October 17th, 2009

Allah Sulu-Capcom

More Wacky Hijinks at the Red Cross

It's been two weeks since my last misadventure attempting to donate platelets to the American Red Cross, so I went back in this morning to let them have another stab at it. Right off the bat, there was a problem – they had told me last time that, since they had had a problem attempting the "two arm" method, that they would try the "one arm" method this time. The "two arm" method is kind of like dialysis, where they have a needle in each arm, pull the blood out of one, filter out whatever, and then pump the remainder of the blood back into the body through the needle in the other arm. It's not a considered stressful (unless you're bothered by needles and blood and all, which I'm not) because they're only taking a small amount of blood out of your body at any given time. In the "one arm" method, however, they apparently withdraw a full unit of blood from your arm in one shot, process it, and then return it back to you into the same arm they took it out of. I think they do this more than once, until they've collected enough platelets.
What they had failed to tell me last time, and only remembered to bring up this time, is that they will not do "one arm" apheresis within 56 days of a normal blood donation (the "two arm" method can be done every two weeks) since the Red Cross requires a minimum wait of 56 days between withdrawing a full unit of blood – even if they're planning on putting most of it right back in. You know, just in case there are complications (like falling asleep during the movie) during that narrow window when the unit of blood is out of my body and I'm running a quart low. So, as long as I was already there anyway, they tried to do a "two arm" donation on me again… with the same results. My right arm looked fine, veins and all, when they examined it beforehand (and marked the location of the main vein with a sharpie); but once it came time to actually put the needle in, they couldn't find the vein.
The human body is full of blood. In the Japanese animation and Chinese live action films I watch, a mere paper cut will produce literal geysers of blood. (Don't even get started on the erection-induced nosebleeds.) And yet, these trained professionals were literally stabbing my arm with a pointy metal object and failing to find any blood. How does that work?
I have done normal blood donations through my right arm in the past, although I favor the left side since I'm right-handed and the left arm's veins appear to be more reliable than those on the right. I'm not going to comment on the "bleeding hearts of the left" stereotype, but there's a definite "bleeding arms of the left" thing going on here. In any event, one of the things one does to make a normal blood donation go more smoothly is to double one's intake of liquids before donating. If you drink a lot before going in to donate, your veins (and, by the way, bladder) will be filled to bursting, easy to find, and more than capable of discharging the red iron goodness. However, when you're going to be stuck in a chair for two to three hours with both arms impaled by needles and attached to a machine, obviously the "drink a lot" / "bursting bladder" technique is contraindicated. (The Red Cross specifically does not advise you to double up on liquids before apheresis, they merely advise you to increase your calcium intake. I figure I have that covered with all the Tums I take when my acid is high, but I drank plenty of milk this week too.)
Anyway, end result, they're not going to try the "two arm" method on my anymore. The "one arm" method only works if it's been 56 days since your last full blood donation. This is a problem, since I make a full blood donation every 56 days (barring sickness; and if I'm sick, they aren't going to want me for aphersis either). So there's absolutely no way that I can squeeze in platelet donations in addition to my normal full blood donations – the only way for me to donate platelets is to do a platelet donation instead of a full blood donation when I next hit 56 days. I asked them which was preferable, full blood donations or platelet donations. There are far fewer people who donate platelets than full blood (a platelet donation gets more platelets than a full blood donation does, and people undergoing chemotherapy need a lot of platelets), so they suggested that I might want to consider alternating full blood donations and platelet donations. (The point may be moot since I have yet to have a successful platelet donation, and because I may be getting another tattoo in the near future and excluding myself from any donations for some time – a year – thereafter.)
IMPORTANT NOTE: I hope that I am not scaring anyone away from donating blood. That is not my intention. I have donated blood several dozen times, and almost never had even the slightest problem doing so. If you're thinking about giving blood, and you're eligible, go ahead and do it – it's important. The problems I'm having are only arising because I'm trying something different. Far fewer people donate platelets through aphersis than donate regular blood through a standard donation, and I'm beginning to have some suspicions as to why that may be. But I haven't given up trying, and I plan to continue standard donations whenever I'm eligible.