I got serious about donating blood after 9/11.
Before the terrorist attacks of 2001, I had given only sporadically. After the tragedy, I reasoned that giving blood was all I could do to help those injured in New York and Washington, D.C.
On September 12, I joined the crowd of folks outside the Statehouse and waited for hours. The weather was as pleasant as he day before, but the atmosphere was saturated with uncertainty and unease. Conversations were subdued.
When I finally made it inside the donation bus, the Red Cross workers were pleasant but serious. They were eager to collect as many donations as possible in the time available
I found out later that my blood probably didn't help any 9/11 attack victims, given the limited number of survivors. Still, I knew that I had helped someone, somewhere, in a concrete and personal way. Whether that someone was a child with leukemia, a crash victim, or a heart patient didn't matter.
My dad used to give blood regularly. I remember him receiving calls at night, asking him to donate. He always did.
Dad was a quiet guy, never one to talk much about himself or what he did. He led by example. After I felt the satisfaction of my September 12 donation, I understood why he donated.
Yes, the donation process involves a needle and needles make some people uneasy. But there are tricks to easing the process.
A longtime donor once told me to drink a caffeinated beverage (nondiet) before giving blood. The hydration, caffeine, and sugar help the body to overcome the loss of a pint of fluid. (So I always drink a full-powered Coke before a donation.)
The process begins with registration. You will read some eligibility and donation information and be asked to show a donor card, driver's license, or other form or identification. You will answer several questions about your health history and about places to which you have travelled - information that is kept confidential.
The staff will check your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure; they'll check your hemoglobin level by taking a drop of blood from a finger. The mini-physical ensures that you are healthy enough to donate.
Then comes the actual donation. A staff member will clean an area of one arm before using a brand-new sterile needle for the draw.
I have never seen the needle actually being inserted in my arm. I look away. But you will feel a little pinch.
A regular donation usually takes about 10 minutes. The needle comes out (also something I haven't seen) after about a pint is collected, and a bandage is placed on your arm.
The Red Cross recommends that donors hang around for about 10 minutes and have a drink and a snack. You are also encouraged to double up on your non-alcoholic liquid intake for the next 24 hours.
You might receive a Red Cross T-shirt or a coupon to a Columbus-area restaurant.
Whether or not you leave with any swag or not, though, you will certainly walk out with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment at having helped someone in need.
Hilliard resident Randy Imwalle, 55, notes that March is Red Cross Month, the perfect time to donate blood.
This essay originally appeared in the March 18, 2017 Columbus Dispatch.