We've all seen the blood-mobiles in office, school, or business parking lots, offering free t-shirts and a soda to anyone who will step up and donate. Donating blood can be a scary prospect, especially for someone who's afraid of needles, but in the end there is actually very little to worry about.
The first step in donating blood is filling out a simple form. This form will ask basic questions about your medical history in order to make sure your blood is safe for other people to receive. Some of these questions can be fairly personal, referring to your medical and sexual history, but all the information is completely confidential. If at any time you feel like your blood should not be donated to others, you can contact the center you donated at.
Next you will be called into a side office and a nurse will go over the form with you and check your vitals. This includes pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. There will also be a finger-stick to test the iron levels of your blood. This is slightly painful, but it is over quickly. If you are deemed in good enough health to donate, you will be invited to step out of the office and recline in one of the donating chairs.
At this point a nurse will clean the inside of your elbow with iodine, apply a tourniquet, feel for a vein, and insert the needle. Most people find this relatively painless. Once the needle is in, the tourniquet will be removed, and you may be asked to pump your fist several times in order to encourage the blood flow. Now all that remains if for you to sit back and enjoy the free soda as your body does all the work.
You may feel slightly lightheaded after donating, but for most people there are no terribly unpleasant side effects. Once you have finished donating, the nurse will wrap your elbow in a bandage and instruct you to keep it on for several hours, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid heavy exercise. Your ordeal will be over before you know it, and the blood you donate could save up to three lives. Not bad results for a few minutes reclining in a chair.