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Operation Pulse Lift - Blood Donor Safety Checklist


Blood Donor – Safety Primer

Dr. Bob Ditch, Lt Col, CAP

Have you ever considered becoming a member of Civil Air Patrol’s Operation Pulse Lift - Blood Program Alumni Team?  Known as “The Covey,” this group of 200+ frequent flier donors provide the “Gift of Life” as often as it is safe to do so. I say “safe,” as even though blood donating is a pretty safe practice today, there are a few things you need to consider if you want to donate blood. So, like everything else in Civil Air Patrol, let’s follow a safety checklist and countdown for your “Gift of Life.”

Decision to donate

  • Once you’ve made the decision to donate and have taken the effort to go along to making an appointment, you want to be sure that you can donate. Although most people can donate, there are some restrictions - depending on things like your health, medication, and whether you have been traveling overseas. There are many sites you can go to, to help you decide whether you are healthy enough and eligible to donate. One is provided by the American Red Cross and can be accessed at .  Take some time to review it and contact your local donor agency if there are any questions. If you do have any questions; or have had any major health issues, surgery, injuries, increase or change in medications/medical conditions; we recommend you check with your doctor before making an appointment to donate.

Preparing for D-Day (Donation Day, Minus 3 )

  • Eat regularly before donating. This will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Avoid being on any restricted diets or fasts. This is important so that you don’t feel lightheaded or dizzy after your donation. Also, have a snack before you donate to help maintain these blood sugar levels. Ensuring that your diet contains foods rich in iron - such as meats and green leafy vegetables - will help to keep you feeling well during and after donating.
  • Increase your water intake. Remember, almost half of the blood that you donate is made up of water. The fluids that you lose during donation can result in a drop in blood pressure – causing you to feel faint and dizzy. To help reduce this occurrence from happening, you should begin increasing your intake of water each day for three days prior to the donation. Get your body used to the increased fluid load.  On D-Day, drink 500ml of water immediately before you donate – there typically is water available at the donation center to help you hydrate before you donate. If you are urinating frequently, you have probably met the intent of the drinking. Again, it is very important to that you are well hydrated in the days leading up to your donation. This will help to compensate for the fluids lost during the donation and will help to bring your blood volume levels back to normal more rapidly.
  • Get a full night's rest. It is recommended that you have a full night’s sleep of between 7 and 9 hours the night before your donation. This will help you to feel more alert when you donate, which will in turn reduce the risk of feeling unwell. Try to avoid coming in to donate right after a long and tiring day of work. Also avoid donating on workdays if you are doing a lot of heavy manual labor or working around machinery. You want to always be at your peak performance level when engaged in these work-related physical activities.
  • Take time off from important duties. If you are on-call for CAP Emergency Services activities, take a day off and reconstitute your personal "health readiness." That means no ground team, incident command post, and especially no aircrew duties. According to Lieutenant General Bruce Green; Command Flight Surgeon, and former Surgeon General of the U.S. Air Force; aircrew members should wait 24 or more hours before they perform any aircrew duties after donating blood. If you are a Flight (or Ground Team) Release Officer, add this question (Have you [or anyone on your crew] donated blood lately and how are you feeling today?) to your aircrew release checklist
  • Avoid Alcohol. It is essential to avoid alcohol before and after donating as this may affect hydration levels and delay recovery. The same goes for drinking caffeinated drinks like colas, energy drinks, or coffee. Try to avoid anything that could cause dilation of your blood vessels. Remember, the donation process will drop your fluid levels, so you don’t want to increase the size of the pipes while you are reducing the volume at the same time.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing and remove all over garments like jackets. Sweatshirts or large sweaters are the best things to wear if it is a little cool. Remember, most Blood Donor Centers like to keep their temperatures down in the donor rooms, so you may get a bit chilled just sitting there. The clinicians will need to roll up your sleeve past your elbow when you donate – to allow easy access to your veins. To make sure that you are comfortable, please wear clothing with loose sleeves.While not required, please consider wearing a face covering to protect others and yourself. Face masks are available if you would like to wear one. Just ask one of the staff.

D-Day and H-Hour

  • Avoid bringing small children or animals to the donor center. They need to be watched and the staff does not have the time nor the means to do so. If you have a service animal do not offer it to a staff member to watch. We have seen them turn on clinical and support staff who appear (to the animal) to be injuring their owner – yes it has even happened to a cadet in CAP before when he voluntarily assisted to watch a donor’s service dog. Just contact your blood donor agency for guidance on attendance by service animals. Again, they are your responsibility.
  • Bring a friend. While it is not required to do so, it is always best to have someone accompany you to give blood. Pick a “Wing Man” who you can alternate with you on an every other month basis. You ride on one month and drive them the next when they donate. Again, this is not required but it is one additional precaution you can take if you feel a little woozy after donating.
  • Show up on time. It is very important to be at the donor center a few minutes before schedule so the clinical team/support staff can manage donors more effectively. It will also give you the opportunity to snatch a few more drinks of water and some cookies (usually provided at the blood donor drives).
  • Try not to rush things and get flustered if you are running late for your donor appointment - it happens. Anxiety could raise your blood pressure and pulse and make you ineligible to donate. If you are running late, take your time and just show up. The teams are pretty accommodating for folks running a little late. Just don't blow it off and not show.
  • Bring something to read. Bring a book or a copy of the last Region, Wing, or National Civil Air Patrol magazines (or other periodical) to chill out with while you are donating. Again, make this a pleasant and relaxing occasion. Then leave it for another donor to read (great marketing and recruitment tool).

H-Plus 1 Hour

  • When they release you from your donor bed, don’t get up to quickly. You should perform a personal “Orthostatic Test.” To do so, sit up slowly with your feet hanging over the donor table/bed. Move your ankles in small figure-eight circles and both extend and flex your legs for a few minutes to get the circulation going. Then, with someone next to you, stand up slowly and get your bearings to make sure you are ok to begin walking. After one minute of standing (bending your knees)you should be ok to walk straight to the recovery area/canteen.  If you feel the least bit dizzy, immediately announce this to the clinical staff and lie back down. Don’t sit, lie back down. They will take it from there to make sure you have a safe recovery. Again, bring water with you and hydrate the whole time you are donating.
  • Stay hydrated. Once you are in the recovery/canteen are, grab another bottle of water or juice and start drinking it slowly, Again, stay away from caffeinated products. Enjoy some cookies also to get those sugar levels back up. Stay in the canteen area for 10-15 minutes before trying to get up and leave the premises. Again, if you start to feel light-headed or woozy, let someone know. Never question the alertness of your driving abilities if you feel even just a little bit off.  They handle such situations often and know what to do to protect you. Chances are this won’t happen to you, but we only mention it because it has happened (to Civil Air Patrol members also).

Post Donation Thoughts

  • When you get home, or at work, continue hydrating and have a good meal. Try to avoid any rigorous work , sport activities, or working with machinery. You might want to also avoid doing other errands like grocery shopping or anything that keeps you on your feet for a while after donating.
  • Monitor how you feel. If you start feeling nauseous, having a headache, or feel woozy, let someone know. Rarely will you have to call 911, but it does happen every once and a while. Again, it is always best to be around others after the donation. There was once a Air Force officer who fell during a sports event on the same day of his donation and had to go to the hospital for stomach pain. When they did his intake lab work, they realized that he had somehow lost a lot of blood. The presumptive diagnosis what that he was bleeding internally. As a result, he was admitted that Friday afternoon over a three-day holiday weekend as they watched his blood levels go up every day. So, if by chance you have to see a doctor or dentist for anything after donating blood – let them know you donated. Yes, this is a true story, and the author of this article was the dumb Air Force First Lieutenant who spent the three day holiday weekend in a hospital bed, instead of on the beach in Florida. It finally dawned on him on the Sunday afternoon, how he had been dumb and he let the staff know. He was immediately discharged– full disclosure.
  • Stick with one blood collection agency that monitors your history of donations. They will not only help you process in but will help you remember when you are eligible (56 days) to donate. Try not to beat the system and donate more often (by going to multiple agencies). That is in medical terms, "ungood."

Donating blood can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as an individual, but you should do it with a self-directed safety perspective. Thousands of citizens give blood every day across the nation and many of them are Civil Air Patrol members. In the last four years over 10,500 units of blood have been donated by Civil Air Patrol members from every Wing/State in the nation. Many of them come back every two months (minimum is 56 days) and we are seeing more and more cadets donating (most states require them to be at least 16 years old).  So, again, if you want to donate, contact your nearest blood collection agency and sign up. If you want to donate to the American Red Cross – Civil Air Patrol’s primary partner, go to and just follow the prompts

Remember - Your first opportunity to give blood may be someone else’s last chance to receive it. Beat the clock, save a life – Safely First.

Operation Pulse Lift - "And the beat goes on."

Dr. Bob

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