I donated blood yesterday at Bloodworks Northwest.
Bloodworks Northwest provides the blood supply for 90 Northwest hospitals. When COVID-19 hit, Bloodworks' blood supply started drying up. Jun, the phlebotomist who took my blood yesterday, told me that they need about 1,000 donors a day to make sure their blood supply meets demand.
According to Bloodworks Northwest, approximately 60% of their blood supply is collected at mobile drives. Twenty-five percent of that blood comes from schools. So when institutions and businesses started closing, blood drives got canceled. Bloodworks Northwest started to panic.
Fortunately, after getting the word out, blood donors started pouring in. I was one of them.
I went down to Bloodworks Northwest's central location on First Hill. To combat COVID-19 fears, Bloodworks Northwest has taken new precautions like making all donations by appointment, weeding some of the chairs from the waiting room to promote social distancing, and taking out all magazines.
When I arrived, a phlebotomist asked if I'd had anything to eat. I had. What about water? Apparently, hydration increases blood volume and makes the donation process go more quickly and more painlessly. I hesitated. The phlebotomist handed me a Propel and some crackers.
I then filled out a questionnaire on an iPad. There were questions about whether I had lived in Europe between the '80s and 1996 (I was born in 1996), if I'd gotten a tattoo at an unlicensed parlor in the last year (it's a myth that you can't donate if you have tattoos! They just don't want you donating if your friend gave you a stick and poke in an alley or something), and a whole lot about HIV.
(*Men who have sex with men [official terminology] can't donate blood if they've had sex with men in the last year. This is a homophobic rule that Bloodworks Northwest has been lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to change for years. The all-out ban was changed in 2015 to allow men who have sex with men to donate if they haven't had sex with a man in a year. That is still, obviously, fucked up. I've sent questions to the FDA on if they will consider changing this rule due to the pandemic we're facing. I haven't heard back.)
Next, I was screened by my phlebotomist for the day, Jun. I answered some questions, got my finger pricked to test my iron level to see if I was anemic. I wasn't! I passed! The finger prick was the most painful part.
Jun led me to a room with a bunch of reclined cushy chairs. I think I must have strangely opaque skin or really shy veins because every time a medical professional needs to find a vein in my arm they can't. After some troubleshooting and arm-switching, Jun found one and started draining me of my life fluids.
I only spent 10 minutes in the chair donating blood. I asked Jun how many arms he punctures on a normal day. Jun said normally five or six, but since the outpouring of donations, it's been ten or twelve! Jun and I also have the same blood type. We were very excited about this.
I got to pick any color (besides orange or green) for my arm bandage. I picked yellow. Then, I sat in the "canteen" next to the donation room for about 15 minutes and chugged apple juice and ate nacho cheese Doritos and a Cougar Mountain cookie.
It's hard to tell what will happen in the coming weeks. A shelter-in-place order could critically impact supplies, a spokesperson with Bloodworks Northwest told me. They're figuring this out at the same time as everyone else. What we do know is that Bloodworks Northwest will need donations. The process isn't scary, it only takes about 45 minutes, there are free snacks (!!!), and it feels like you're doing something useful because you are.
I have to wait 56 days until my next donation. You can find where to donate here.