Water & Blood Donation


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How Hydrated Are You, Really?

This past Monday, (July 11, 2011), I donated 550 cc of blood (which is the same as 550 mL, which is equivalent to approximately      2 1/4 Cups) at Canadian Blood Services.  It was my fastest donation to date.  It took a total of 4 Minutes and 20 seconds. Sounds like a one of my workout Tabatas. Not that it’s a race and it shouldn’t be, but it was quite comical. I joke that these 4 Minutes are following me everywhere!

The first time I gave blood was in high school at age seventeen –and it didn’t end well.  The nurse suggested I leave it for a few years before I try to make another donation.  I realize now, that the cause was dehydration.  At seventeen drinking enough water was not on my radar. After that experience I was determined to give blood regularly. The idea of giving blood was one of the reasons behind building up my muscle mass; I was falsely under the impression that greater muscle mass equated greater blood flow.  Unfortunately, I never got back around to making a donation until March of this year.

About four years ago when I was at the height of my unwell phase: recurring colds, depleted immune system and chronic cough (I wrote about it here: http://youasamachine.com/inspiration/motivation/)

I got a phone call from a friend telling me that her three-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with Leukemia.  (Our daughters are the same age). I asked if there was anything I could do.  “Please,” she asked, “if you are able, donate blood.”

I was all geared up to do my part but I couldn’t -I wasn’t well enough.  I had this cough and just wasn’t well.  This really bothered me for two reasons: 1) I couldn’t help my friends’ daughter and 2) Not being well enough to help out was a testament to my own health.

This was a bit of an eye opener for me, which made me question my health on a larger scale.  If I was not even well enough to donate blood, what did that say about my health in general?  I was now on a mission to change my course.  It was a long road, but I finally made it.

Only to hear news of my hair stylist who was diagnosed with Leukemia this past November.  The same message was sent out:

Please, if you are able: donate blood.

So by March of this year I was finally well enough to make my first donation. After two years of building on my ferritin levels, they were finally high enough (one must have a haemoglobin level of 125 or higher to make a donation). So now that I was healthy, I had to pass the screening questionnaire, which isn’t easy. I have made a donation every 56 days since.  My goal is to be a regular donor every 56 days, which is the most frequent one can.

Now here’s what I have learned along the way.


You must be very well hydrated to donate blood.  But that doesn’t mean just guzzle a liter of water the day of your appointment. For me it means being very conscious about hydrating myself daily, on a regular basis.  Being an Aerobic instructor from the nineties I had been convinced of the benefits of being well hydrated.  In the nineties it was rare not to bee seen walking around with a litre of water and drinking from it non-stop (which was a little excessive). However, now as a mom always running around with endless errands and chores (like everyone else), it is easy to forget to drink enough water.

My first donation in March went smoothly enough, it took the entire fifteen minutes. (On average a donation takes between five and fifteen minutes). My second donation, in May, took about ten minutes or so just to fill the bag half way!  My blood was moving at a very sluggish pace.  And the nurse stopped the collection. I was disappointed.  What happened?  Did I do something wrong?  Could I have been dehydrated – ME? I always made a point of eating generously leading up to my appointments but maybe I hadn’t focused enough on hydration?

So began my next experiment.  More water every day for 56 days until my next blood donation appointment.

It worked. What a difference. My blood filled up the bag within four minutes and twenty seconds.  This is not great either, however.  There is a concern for our body when a large quantity of blood leaves the body at a rapid pace.  As a result I was kept on observation.  I felt fine though, drank my juice, filled up on water and more food and was cleared to leave. Now that I’ve got my hydration figured out I will monitor the speed of the blood collection and meditate if needed, to slow it down and maybe not squeeze the little hand ball (at such a feverish pace) which they give you to facilitate blood flow. What fun!

In all, I put aside an hour every 56 days to visit Canadian Blood Services.  If you are healthy and can pass the screening, please consider making this a regular habit. It can make such a difference to those around you.

If you are unable to donate blood for one of the numerous reasons that prevent many from doing so, at least you can focus on your own health, which helps everyone:

  • Staying well hydrated. Find the balance and be careful not to over-hydrate.
  • Eating fresh, whole, unrefined and unprocessed foods.
  • Getting eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Maintaining your physical body with daily exercise.
  • Flossing and brushing your teeth consistently.
Update: My friends’ daughter is now a healthy seven year old and my hair stylist has made an unbelievably quick recovery and is back to work.


  1. sometimes, if the nurse doesn’t get the correct position on the vein then it will flow too slowly and you won’t be able to complete the donation. Nothing to do with your blood, just the way the nurse put in the needle. Has happened to me before on the same vein that I always donate from, and they told me that was the reason for having to stop it….. I think sometimes the flow depends on the size of your vein, I generally donate very quickly, almost always around 5min, and I think its because my vein is very big (there was not reason for the nurse not getting it right that time, she just wasn’t paying attention properly when she put the needle in). And of course, make sure I’m hydrated and healthy before donating!

  2. Great article. I have made a point of donating as often as I can, but more often than not am turned away for low iron. I had a similar reaction as yours in that I felt bad that I couldn’t help by donating, so made many efforts to increase my iron in-between appointments, only to be turned down again and again. They pretty much told me to stop coming, that donating blood wasn’t for everyone. Well, I want to donate! So, I continue to try to increase my iron, and just today my husband and I booked for an upcoming app’t. Wish me luck!

    1. Be mindful of where you are in your cycle. I was rejected for low iron 3 weeks ago (day 3 of my cycle) and today I was good to go (you can do the math). The iron in a woman’s body fluctuates greatly depending where she is in her cycle.

      1. Fantastic point and well received! I’ve been perimenopausal since age 34 (it’s been now 12 years of this roller coaster ride) and so my menstrual cycle has been consistently irregular. I’m certain there are many women in the same situation, as hormones start to fluctuate everything becomes incredible difficult to analyze.

  3. Excellent. I’ve made the habit of drinking about 24oz of water in the morning and letting it go through my system before eating anything. I find it to be very cleansing and aids in digestion of my first meal.

    1. Shortly after I read your comment I came across this tip from Brendan Brazier, which made me think about what you said.

      “And here’s a tip for staying hydrated: Sip a glass of water within 10 minutes of waking up and you’ll replace all the liquid you lost overnight. I call it post-sleep rehydration and it’s very important if you work out in the mornings.”

      I’ve started to do the same, thanks for the tip. Interesting how we sometimes need to hear the same words a few times to drive it home.

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