Friday, April 09, 2004

Trip to the blood bank

Yesterday I made my periodic trip to the local blood bank to make a donation. No, I do not alternately go to make withdrawals, as George Hamilton did in Love at First Bite.
For some reason I like to help people, and since I am not rich enough to do things monetarily I feel that I can offer my time, and also give other things that I have and can easily replace. One of these is my blood. Sounds gruesome, but I fell into the idea that ‘blood is life’ as pushed by the American Red Cross. Working at home as a computer consultant I was free to set my own schedule, and thus could sign up frequently and on days when business at the blood bank was slow. I used to donate every two weeks down in San Diego, and was up to over thirteen gallons in donations.
The San Diego Blood Bank called us ‘super donors’. Instead of being able to donate every two months we could go every two weeks. The process involves being hooked up to a machine that could process your blood, just remove certain components, and return the rest back to you. The most frequently removed component was platelets, which your body replenishes rather quickly. I also donated plasma and red blood cells. The super donors page has a good explanation of the process. It involves laying there for two hours hooked up to a machine that process your blood. I read a book and listen to CDs. But there are TVs available at every chair, so you can watch or they will put on a video if desired.
I don’t know why I feel that I have to do something. My wife wonders why I go lay there so often. But I think that we should all do something to make the world a little better. Some join the military to help our country, some give time at church organizations, some just tithe to their church, some serve the homeless and serve free meals, others just drop a coin into the Salvation Army kettles at Christmas. I donate blood (and already served four years in the Navy, but that’s another story).
So, not having been in a while, yesterday I went down to my local blood bank – here in Las Vegas it’s United Blood Services. They call you a 'Blood Hero' for making a donation.
Taking this picture from the parking lot I just happened to catch the blood bank’s technical director on screen; he’s the guy in the yellow shirt. We ended up having an interesting discussion on what I didn’t like about the place, and as usual he ended up making the corporate excuses I expected. In San Diego I went every two weeks. The place was pleasant; the super donors had their own area, with windows all around and a nice quiet environment. When done there was a resting area, with fresh donuts and coffee and juice and a big screen TV to keep you amused. You were supposed to sit for fifteen minutes and have some sugar stuff to make sure the process didn’t affect you. LV has two tables behind the chairs as a coffee area, with snacks packed in little plastic bags, bad coffee, and juice boxes, NO DONUTS. In Las Vegas space is very limited, the donation center I go to is crowded, with two dozen chairs in two rows facing each other. There are storage boxes between the rows, and lots of people and things going on. It seems more like the medical facility it is, rather than the pleasant environment San Diego makes it. So, in San Diego I went every two weeks, here I go every two months.
After signing in you sit and read the warning literature of the day. I try to sign up for the slow times, when chairs are empty. After being called you are taken into a small room by the friendly nurse

and asked a series of standard questions about your health and if you’ve been in contact with any sick person and if you’ve traveled to a country that has problems. They just want to be sure that your blood is not contaminated and is safe to give to a sick person. They do test your blood after you donate, but by eliminating people up front it reduces the risk. Your blood pressure is measured, and you sign a consent form.
You are then taken to a chair that reclines.

Here in Vegas there are rows of chairs that are filled on weekends and evenings. You pick an arm, they look for the vein and scrub the area clean. A needle is then inserted

and you are attached to the machine. The needle and associated tubing is only used for one person, and discarded after you donate. The chance of somebody donating having problems or catching any kind of disease from the donation is pretty low. I’ve never heard of anyone getting sick.
The computer running the machine then measures your blood, the operator looks at your history, and decides what blood components can be given. I usually am good at platelets, and they usually take two units of platelets and one of plasma. The body produces red cells more slowly than other components, and these are donated only once every two months. The components taken and your condition determine how long it will take. Usually from 80 minutes to two hours.
You lay in the chair and squeeze a rubber ball. Small TV sets are above each chair

you can see them hanging from the ceiling. I read a book and listen to music. There isn’t much pain, only the stick when the needle is inserted. My lips tingle from the chemicals put back into returned blood. The only problem is lying there for two hours – the machine puts a saline water solution back into your blood to replace what is removed, and my kidneys seem to process that stuff pretty quickly. In other words, I end up having to go to the bathroom really bad before I’m finished.
When done I sit and have a box of juice and some stale cookies (complained about above) and read my magazine.

That’s how I spent my morning yesterday. I feel better for having done something good for society. At least I hope it helps.
I’m trying to make this a better blog, and inserting more links. One of the benefits of the internet is being able to consolidate information, and throw people over to other related pages. I always enjoy reading other people’s stories and flowing to places they recommend in order to amplify the discussion or get more information.
Since it’s Easter, let’s also offer an Easter greeting.

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