Time to Heal


Earlier this week I had the opportunity to donate blood platelets. It’s something I haven’t done in a very long time, but should do more often. When I first signed up for it years ago, it was during a career transition, when I was looking for new ways to be productive. Now, as I’m busier than ever, I’m glad I made the time to do it again.

In brief: If you are able to donate blood platelets (see criteria below) and have the willingness to do it (yes, you do), it will be one of the most meaningful uses of your time… and for the most part, it doesn’t require much effort except relaxing and watching a movie.

WHAT IT IS:

People who don’t have enough platelets in their bloodstream, or whose platelets aren’t functioning properly, desperately require help. Blood platelets are a crucial part of the human body’s healing process – our internal “first responders,” and then some. Platelets are instrumental in clot formation and help regulate wound repair, inflammation and various other functions involving in overcoming injury and disease.

When we donate platelets, we fill up a bag full of gooey yellow platelet-rich plasma (PRP) which is good for only 5 days. There is a constant need for new PRP in hospitals, which is used for treating patients who have experienced severe trauma and have weakened immune systems, such as in the case of organ transplantation.  Most blood platelet donations where I live go to cancer patients, whose blood platelets are destroyed in the chemotherapy process.

HOW IT WORKS:

Set-up:  Donating blood platelets is all about setting aside the time for it; it’s typically a two hour process, which is significantly more as compared to the ten minutes involved in a straight whole blood donation. You’ll need to schedule an appointment at a Red Cross donation center or an equivalent local organization. This is because of the nature of the extraction process, which I’ll cover below. In addition to the lengthy extraction process, there is an upfront interview process where potential donors must go through a few basic tests (temperature, pulse, heart rate, blood iron levels) and answer a litany of screening questions.

Screening: The questions asked of a potential platelet donor are the kind where the preferred answer is almost always “NO.” For many of the questions, my feeling was one of gratitude: Have any of my blood relatives ever had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease? Thank goodness, no, wow, I really need to donate. For other questions, my feeling was a bit more ambivalent:  Was I born in West Africa or lived anywhere in the UK for more than 3 months between 1980 and 1996? Well, no… but are you saying that anyone born in those places.. wait… what? No, I haven’t recently travelled to Iraq, either… or lived for five years in Europe since 1980 to the present…  wow, I really need to donate. No, I’ve never received human pituitary growth hormone, nor have I ever received a tattoo while taking illegal intravenous drugs in a house of ill repute in Mexico… or in the Czech Republic… nope, haven’t had a tattoo in the past 12 months in Canada or United States… etc… etc… well, you get the point.  Once I got cleared as healthy and “clean,”  I was whisked off to the DVD library… and the chair.

DVD Library: Oh, by the way, even if you can’t donate platelets, you can donate used DVDs to the platelet donation clinic, so that platelet donors will have cool movies to watch. As for the platelet donors, I recommend choosing movies that are 90 minutes or less, since otherwise you may not be able to watch your chosen movie to the end. I think it’s uncool to ask to be allowed to stick around in the chair for an extra 30 minutes to watch the end of a movie… though the staff are very sweet and probably would be okay with it.

The Chair: You put on a set of soft, noise-cancelling headphones (for the movie) and sit down in a nice, comfortable reclining chair. The chair has a couple of nice wide arm rests, which is good, because one of your arms (or both, if you want to be a double-armed-platelet-donating-hero and be seriously limited in your texting ability) is hooked up to a machine which extends your circulatory system through a series of tubes and a centrifuge, separating and extracting some platelets and plasma from the rest of your blood. You get to keep the red stuff, they get to keep some of the yellow stuff. If it’s been a while since your last donation, they may also do a 2-for-1 special and simultaneously collect some extra plasma as well, in a separate bag. After 90 – 120 minutes of intake/return cycles, having your vital fluids pulled out and then pumped back into your veins with some added saline (to make up for the missing yellow stuff), you get unhooked from the machine.

Sometimes they give you a t-shirt, too.

Please Come Again: They say you can donate platelets up to 24 times a year, with as little as a 7 day break between donations. For plasma donations, it’s 13 times per year every 28 days. I don’t know that I could do it anywhere close to that often, but some of the other donors there did seem like regulars.

WHY THEN

When I was first recruited to donate platelets, I was going through a period of underemployment – that is to say, a period of time where I was more acutely aware of the reality that, ultimately, we are all self-employed. The way I see it, there are countless ways for a person to be productive, even (and especially) not running the 9-to-5 treadmill… and one of the benefits of having more unstructured time available is that we can say “yes” to potential new experiences. Yeah, it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Plus, the folks at the Red Cross said they were running low on my blood type.

Nowadays I’m usually too hard to pin down to a blood extraction machine for two hours due to my travel schedule, but as it happens, I had a free day and they called me. This is one of the benefits of being a hired-gun type: I’m able and willing…. and in this case, I’m especially willing because I’m lucky enough to be able.

WHY NOW

Every break we get – breaks between projects, tough breaks between jobs – is an opportunity for us to discover new ways to develop and contribute. I’ve come to appreciate that one of the most simple and satisfying ways for us to use our time is to give of ourselves – and in this case, we’re giving of ourselves right through our veins to others, whose bodies might otherwise run out of time.

So yes, once in a while, if you’re eligible, take a break and watch a movie while having your platelets harvested by a strange blood-sucking machine… it might just be the most precious use of two hours of your life.

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on March 15, 2012, in Career, Life, Positivity, Productivity and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Good use of your considerable writing talent, Daniel! Now to spread the word, as that is the only way the Red Cross will allow me to help.

    On the same day somewhere in 2009 that they gave me my 3 gallon pin (how many pints/times did I donate then?) they determined that I was not eligible because I lived in Germany for three years from 1979 to 1981.

    No, I had never lied in all those previous intake interrogations. Yes, I had been asked that every time I arrived to donate. No, they said, they had not changed their questioning or criteria. Go figure!

    So off we go to send people to your well written appeal. The Red Cross says it’s the best I can do.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Stephen. Yes, I was astounded by the strictness of the donor criteria, and actually felt bad for the vast numbers of people who are left out of the potential donor pool because of a statistical calculation done a couple of decades ago. Of course, it makes sense from a public health policy point of view, especially with short-order donations such as platelets. Nevertheless, it did give me pause from even writing this post, because I know there are a lot of people who would love to give and can’t.

  1. Pingback: Boston Marathon: B Positive (ft. Rumi) | Meme Menagerie

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