Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Bloodletting

Last week, whilst putting in my 15 minutes at the gym (not really that few, but my wife likes to say so), I noticed there was a blood drive sign up for the coming Monday. It's been a goodly while since I've given blood. In fact, I don't recall donating any since before 2005, which was the year my blood was injected full of lots of fun things in order to prepare and protect my system for a trip to Central America. After that, I was forbidden from donating blood for a year and that's now stretched into six. But I happened to be free for the Monday in question, so I signed up for a 2 o'clock slot.

Of course, five minutes after I left the gym (15 minutes later) I had forgotten about the appointment entirely, having failed to slot it into my phone's calendar.

On Monday, at 2 p.m., I coincidentally (or by unconscious self-suggestion) happened to walk into the gym, whereupon I noticed the Red Cross blood drive taking up the majority of the gym's basketball court and screamed "YAAAH!" in my head. Then I remembered that my appointment was at 2 and saw that I was exactly on time. Yay me.

I filled out the paperwork, read over the material and was soon ushered in by one of the bloodletter ladies for what I expected to be the usual battery of embarrassing sexual history questions. The bloodletter lady asked if I had brought my donation card, at which point I had to admit to her that I had not because I only coincidentally came to the gym at the time of my appointment and not not actually prepared myself for donation in advance. She was able to look me up by driver's license number and brought up all my old contact information from Tri-Metro. We updated everything, she asked me a few minor questions and then she departed, leaving me to answer all the embarrassing questions via a questionnaire on her laptop. Wow, what an improvement, and modern thinking at work.

This made me wonder if similar measures are now being taken at the blood plasma donation clinic located behind the first apartment the wife and I rented as a married couple, back in Charlotte. That plasma clinic was located behind what was then called the Sailboat Bay apartment complex, adjacent to the Eastland Mall, was a convenient place to go and make a few extra bucks from week to week. In fact, if memory serves, we used to make around $100 a week between us from donating plasma. It took around two hours to donate on a good day, more on a bad one, and you had to come twice a week to get the full amount, because they only gave you around $20 for the first visit and $30 for the second. I tried to look at it from the perspective of "Hey, I got paid $50 for reading American Gods one week." (Which reminds me, I've never told the story here of the time I worked for Onstar and once got paid time-and-a-half one weekend to read American Gods and pass out free ice cream in the break room. Erm. Well, that's pretty much the story right there. Somebody had to do it and I thought that somebody needed to be me, just so I could forever more tell folks I got paid $15 an hour plus a $100 overtime bonus for reading Neil Gaiman and watching cream. It was great.) But the reality of my situation was that I got paid to read American Gods while sitting in a waiting room amongst people who clearly had some serious chemical dependency issues who you just KNEW were only donating plasma in order to get money to go buy intravenous drugs. And while that was fascinating and horrifying character study material, it was only the backdrop to the twice weekly 100 question embarrassing questionnaire recited at you from memory at breakneck speed by the most bored questionnaire-giving plasma technicians on the planet. My answers never changed once, but I had to take it every week. Similarly, there was also a brief physical exam including a blood test and lots of paperwork to fill out, which we had to do with each and every visit. This prompted me to wonder just how efficiently this place was being run if they couldn't be bothered to keep and consult any of the massive pile of records we created in a month. Then, after more waiting in the rehab group session room (i.e. the waiting room) we were sent with our day's paperwork file to the donation room which was lined with donation stations separated by a double-sided plasma centrifuge machine covered in hoses and looking for all the world like something out of a David Cronenberg film. Once seated, we would eventually be stabbed with needles and have a portion of our blood pumped out, the plasma separated from it and then pumped back into us. Again, that was on a good day. On a bad day? Well....

Back then I was around 40 pounds heavier than I am now and not as well-sculpted as my 15 minute increments at the gym have made me now. With the added poundage, the veins in my arms were sometimes difficult to locate. Oh, the techs would stab away with confidence, even trying to use my weekly track mark as a guidepost, but rare was the time they actually hit blood on the first try. And several times, after dicking around too long and not finding blood, they had to send me home WITH pay as per their rules and regs. This was okay by me, as they had to pay me regardless of whether or not I left any plasma with them. But eventually, after many painful and fruitless stabbings over the course of weeks, it was decreed from on high that only three of the nurses working there, who were of a certain class and experience level, were allowed to touch me at all, for those ladies were the only ones who could find a vein in my ham of an arm. The plasma collection would take around 50 minutes, then we'd be paid, encouraged to come back and set free. The wife and I used to save the money we made there and buy Christmas presents for our friends and loved ones, just so we could tell them that their presents were paid for with our very blood.

At the gym, after being escorted to a bleeding station, I had to wait around 10 minutes while the techs finished letting blood on a couple of other donors. Now, after being stabbed twice a week for several months, needles don't bug me. But while I wasn't at all nervous, I must have looked it because everyone kept asking me if I was okay. "Yeah, I'm fine," I told them. Then more time would pass and they'd ask again. "Yep, I'm great," I'd say. Eventually, they tourniqueted me up and tried to fine a vein. If I'd been there on purpose, rather than coincidence, I would probably have done them the favor of doing a bunch of curls first so that the veins in my arm would stand out more. But, I hadn't, so they were left to their own devices. They seemed pretty confident they'd found one and marked it just to be sure. Then more time went by before they actually stuck me and by the time they did the vein had moved or they just missed it, cause it came up dry when they stabbed for it. Without pulling the needle from my arm, they moved it around under the skin in search of the vein.

"Are you all right?" they kept asking.

"Well, it hurts a bit, but other than that I'm fine."

This is never pleasant, but they were as gentle as they could be. Finally, the tech in charge of me tagged out and the lady who'd interviewed took over. She too moved the needle around, a bit more vigorously, causing a burning sensation to erupt in my arm. I groaned at this, causing them to ask me again if I was all right.

"That really burns, but I'll be okay," I said. The burning subsided only a little when they stopped moving the needle. After some consultation with one another, it was decided that if I felt all right and was up for it, they would like to try the other arm. They explained that since no blood had hit the bag, it would be okay to just switch.

"That's fine by me," I said. After all, I'd invested over half an hour at this point, so let em have some blood. The trouble was, they didn't take the needle out right away. I guess there was prep that had to be done and they were also wrapping up the letting with a couple of other folks, so I was left to sit there with the needle still burning in my arm for around five minutes. About a minute into that, though, I began to feel light headed. I tried to breathe harder to get some circulation going, but all I could feel was the burning in my arm and the blood draining from my face. I thought I could maybe man up and ride it out, but there came a point where I simply knew that if I didn't say something I would pass out in another 20 seconds or so.

"I'm feeling very light headed," I said.

You would think I'd said I was on fire. Immediately there was activity around me from the two ladies who'd been working on me and then a third. They lowered the backrest of the table and I slipped down into a more prone position, at which time all the blood came back to my head and I once again felt perfectly fine. The rest of the five minutes was taken up with my being asked if I was all right and if I needed anything to drink and then a straw being offered to me from a cup held by one of the ladies and then more questions as to whether I was all right.

The needle was eventually removed and then I was raised incrementally so as not to upset my delicate condition and then asked to swivel around so they could use the arm rest with my left arm, etc. I kept telling everyone for the 15th time that I was fine, but it took a while before they began looking for another vein. Then, just after they'd found one clearly visible to one and all, the tech who'd interviewed me said, "Nope. No can do." She was holding a cell phone, having consulted with someone off site. I'd had a reaction and there would be no more stabbing of my person that day. When she said "reaction" I pictured some sort of skin rash, but, no, she meant my near brush with fainting.

"But... I'm fine," I said. They just looked at me. "All right. Whatever."

They thanked me profusely for my time, told me to stay out of the gym for several days to give my arm time to heal, and encouraged me to have some refreshments before I left. I took the biggest bag of cookies I could find in their punch bowl full of bagged snacks and made for the car.

Before the day was out, the interior of my elbow had begun to bruise. As of this writing it is bright purple and looks like I've been walloped with a stout tree branch. And I don't even have the knowledge of my Type O blood well-donated, or even a check for $20 to show for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can relate...what a hoot!