Dancing and Blood Donation

Between work and my adductor trouble, I have completely missed World Blood Donor Day: June 14th. It is common to donate blood in the wake of a disaster, but consider this: people get injured, diagnosed with cancer and operated on every day. Blood does not keep very well: two years is the maximum for frozen plasma, but erythrocytes only keep two months and the platelets (which are used to prevent people with diseases like leukemia from literally bleeding to death) only have a shelf life of seven days.

You can probably tell the Dork is a huge fan of donating blood. If you would like to become a donor, your local donation center can provide you with all the necessary information and regulations around the procedure. I can tell you my experiences with it, especially with dancing after donating.

The creepy blood drop I got to squeeze last time.

The process in Switzerland is fairly simple. You go in, fill in a long form designed to minimise risk to both you and the receiver, get your pulse, blood pressure, temperature and hemoglobin measured and talk the results over with a medical professional. Once you’re cleared to donate you either sit or lie down in a comfy chair, get a needle stuck in your arm and proceed to chill out for about fifteen minutes, occasionally squeezing a stress ball to keep the blood flowing. Afterwards, you get a bandage and are ushered into the adjacent break room filled with free food and drink and chocolate and ice-cream. Less than an hour later, you walk out again et voilà.

You only donate about half a litre of blood, a loss most healthy adults will barely notice. The Swiss Red Cross says that the volume of blood will reach the same level within 24 hours. They also state that leisurely sports activities are in no way interrupted by a blood donation, which is true. Within 48 hours at most, you will feel right as rain, unless you’re a marathon runner and need every red blood cell you can find.

They warn you to drink enough before and after your donation and they are not kidding. Don’t go completely overboard, though, as your kidneys can only excrete 800 to 1000 millilitres per hour and ingesting significantly more water will lead to dangerous hyponatremia. Still, make sure you’re well hydrated.

I have only managed to donate blood twice during the time I have been dancing. The last time was with my adductors already wrecked, so no dancing happened afterwards. After the first one, however, I decided to go to jazz. I would not necessarily recommend that experience.

I donated early in the morning that day and went to class about eleven or twelve hours later. This wasn’t quite enough time. I did not feel light-headed, but I did have cramps every couple of minutes during the warm up. I would’ve gone home afterwards, but in the last few minutes of core strength training, the cramps magically stopped and I was able to finish the lesson in an upright, albeit slightly battered state. Ballet the following day was perfectly fine. So do give your body those 24 hours to recover and you’ll be good to go. As for the iron that donation removes from you, I have never noticed that it was missing in any way.

If you suffer from iron deficiency, you obviously cannot donate. I had problems with my iron levels during university time, where I mostly existed on rice, eggs and cornflakes, none of which are a good source of iron. It was then suggested that I try apheresis. Apheresis is a slightly more complicated form of blood donation. You get hooked up to a machine that takes a bit of your blood, centrifuges it to separate the thrombocytes (platelets). The rest of your blood gets topped off with saline and pumped right back into your vein while the thrombocytes can be used to help patients whose blood can no longer coagulate.

Since you’re not losing any iron, or even fluid for that matter, apheresis is much easier on the performance levels. It does, however, take up to an hour of your time and several blood out – blood back in cycles, which can be hard on your veins. I have noodle arms and vermicelli veins, so only my left arm was ever cleared for donation. This went well for several years, until one of the veins balked at the prospect of getting something pumped into it. Since my eating habits had much improved by that point, I was cleared for regular donations again.

I was quite happy about this. The biggest problem with apheresis was that you still had to drink enough beforehand and during the procedure and you got a saline drip. The only thing I could think of for the last twenty minutes was the bathroom… If you can live with that, apheresis might be the thing for you. I stopped apheresis donations before I started dancing, so I don’t know how it would work out. My guess is better, since there is much less actual loss of blood.

So there you have it: Dancing and blood donation work well together, provided your overall health allows for a donation. Just give it the prescribed 24 hours and listen to your body.

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