Blog of Bloodworks Northwest

From the shelves to the small screen: blood donation on TV

When we’re not helping donors save lives, we love to binge watch our favorite shows and are always excited when blood donation makes its way to the small screen.

Inspired by a recent episode of animated favorite “Bob’s Burgers,” we take a look at a few times TV characters have donated blood – and clear up some misconceptions.

Bob’s Burgers

“Heartbreak Hotel-oween”: 2020 (Season 11, Episode 4)

Gruff and lovable restauranteur Bob Belcher is afraid of needles, but his wife, Linda, and BFF, Teddy, cajole him into donating after learning that he’s the universal blood type and his blood can be given to anyone in need.

This episode has some A+ (Linda’s blood type) blood type puns and educational nuggets, but overall portrays blood donation in a (O) negative (Bob’s blood type) light.

While we admire Linda and Teddy’s enthusiasm for giving blood, the phlebotomists are unprofessional, to say the least, and leave Bob alone in the bloodmobile to faint repeatedly before attempting to pull the needle out of his own arm.

Saving lives shouldn’t be a punch line!

If you’re afraid of needles or are a first-time donor, let us know when you come in. We’ll take extra precautions to make sure your donation is comfortable, like reclining your chair and placing an ice pack on your chest.

And be sure to listen to the “Fear of Needles” episode of Bloodworks 101 to learn why Bob’s phlebotomist’s technique was all wrong.

Will & Grace

 “Bad Blood”: 2018 (Season 10, Episode 15)

Will lies about his sexual history to donate his rare AB- blood for Grace’s father – who refuses his transfusion. While Will has been in a committed, monogamous relationship with another man for over a year and regularly tests negative for bloodborne diseases, he’s upset that he must continue to fight against rules that put his orientation over his lifestyle.

The FDA reduced the criteria for men who have sex with men (MSM) from one year since last sexual contact with another man (as Will mentions) to three months in 2020; prior the one-year deferral in 2015, it was a lifetime ban.

We recognize that, while this update represents progress, many who would like to donate remain ineligible to do so. Bloodworks has long advocated for change. We continue to encourage the FDA to update the MSM ruling based on all available scientific evidence.

However, for the safety of the blood supply, it’s imperative that every prospective donor truthfully complete their donor history questionnaire, regardless of the question, even if it means they are, unfortunately, unable to donate.

Brooklyn 99

Blood donation has made an appearance not once, but twice, on this comedy that follows the antics of a crew of New York detectives.

“Lockdown”: 2014 (Season 2, Episode 7)

It’s Thanksgiving (sorry, Boyle: Turkey Day) and Jake Perralta is left in charge of the Nine-Nine. As evidence of Jake’s irresponsibility, we see a flashback to the time he forgot to put up posters for the precinct’s blood drive and donated five pints of blood himself to make up for it.

It takes most donors a full year to donate five units!

An adult Jake’s size only has 10-12 pints in their body, total. Losing more than 40% of your blood volume is considered Class IV hemorrhagic shock and can lead to death — Jake would need a transfusion just to get through this.

In reality, blood centers like Bloodworks take only a pint with each whole blood donation, check your iron levels to make sure you have enough for yourself and the recipient, and ask for a photo ID to ensure no one is able to donate more than once every 56 days.

“House Mouses”: 2016 (Season 3, Episode 16)

Rosa Diaz isn’t afraid of anything – except for needles. She and colleagues Amy and Gina are determined to face their fears together, ending with Rosa sitting in the donor chair. We love how you can see extras walking on the set with arm wraps on throughout the episode.

Rosa shows that giving blood is really no big deal, especially when you donate with friends.

Please don’t yell at our staff at your donation though – even if it is just to pump yourself up.

The Office

“The Blood Drive”: 2009 (Season 5, episode 16)

Michael Scott falls for a woman he meets giving blood, and makes conversation and cringe-worthy puns before fainting in the donor chair.

Blood donation takes about an hour, from registration to juice and cookies, and while a well-hydrated donor may fill up their bag in 5 minutes, Michael finishes his donation in a couple of minutes (though we get that watching someone squeeze a ball for 5-10 minutes doesn’t make for great TV).

To make each donation a success:

  • Eat a good meal
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Bring your photo ID

If you haven’t eaten, we don’t want you to donate – you’re more likely to faint like Michael did.

And we’re not even going to comment on Dwight’s, umm, special talents.

The Simpsons

“Blood Feud”: 1991 (Season 2, episode 22)

Mr. Burns falls ill with a mysterious blood disease, and only a transfusion from Bart Simpson can save him. Homer hopes that Mr. Burns will repay their kindness with a handsome reward, but is disappointed to only receive a thank-you note.

We agree that there is nothing more romantic than knowing your partner’s blood type, though the rest of the episode is somewhat of a boo-urns in terms of accuracy.

Bart and Mr. Burns’ shared blood type is double O negative, which indeed is so rare that it doesn’t actually exist. However, there are more than 30 other blood group systems outside of the ABO blood types. Patients who receive frequent transfusions may need to have their blood specially matched to donors in Bloodworks’ Immunogenetics/HLA laboratory to prevent transfusion reactions.

For the safety of the blood supply, blood can only be collected from eligible, volunteer donors. All blood donors must be at least 16 years old, meaning a 10-year-old boy can’t donate blood, no matter how rare his blood type. Plus, blood donation should be done out of the goodness of the heart, not for monetary reward (or giant Olmec carving).

However, there is potentially some truth to the idea that “the blood of a young boy” may have restorative qualities for someone like Mr. Burns.

All in the Family

 “Archie Gives Blood”: 1971 (Season 1, episode 4)

Archie Bunker’s bigotry can be hard to watch in 2020, even if it’s obvious the joke is on him, but broke norms in the 1970s by tackling previously taboo topics like race, sexism, and homophobia.

This episode is no exception, and plays on the idea that no matter the color of our skin, we all bleed red.

Blood banking, like many aspects of American culture, has an unfortunate history of segregation; until the 1950s (and in some parts of the country, the 1970s), African American donors were only allowed to donate for African American patients.

We’re proud to have played an active role in the push for equality. Her strong belief that separation of blood had no scientific basis and was result of racial prejudice fueled Bloodworks Director Dr. Elo Giblett’s research in the fight to desegregate the nation’s blood supply.

We love that first-time donor Archie doesn’t even notice the needle going in or out during the donation, because it’s really not as scary as people think — most donors just feel a pinch.

And you can’t really blame the nurse for letting him faint.

Hancock’s Half Hour

“The Blood Donor”: 1961 (Season 7 Episode 5)

Hancock wants to do something for the good of the country in this classic BBC comedy.

First-time donor Hancock tells the nurse that his blood is British for generations, possibly with a little Viking. The nurse informs him, “When a blood transfusion is given, the family background is of no consequence.”

As we mentioned previously in this post, we know now that there are hundreds of different blood types beyond the traditional ABO group. Blood types are genetic, meaning you inherit yours from your family. Because of this, some blood types are linked with ethnicity, making it important that donors of all backgrounds give blood.

Our transfusion service laboratories, of course, never match donors and patients by race, gender, or anything other than what the blood itself tells us.

Honorary mention: Studio C

“Blood Donor Saves Little Girl”: 2016 (Season 7, Episode 5)

Including a YouTube series on the list because TV is not just television anymore! We think it goes without saying: do not leave a bucket of blood outside anyone’s door. Please. It’s not good for anyone.

Schedule your next appointment today! Book it online or by calling 800-398-7888.

November 10, 2020 5:19PM

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