A new experience (Or: Blood donation in the Netherlands)

Last month my workplace held a blood donation information session at work. Representatives from Sanquin, the national blood bank, came to pass out pamphlets for possible registration as a blood donor. I’ve actually donated at least a handful of times in America, but I was curious to see how the process differed between there and here. Some of the differences include:

  1. The American system is based much more on blood donation on site – I never actually set foot within an actual blood bank. Instead I would donate at libraries or at work. The workers came to you. While they do have mobile blood banks in the Netherlands, more of the donations take place within the blood bank itself, after you receive a request to come in by mail.
  2. In America you can donate every 6 weeks. Here in the Netherlands you can donate a maximum of three times a year if you are a woman and five times a year if you are a man. And you’ll only be called the maximum amount of times if you have a more common blood type. The difference in how often you are asked to donate is mostly based on the size of the country – the Netherlands is a small country so it is not as logical to have a large blood supply on hand. The blood supply they do have on hand roughly matches the blood type makeup of the general population. (Fun fact: the size of the blood supply can be increased on request. For example, during the London Olympics, they were asked to increase the blood supply in case it was needed overseas.)
  3. In America you fill out a questionnaire and if your hemoglobin level and blood pressure checks out you can donate right away. In the Netherlands you fill out a questionnaire and first meet with a doctor. If you pass the same tests as you need to pass in America, then they take three small vials of blood from you to test. If your blood tests out okay, then you will receive a letter in the mail to come donate. You do not make an appointment – you just come in when you can sometime within the next two weeks. Subsequent visits are with a nurse, not the doctor.
  4. In both countries they have food and drink options available to raise your blood sugar after donating. In America you would get fruit bars or oreo cookies with apple juice or orange juice. Here in the Netherlands you would get roze koek (cookies with pink frosting) or stroopwafels or speculaas, with coffee or tea as an option (there might have been juice as well but I didn’t check).
  5. In America they are a bit more cautious – after you donate you are not allowed to walk to the food/drink area without assistance. One of the workers walks you to the area. Perhaps because the running joke is that Americans are a bit more litigation happy? I don’t know.

Luckily they had the questionnaire in English as well as Dutch. I can read Dutch just fine, but if it is medical related I don’t want to take the risk. The questionnaire was very similar to what I’ve seen in America though, so next time I’ll ask for the Dutch version. To donate blood in the Netherlands you must be able to speak and understand Dutch or English.

The actual process of drawing blood for the test vials was quite quick – I think it took around 3 or 4 minutes at most. As I mentioned above, it’ll be another month before I hear the test results and when I can donate. Should be fun!


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