Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Giving Blood

Life: A view of a poster urging people to donate blood to help wounded soldiers., London, United Kingdom, 1939, Photographer William Vandivert

Nothing to write about, really. I can't get worked up about politics or the economy. We got the right choice in the Presidential race so I feel safe in relaxing a bit. What to rail/write about when I am calm? My life, I guess.

I gave platelets for the first time yesterday. I've been giving blood for the past two years, and this summer the Red Cross sent me a letter saying I have a high platelet level and am eligible to give platelets. (I also have Type A blood, and while Type O is a universal donor for whole blood, Type A is the universal donor for platelets.) Did you know that while whole blood can be stored for up to two months, platelets have a shelf life of six days? And platelets are very important to people being treated for leukemia.

I was a bit nervous about it, surveyed several people about what it was like, and even asked my doctor at my annual physical whether she thought that frequent platelet donation could damage my veins (her answer: no, your veins heal and as long as there is no infection involved, your veins will not be overly scarred.)

So I presented myself at the Red Cross's Worcester Pheresis Center yesterday afternoon. Went through the typical pre-donation questionnaire, checks of blood pressure (132/78), iron level (13, 12.5 is the minimum to donate) and then got into the donation chair/chaise. This is what it looked like:

Both arms have to be still for the whole procedure, as there is a needle in both. One needle is taking out the blood, and the blood is returned (along with a little saline) through the other needle. So you can't move, you can't bend your arm, and you can't itch any scratches. The nurse told me that they would itch for me, that's part of the job. Luckily I was able to quell any itching urges. The chair had a built-in heating element on the back, and they covered me with a blanket and gave me a handwarmer for the hand that wasn't squeezing the little ball to make the blood flow, but it was still a little chilly. I had tingling around my mouth and they gave me Tums to up my calcium levels, and advised that the next time I donate I should eat a yogurt beforehand.

There were three movies to choose from, and I chose Made of Honor, figuring that even if I wasn't paying any attention to it, I could still enjoy very handsome Patrick Dempsey. The movie was terrible, and I was way too distracted to follow it at all, so it was OK that I was finished long before the movie ended. The procedure itself took less than an hour. I had juice and cookies and headed home feeling none the worse for the weather. The nurse told me that the entire procedure harvests about 1 teaspoon worth of platelets -- but that is the equivalent of the amount of platelets in 6 pints of whole blood. (This blogger says that 70% of your blood goes through the machine roundtrip during the donation. Ewww.)

You can donate platelets every six days, but I can't imagine doing it that often. I'm going to aim for once a month, which is about twice as often as you can give whole blood. I'm the only person in my family eligible to give blood, as my mom takes several medications, and my brothers and sister all spent more than 3 months in the United Kingdom in the 1980s, so they're disqualified.

I'm not a great lover of the Red Cross as an organization, and I have to question how blood that is donated for free is charged at $600 to $700 a pint to patients in hospitals, but that's a macro question. On a micro level I will continue to give blood to help those that need it, and to build up karma points on my agnostics scorecard (in case there is a heaven).

One of my father's teaching jokes was the Agnostic's Prayer:

Oh God, if there is a God
Save my soul, if I have a soul.

Just in case points.

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