up to see how it was going. Five minutes later, as I felt the world again closing in rapidly on all sides, I went back to full recline for another 20 minutes or so. While the leech and a nurse were discussing my condition, I found it amusing to note their concern over my extremely low blood pressure reading taken when I first felt myself slipping. I was asked no less than three times “did you pass out?”, followed by (what seemed to me, at least) a sense of awe that I was able to retain consciousness when my blood pressure was in relatively dangerous territory. Hey, if you’re gonna go down, go down hard. That’s a good enough rule to live by, I think.

After most of an hour of laying about with my legs up, sipping powerade and testing my limits, my pulse and blood pressure finally returned to normal and I was able to stand up, walk around, and eventually leave.

Later, while trying to determine what I had done differently that day, as opposed to the times I’d donated without incident, one thing seemed to stand out: Food. I had eaten plenty, but what I ate was not what I once would have called “typical”. I started the day with my now-normal breakfast of a banana and an apple, cut up and munched during my morning drive to work; during the morning I ate my daily mix of peanuts and raisins (about 1/2 a cup) that serves as my mid-morning snack, and before heading off to visit the leech and his cohorts, I munched down a dozen mini-carrots and a few slices of cucumber. All veggies. No meat. Very little sugar.

I’ve found nothing to confirm my suspicions, but I can anecdotally recall times when I munched down a grease-burger from the local McD’s before donating just to avoid bleeding on an empty stomach, and had no problems whatsoever. I can also remember an experience similar to this most recent after donating on an empty stomach (which led to the burger runs I just mentioned).

So… My hypothesis when donating blood:
Empty stomach: Bad.
Full stomach with nothing but “healthy” foods: Bad.
Full stomach with foods that would make Jerrod cry: Excellent.

I’ll test this theory again at the next blood drive (should be a couple of months) and try to remember to report my findings here.

For good measure, I’ll add this study’s findings to my hypothesis, and slam a mug of water beforehand, too.

“As we considered that finding, it occurred to us that there is a big problem with people passing out after giving blood,” says David Robertson, M.D., senior author of the other report. “We believe that around 150,000 people a year faint or experience near-fainting after blood donations, and many of those people never give blood again.

For those potential blood donors who may read this in a bad light – don’t be a wimp! If you pass out from giving blood, there are professionals on hand to ensure you’re well taken care of. It’s not unusual, and not cause for shame. A few minutes of discomfort for you – the gift of life for the recipients of your donation. If you learn the causes, you can work to avoid or minimize these negative effects.

I am.