I think Samuel L. Jackson said it best in the fine piece of film de cinema, The Negotiator, when he screamed at the police helicopters, "You want my blood?! TAKE MY BLOOD!"
In the spirit of Mr. Jackson's enthusiastic endorsement of blood donation, I headed down to the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center in Westwood this morning to make one myself. A little background is in order here. The first time I donated blood was a little less than a year ago. It arose from two motivations: 1.) guilt for not having donated before, and 2.) the desire to overcome fear.
As to the first motivation, I do not mean that anyone should be meant to feel guilty for not donating blood. Such a donation is a very personal and heartfelt act (so to speak), and each person has their own reasons for doing it or not. Everybody certainly has the right to decide what to do with their own body, afterall. But, for me personally, I felt a little guilty. Many times in college, when working in Houston, and now in grad school, I had seen advertisements and solicitations to participate in blood drives. I had watched others come back from giving blood, knowing that there was no physical reason why I could not do the same. I also knew that blood donations were essential to helping people in need.
The reason I didn't donate is because I felt an aversion to the actual process. I don't have a problem with needles used for injection. Give me a tetanus shot or an innoculation any time. But there is something about sliding a needle into one of my veins and seeing my lifeblood flow slowly out of my body through a winding tube that gives me the creeps, even though I know it is completely safe for me. The fact that I felt this psychological aversion to the process, and that it was keeping me from doing something that could help other people, led me to feel guilty. That, in turn, led me to the second motivation.
Back in my days as a Boy Scout, I learned a definition for bravery, which is a part of the Scout Law. ("A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”) Bravery is not the lack of fear. It is the ability to take action and do what is right, despite the fear. I felt that the fear I had of donating blood was not well founded, and even a little selfish. So I decided to make a blood donation in order to overcome that fear.
My first donation went fine. I was sort of nervous going in, I tried not to look at my blood flowing through the tube, and I felt a little light headed afterwards, but other than that it was a success. I walked out feeling triumphant and manly. (. . . while munching my cookie. . . and sipping my Juicy Juice. . . out of a bendy straw. Ahem.)
My second attempt at a donation didn’t go as well. Five minutes or so into the donation, the nurse noticed that my blood was flowing rather slowly. This could be a problem since, the slower the blood moves, the more likely it is to clot at the needle, which would slow it down even more. She told me to clench the squeezy toy in my hand more often, to help pump the blood out, but it was no use. After a short time, the blood had essentially slowed to a stop. What’s more, they told me they would not be able to use the blood already in the collection bag. I asked why, and this is the answer I got: the collection bags have a certain amount of anti-coagulant in them to keep the blood from clotting while it’s being collected (the bag is rocked back and forth on a machine, to help with this as well.) The amount of anti-coagulant is based on the volume of blood the bag can hold (these ones expect a donation of ~400- 450 mL). If there is not enough blood in the bag, the ratio of anti-coagulant to blood will be off, which will somehow render the blood unusable for donation purposes. The nurse suggested that perhaps I had not been hydrated enough, making my blood was unusually thick. She said I should try to drink a lot of water next time. I left disappointed, but determined to try again.
Which brings us to this morning. I spent all week making sure I was drinking ~8 glasses of water a day, loaded up on fluids this morning, and walked into the donation center to make my great comeback. I warned my nurse about what happened last time, told her how I’d been drinking lots of water, and she made preparations to better coax out my blood. If you’ve ever held my hands, you know that they are typically pretty cold. I think I have poor circulation in my extremities due to low blood pressure, small arteries/veins, or something. Heat should help keep the veins from constricting too much, so I’m told, so the nurse gave me a microwaved bag of fluid to hold in my hand, instead of a squeezy toy. Aside from hydration, blood pressure (mine is a tad lower than average, but not by all that much), and heat, another factor that could affect the flow rate is the placement of the IV needle. My nurse clearly had many years of experience doing this, and she expertly slid the needle in place. It was quick and almost painless. She monitored the flow closely.
Things were going fine for a while. Then, about halfway through the donation, my blood decided to slack off again. She piled on more warm bags of fluid, did something to the tube that was supposed to help move the blood along, rubbed my arm, even gently changed the needle’s orientation a little, all to no avail. A couple of other nurses came over and puzzled over the problem, suggesting different things to one another as to how to get my blood flowing better. Everything seemed to have been tried. Again, we had to abort. I had not quite filled the collection bag halfway. The nurses shrugged and apologized that my donation hadn’t worked out, and I apologized that my blood was so lazy. The only other thing they could think to suggest is that I try to use a vein in my other arm (all three attempts so far have been using my left arm). As I walked out, nurses were still shaking their heads: “. . . never seen that happen two times in a row!” Great.
It occurs to me that I am not a physically impressive specimen of humankind. My visual acuity is 20/400, I recently learned that I have flat feet, and apparently I can’t even bleed right. What am I, some sort of mummy? At least I know I’m not very likely to bleed to death.
I do intend to try again. This is something small I can do to try and help other people. Besides, its personal now. What, my blood isn’t good enough for you? You want my blood? TAKE MY BLOOD!