My Fascination with Blood Giving

Posted by on Feb 20, 2015 in Rants & Reflections, Sue's Blog | 2 Comments
My Fascination with Blood Giving

(old photo… circa 2011) Note: If you’re squeamish about needles, you probably shouldn’t read this blog. Personally, I have an irrational fear of paper cuts (long story) and I would hate it if I even glanced at a blog about that topic — so I totally understand if you don’t want to continue… See you next week!

I spent a lot of time this week at the Stanford Blood Center. I tried to give blood and failed… twice. My veins and my schedule were just not cooperating.

Last Friday, I proudly announced on Facebook that I was getting back into the habit of giving blood because my schedule is more flexible. But my “usual” vein on my left arm decided to stop after less than a teaspoon was drawn. I had a meeting to go to, so I didn’t have time to try the other arm. They told me it was probably because I didn’t drink enough water, but since I didn’t actually give any blood, I could come back whenever I had time — I didn’t need to wait the necessary 8 weeks.

I was determined to try again, so I drank tons of water all day Tuesday and went back in for the first appointment on Wednesday. This time they tried my right arm, but apparently my vein on that side likes to move around. And even though they eventually got it, the flow was too slow — so they had to shut it down. Unfortunately, this time they took a little too much to let me waive the 8-week wait, so I can’t try again until April.


So what is my fascination behind giving blood? It’s not like I’ve been a regular donor all my life. In fact, I’m nowhere near that. I actually met one of those lifetime donors as I ate my cookie and drank my POG on Wednesday. He was on the 200+ list. He proudly pointed to his name on the wall. I asked him how long it took him to get there, and he said 32 years! He said could squeeze in 6 donations a year — 7 if the calendar fell just right.

I was in awe of this guy. I couldn’t be more impressed if he said he had invented the iPhone.

I could’ve been on track to be like him. My first donation was in high school. It was for the National Honor Society blood drive, which I think I might have helped run. I donated a few times during college. Perhaps my most memorable donation happened one summer in Hawai’i with my friend Jann, at a big fancy blood drive event with live entertainment and door prizes. I went home with an expensive basket of hair products, but Jann got horribly ill during her donation. In that circus-like environment, it must’ve been unbearable. I think it turned her off to blood-giving forever.

But I’m far from a regular donor. Life just got in the way during my late 20’s and early 30’s. And after a few attempts I think the blood bank just stopped calling. I forgot all about it.

Then came design thinking.

In 2009 while I was working for Carnegie, I attended my very first (and only) design thinking workshop with the Stanford I think it might have been one of their first large-scale custom workshops off-campus. And boy was it amazing… They pulled out all the stops to transform our workspace into a design lab. They gutted our large meeting room, went shopping at IKEA and bought a bunch of colorful couches, lamps, whiteboards and standing tables. They flew in facilitators and gave us a top-notch 2-day experience.

So what does this have to do with blood? I’m getting to that…

In design thinking, there’s always a specific “design challenge” that serves as the focus of the experience. When the pulled this workshop together for us, they worked with us for several months on the logistics. But they never revealed to us what our design challenge would be. About 3 days before the workshop, we were finally given a clue.

They emailed us a homework assignment, which was simple: go to a blood bank and give blood — or, if we already knew that we were ineligible to give, convince a friend to give blood, then interview them about their experience.

At Carnegie we were in the middle of immersing ourselves in improving developmental (remedial) math in community colleges. So this homework assignment was totally weird. And with ultra-busy education reformers, squeezing in a last-minute blood donation between meetings was next to impossible. But most of us were good students and marched ourselves down to the blood bank to do our homework. I remember going there with my colleague Cathy (who got turned away because she had spent too much time in Europe) and Heidi (who was a first-time donor). All three of us had very different experiences, which we took with us into this workshop.

The whole point of the homework assignment was to give us a good dose of EMPATHY. When the workshop began later that week, the design challenge was finally explained: How might we redesign the blood donation process so that more people will donate?

The empathy exercises continued that first morning. In order for us to experience the process of collecting user input, the organizers marched in a bunch of Stanford students who had donated at a blood drive the day before. We practiced our interview skills, asking them about their motivations to give, and how they felt before, during and after the process.

With the guidance of our facilitators, we then proceeded to do empathy maps and started our work on the next three steps of the design process: DEFINING the user’s point-of-view, IDEATING on possible solutions to improve the process, and PROTOTYPING our ideas. We created mock-ups of our innovations using everyday objects like toilet-paper rolls and pipe-cleaners. On day two of the workshop, the staff marched the Stanford students back in to TEST out our innovations. Staff members of the Stanford Blood Center were also in attendance to give feedback.

The innovations that emerged were intriguing — from iPhone apps that send you stories about where your blood went, to privacy booths for answering the very personal questions about your drug use and sex life. Each group had a carefully thought-out and tested response to the design challenge that had been presented less than 48 hours earlier.

Never before had I attended a workshop that was so throughly engaging. This is what got me absolutely hooked on design thinking. It was an immersive experience that transformed the way I now approach process-innovation and group-work. In the years since, I’ve used design thinking informally in all kinds of settings. Last year, I decided to launch my consulting business by finally formalizing my own version of the workshop. I use less intimidating topics, and I do it in 3 hours. But I always strive to mimic for my workshop participants the transformative experience that I had. I don’t think it’s happened for anyone yet. Maybe I do need to send them to the blood bank too!

This week, I reflected on how much those two days changed me. One clear sign is that I started giving blood again. I was a pretty consistent donor for the rest of the time I worked at Carnegie. I even made the “Four Seasons Club” in 2012 (four donations in a year). But then I fell off the radar again when I left that job and started commuting to San Mateo. Life and traffic got in the way of my urge to give blood.

Now that I work from home, I don’t have any excuse. And actually, I don’t need one. I like the quiet time. I like the staff. I like observing the people and wondering about what motivates them to be there. I like picking my band-aid color. I like the POG and cookies.

So despite my finicky veins, I’m determined to continue my quest to become a “regular” blood donor. Maybe I won’t get to the 200 mark (how old am I now?)… but I’ll try to get as close as I can!


  1. Marie Ochi-Jacobs
    February 23, 2015

    Great blog Susan! Design thinking sounds invigorating; I think it is this kind of development that may transform the way society thinks of itself, at least I hope so. Thanks for donating blood; I used to until the last two times when I was turned away because my blood didn’t measure enough iron! But I know what you go through, trying to find that large enough vein.

  2. Jann Fujimoto
    February 23, 2015

    Though my first blood donation experience with Susan was not ideal, the technician told me I could “still give in other ways.” I signed up to be part of the National Marrow Donor Program and was contacted as a possible match. Over the years, I’ve concluded that blood donation and my body just don’t work well together. Taking the technician’s words to heart, I will continue to focus on the ways I can give my time, talent and treasure instead of focusing on ways that I cannot.


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