February is the time of year that finds many of us already viewing our New Year’s resolutions through the rearview mirror. But there’s one resolution we can make anytime — one that benefits others as well as ourselves: donating blood.
This time of year, in fact, even routine blood and platelet donors often cannot make it to their appointments due to storms, which makes everyday shortages still worse.
Already this year, according to the Red Cross, severe weather has forced about 600 blood drives to cancel, leaving supplies short of more than 17,500 uncollected blood and platelet donations.
As if the news weren’t bad enough, widespread flu across the country has reduced turnout at the blood drives that do take place. All of this means that someone who needs an emergency transfusion due to an accident, a surgery, or an illness that causes anemia, such as leukemia or kidney disease, might not make it to the spring.
And because blood is perishable, what blood centers can collect in milder weather won’t benefit many in desperation.
"Even temporary disruptions to blood and platelet donations can diminish the availability for hospital patients," said Clifford Numark, senior vice president, Red Cross Blood Services, in a note to the media. "It's the blood on the shelves that helps save lives in an emergency, and that's why we're asking eligible individuals to make an appointment to give blood or platelets today."
A quick online search will help you pinpoint the closest blood drive or center, with donation hours and sometimes walk-in donations. The process itself is quick — and could even make you healthier. Once you complete a brief questionnaire, you get a mini-physical with temperature, blood pressure, iron level and other checks, and you're told right away if any levels are out of normal ranges.
"It's the blood on the shelves that helps save lives in an emergency ... We're asking eligible individuals to make an appointment to give blood or platelets today."
Once cleared, you begin your selected donation option: whole blood, platelets (the blood's clotting agent) or one of two forms of red-cell donation. Each type of donation differs in the process and duration — along with how often you can donate. (A whole blood donation, which I can do every 56 days, takes about 10 minutes.)
The most enjoyable part of the visit, other than the rush of sheer gratification, is sitting in the snack room afterward with your choice of juice, coffee, cookies, and other treats.
For the remainder of the day you donate, take it easy. Do no heavy lifting, especially with the arm you used for the donation, and go slowly up any stairs. Drink extra fluids, avoid smoking, and drink no alcoholic beverages until after you've had a meal with water or another nonalcoholic drink.
For routine donors like myself, at the end comes a blessing. The New York Blood Center, for which I donate some six times a year, sends an email afterward to tell me which area hospital received the blood I donated.
Since whole blood is broken up into various components, this follow-up might be only part of the story.
Still, it's enough to tell me I'm part of a great effort — which helps many people, across the nation, to see another day.
This article has been updated with the latest figures.
Last Modified: February 8, 2018, 10:58 pm