Week Sixteen- Platelets
God and I have an arrangement. I get to be rather healthy. But I get to bleed into a bag every eight weeks or so. It took a few years to figure out a few things (I didn’t drink enough water once or twice and I found I need to eat about four bowls of Rice Krispies to crank up my iron levels). Yet it is now a rather painless process. Once I get over that little needle to the arm prick, everything flows smoothly.For several years I was quite content to donate whole blood. Not that I recommend this, but I sometimes will try to beat the clock. (Hint: Drink lots of water.) Thirty-five minutes from check-in to walking out the door is my record. Again, do not try this at home. Years of practice were involved and I was squeezing frequently to get that blood to flow.
Much of that time was spent noticing the chairs across the room. Those folks laid there for much longer than I. They were the platelet donors. I never really got a full explanation of what was going on. No matter if we were on the whole blood side of the room or the platelet side, we were still helping folks. Why rock the boat?
Because I like to help, darnit. If I can help more people by donating differently, then I will at least give it a try. How much could it really hurt?
Thus, my most recent visit was also my first platelet trip. I ate my spinach, I drank some water, and I had a belly full of cereal. They asked a few more questions, but the beginning was essentially the same. Since I knew I would be writing about the process, I asked more questions than I normally would. For example, men who have had sex with other men in the last year are not eligible to donate. However, it used to be that if a man had sex with another man at any point in their life, they were not eligible. Small steps are being made. Everybody bleed!
As he sat me down in the big chair, I asked the staff member what was going on. As I understood it, here it is: The blood goes out of the body and into a big machine. It goes through a centrifuge which separates the blood into the parts it wants and the parts it will return. The blood goes back into the arm in two parts. The machine keeps the platelets. Blood goes out, then some is returned to keep the body from slipping into distress, and then blood goes back into the machine again. An anti-coagulant is added to the return-part so that the blood does not clot.
Seizures: Bad. Blood clot to the brain: Bad.
The machine has an idea of how much blood it wants to withdraw at what rate. On the first donation, the staff member essentially has to stand there the first half hour, adjusting and readjusting the rate at which the machine asks for raw material. It was displeased at how much and how quickly I was feeding it. (My cat has the same attitude.) The machine is programmed to chug away for roughly ninety minutes.
That is one factor that affects the number of people that go this route. Between the screening, the sitting, and the recovery period, it ends up being a two-hour process.
A special note of thanks should be given to the staff member/ tech. He answered all the questions, left no bruises, and watched over me the entire time. Kudos to those that offer excellent care.
There are more ways that side effects can occur with platelet donations. Calcium levels drop when platelets are kept, so donors are given a cup of a dozen Tums to keep the body happy. I experienced some sort of sinus headache for much of the process. (That could have been for several reasons. Maybe I hadn’t consumed enough water and I was dehydrated. Maybe I had a cold. Or maybe I was undergoing a reaction to the anti-coagulant. None of which are serious in my book.) I may not have been overly comfortable, but I had games and the internet to distract myself with and I have to assume the first time is always a shock to the body.
The pros far outweigh the cons. Honestly, I have two hours. After the process, I still beat rush hour traffic. Making time is not an issue. Also, in theory, platelets can be donated once a week. I am not sure I would go in that often. It sure beats the eight week wait of whole blood. Finally, the real clincher for me; whole blood donations help one to three people. Platelets can help up to eighteen people. That means dozens of lives could be treated in a month, as opposed to two. (According to the tech, whole blood is often turned into platelets, so it saves hospitals a step.) It is hard to argue with those facts. Especially since one of my favorite people lost a sibling the week prior due to a serious accident.
Yes, I would have liked for it to have gone a little smoother. Yet I think another try is not out of the question. No matter what version of donating one chooses, it is good for the donor’s body as well. Helps them give back to the community, sure. At the same time, the donor’s body replenishes and refreshes their system. Ever hear of “tired blood”? This helps that.
I think if they are able, people should give blood often. Start off with whole blood and see how it goes. Join me as one more bleeding heart.