Fourteen years ago I traveled to North Carolina to give a kidney to my sister, Kris. She and “George” (the name she gave to the kidney for whatever reason) have been going strong ever since, thank the good Lord.
As part of the process, Kris needed platelets to help the healing. It was the first time I had ever heard about making platelet donations. I had given blood for years before that, but didn’t know about giving platelets. At the time, I was living and working in South Jersey. I found that the Red Cross in Philadelphia was equipped for platelet donations and so became a regular donor there.
Platelet donations are different from whole blood donations. For one, the process involves extracting blood, sending it to a machine that separates the platelets from everything else, and then sending what’s left (plasma, blood cells, etc.) back to the donor. The machines at the Philly Red Cross used two tubes and, therefore, two arms: one for taking and the other for giving back. Consequently, once you were in the chair, you really couldn’t do another thing except stay in one position, not moving. To help avoid total boredom the center provided a library of VHS tape movies, which leads to the second difference between donating platelets and whole blood: the time involved.
I can usually complete my pint of whole blood in a matter of 15-20 minutes, once I get going. Platelet donations, because of the complexity of the process, can take 90 minutes or more. Hence, the movies. While donating platelets sounds like a noble thing to do, I have to admit that I selfishly looked forward to those times just to get away, knowing that I wouldn’t have to worry about the phone ringing or any other such interruptions. After retiring, however, I wasn’t able to make the trek to Philly as easily as I could from South Jersey, and so the platelet donations fell away.
And so, it was with some degree of excitement that I recently learned about the platelet donation center at our local Dover blood bank. I made an appointment and eagerly showed up for my two-hour hiatus. Apparently, in recent years, they have developed new machines since there was only one needle stick this time. The same stick will “extract and return,” sparing the donor another stick in his/her other arm.
As with the Philly center, Dover also offered movies (on DVD these days, not VHS tape), and so I chose the silliest one on the list: “The Three Stooges: the Movie.” The nurse got my arm all set up and started the movie. Only a moment or two into the donation she called another nurse over (not a good sign). They asked me if I felt any discomfort, and I said that it felt like a small pinch, which I assumed was just the feeling of having the needle in my arm.
Nope. Seems that the needle was malfunctioning. It was drawing blood out, but it missed the vein for the return, and fluid was being pumped back under the skin of my arm instead of back in the vein.
Stop the presses!!
They took the needle out. I asked if they could try my other arm, but they said no. Seems that the mechanical malfunction wasn’t the only problem. They had taken enough of my blood in those first few minutes to determine that my platelet count was significantly low! “Even if we could have continued, it would have taken an exorbitant amount of time to get the number of platelets we need,” said one nurse.
So that was that. The nice lady in the canteen offered me a snack, but I turned it down. I would have felt guilty taking a snack from somebody whose donation was successful.
I have an appointment with my PCP this afternoon (May 4) to see what’s going on with my platelets. Till then, I guess I’m going to be able to donate only whole blood until we find a fix for my platelets.
It really sucks when you want to do something benevolent and are stopped by some surprise that halts your desire. Especially when you don’t get to watch The Three Stooges.