Friday, April 13, 2007

Blood, Discomfort, and Hope

I was just looking at my planner and I still have around 40 hours of work to squeeze into the next three days!! Geez, I’ll be glad when finals are over. It doesn’t help that a large chunk of my day today is occupied with non-school work; I’m donating platelets this afternoon.

I’m not exactly sure how I let myself get wrangled into becoming a platelet donor. I have always been a whole blood donor ever since I figured out in high school that it was an easy way to get out of class for an hour or so when the donation drives came to school. I have been donating ever since. Recently, however, instead of asking me for blood, one of the schedulers asked me if I would be willing to donate platelets. It’s a big commitment; it takes around 1-2+ hours at a time, and a lot of blood donors don’t have time or the inclination to give so they are in desperate need of regular platelet donors. I hesitated, but given my penchant to say yes whenever someone ask for help, gave an scheduled a time. Unlike whole blood donation, platelet donation is a long process that is rather uncomfortable; it is easy to see why a non-profit struggles to get people to sign up given that they can’t pay people for their time. So, once they find someone willing, they reschedule them whenever they can. Thus, I’m a regular donor now.

So, this is the picture of a platelet donor. They are sitting immobile for three hours in a chair that is the offspring of a recliner and a hospital bed, hooked up to a whirring, beeping and humming machine, covered in a blanket, and trying to keep their mind occupied on something other than their tingling lips or the cold blood rushing through their veins. Sound like fun? It is no wonder that it is tough to find donors.

The process is fairly simple. Whole blood is extracted from you, spun around in a machine to separate out the components, and then piped back into your veins after the platelets are collected. Our bodies, either via creation or evolution (pick one), were not designed to go through such an experience and it’s shocking thing the first time. While the blood is drawn it cools and despite the sophistication of the separating apparatus it does not keep the blood warm during the process. When the blood is piped back into your body, sans platelets, it is a couple degrees cooler then when it left. The result of this cool blood entering your body is that you can actually perceive the blood reentering your circulation, you can’ feel it per se, but your body is aware of it. It is such an odd sensation to actually be aware of your own blood in your veins that is difficult to describe on paper. The cool blood also drops your body temperature a couple of degrees making you cold. The process also includes dosing you with an anticoagulant; you will be bleeding for two or three hours and they can’t have your blood start to clot. A side effect of the anticoagulant is that your lips and extremities begin to tingle.

But, in the end, you have to remember why you do such things. Everyday there are hundreds of people who rely on whole blood and blood products to save their lives. Platelets, in particular, are needed for children who suffer from leukemia and are undergoing chemo, people undergoing cardiopulmonary bypass, bone marrow transplant, for burn patients, or for a variety of other procedures. These procedures could not be achieved without blood products, these lives would be lost. Put in that context, an afternoon of discomfort and time away from the law school library seems a small price to pay.

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