Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Giving blood during COVID-19 June 18, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I’VE NEVER GIVEN MUCH THOUGHT to donating blood through the American Red Cross. It’s just something I’ve done, off and on, for years, after finally following Randy’s lead. I discovered that donating was easy. Drink plenty of fluids on donation day. Show up, healthy, at the appointed time with my RapidPass health screening paperwork in hand, go through a brief pre-donation physical screening and then move on to the table to start the donation process.

But the familiar routine of giving blood all changed with COVID-19. Suddenly, I thought twice about donating. Did I really want to do this in the middle of a global pandemic? Donating blood requires being up close with those screening and drawing your blood. But then I decided I needed to trust that all necessary precautions would be taken to keep me safe. They were.

I arrived masked, as required. Just like everyone at the community center donation site. My temperature was checked twice, once before I even entered. Tables were widely spaced in the former gymnasium. The foam form I squeezed during donation was covered. And only one worker tended to me, unlike in the past. Or, I should qualify, a sole Red Cross employee took me to the point of inserting the needle into my vein. It was then that everything changed. And it had nothing to do with COVID-19. Pain shot through my arm. Pain so intense that I had to muffle my outburst. I don’t recall my exact words. But they were something like, “Either you need to fix this or take this needle out.”

Let me assure you that I have a high threshold for pain having broken two bones, suffered from severe osteoarthritis in my hip and undergone eight surgeries in my lifetime. Blood and needles don’t scare me. But sharp pain like this, that bothered me. The supervisor took charge, professionally assessing that the needle likely needed to be pushed deeper into my vein. She made the adjustment and the pain eased to soreness. The likely cause of the problem, she explained, was scar tissue build-up on the vein.

My blood flowed freely into the bag. Soon I was done and sent to the refreshment table for juice and/or water and individually-packaged snacks. Then I was on my way, my first blood donation during a global pandemic successfully completed. Nothing to it. I considered that the new precautions put in place likely should always have been part of Red Cross protocol.


From The Gaylord Hub article.


For blood donors in one Minnesota small town, though, the changes due to COVID-19 reached beyond masking, social-distancing, more screening, etc. According to an article in the June 11 issue of the weekly, The Gaylord Hub, a recent blood drive in Gaylord “proved challenging.” And that wasn’t only because of deferrals and no-shows. The newspaper story states that “Gaylord coordinators were unable to serve the usual sandwiches, chips, pickles and beer.” Yes, you read that right. Beer. I’ll allow you to decide whether drinking beer right after giving blood is a good idea.


My blood donation card, now filled. I recently received a new one in the mail. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


One new idea announced this week seems like a really good one. Starting June 15 and at least through the summer, all blood donations will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies. Positive results indicate the donor may have had previous exposure to the virus and could thereby be eligible for the Convalescent Plasma Donation Program designed to help those battling COVID-19. That screening makes sense and is just one more way donors can help others. So, next time I give blood, I’ll learn whether the crud I experienced at Christmas with a temp, fatigue, feeling down and out, and a severe cough that lingered for weeks was just a routine seasonal virus. Or more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


14 Responses to “Giving blood during COVID-19”

  1. Ruth Says:

    Beer, eh? I thought it was usually oj or apple juice. Sorry you had that awful pain. You gave the most important gift and I know your blood will be put to good use. It will be interesting to see the test results.

  2. Littlesundog Says:

    That made me laugh about the beer. I’ve had such bad luck donating blood. Too bad I can’t drink a beer BEFORE I give blood!! Your suggestion about hydrating well really does help. After one unsuccessful attempt years ago where three nurses gave a stab at drawing my blood, one took me aside telling me to hydrate well 24 hours before and especially an hour or two before the appointment. That’s worked well for me ever since. I’ve also found it helps to have Forrest with me – he’s always got a good sense of humor to keep me level, and to concentrate on the good all around me instead of projecting the pain and failed attempts I often worry about.

    • Forrest sounds a lot like Randy. We typically donate blood at the same time. I like to race him, seeing which of us can fill our blood bag faster. I always win. I think it’s partly because I hydrate well all day. It really does make a difference and I’m glad that worked for you also. Thanks for giving the gift of life.

  3. Marilyn Donnell Says:

    It has been a good while since they last allowed me to give blood. It was the third time I had a hard time in recovery and I think they gave me back some of my own blood! I ate so many cookies and juice afterwards, totally embarrassing! I think I had a significant haul of booty (cookies) in my handbag, too. I felt fine as soon as I got home. Too bad because I have a star on my card that indicates I have some antigen that ear-marked it for neo-natal specific usage. Hats off to all blood donors everywhere.

    • Marilyn, I’m sorry for that challenge you faced when donating blood. But I’m thankful for the times you did give. I’ve not heard of a special card marking such as you describe. That’s interesting.

      • Marilyn Donnell Says:

        The star on my card means I am CMV negative; CMV is cytomegalovirus, a flu-like virus many people get. Most people don’t know they have been infected. Once the virus is in the body, it stays there for life. About 50% of the general population has the virus.
        For blood transfusion it is important to know whether the virus is present or not. When you are CMV+ (meaning the virus is present) blood cannot be given to: pregnant women, newborn babies, children, and patients with a weak immune system.
        The CMV status can change over time and donated blood is usually tested for presence of CMV. When it is already known that you are CMV+, it can be put on your donor card so they don’t have to run the test (you are positive for life).
        Sometimes CMV- (absence of the virus) is also noted on the donor card, but this status can change and is checked for each donation! My blood was always negative and it seemed to me the nurses at the donation clinic were always happy to get my blood. It was stored separately from the other donations. I used to give blood quarterly here in Australia, and gave only three times in the USA (each time for specific needs, someone needing it for an operation, etc). It was in the USA that my card was first tagged. The nurses here were the ones who told me about the special needs usage. [I got much of this on the ‘net. I thought it was some type of antigen as I first posted. Now we both know!]

      • Thanks for the info, Marilyn. I bet some of this is in the info I read before donating. I just did not recall. Thank you for taking the time to research this and share here.

  4. valeriebollinger Says:

    I have a plan to donate blood in a couple weeks. I have before (but not since Covid-19) and it has always been a positive experience.

  5. Neil Says:

    Audrey – Make a mental note of exactly where they stuck you for this donation. If you can avoid it, don’t let them stick you in that same spot ever again. If you have other good, viable veins, tell them to use those instead. Your other arm is a good choice. If they have to use that same vein, have them stick you either slightly above or slightly below the spot where you were stuck this time. You have a sensitive nerve in that spot, and now that you know it’s there, it’s best to steer clear of it.

    • Thanks for the advice, Neil. I appreciate it as I am in no hurry to re-experience the pain I felt last time. I’ve always used my right arm because it has a “better” vein than my left. But I will certainly switch. Does it matter that I have a plate in my left wrist? You’re talking to a non-medical person here. Obviously.

  6. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    I don’t know anyone that donates with such dedicated diligence, but I’m thankful as I had 9 pts with my second child, something about the fibrinogen being low making clotting difficult. That was the 60s, now they test. So, I am VERY thankful there are folks like you and Randy! Have a beer on me!

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