Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I Vant to Suck Your Blood

Every minute of every day, a Canadian will need blood. That's a lot of minutes, and an awful lot of blood. Luckily, blood is not rare, it's not hard to find, and it's not that difficult to excavate. Blood can come from the arms of you or me.

Last week I mentioned that Jason was donating blood, and a lot of people wrote in with questions, so let me tell you a bit more about the process.

First, let me just say that in my country, Canadian Blood Services does an awesome job collecting blood and distributing it to those in need. We're lucky to have them.

Whether you are looking to set up an appointment, or you just have some questions, calling 1-888-2-DONATE will do the trick. Last week we saw that there was a clinic going on at the mall, so we called to make appointments (we both donate) - these appointments are not strictly necessary, but they help keep the donation process down to about an hour.

If it's your first time donating, all you need to bring with you is your id. If you're a regular, you have a donor card. After you sign in, you're provided with some fascinating reading material (okay, not really fascinating, but it's required). Then they'll test you to make sure your iron levels are agreeable. Unfortunately, looking like a "big strong lass" and attesting that "I eat lots of meat!" won't get you off the hook - they prick your finger. This prick is quick, and feels just like an elastic band slapping you (tmi alert: Jason says it feels like the numb gun they use on ball sacks). They swish a drop of your blood in some blue liquid, and pronounce you healthy (or not, in which case, increase your cheerios intake, and try again next time).

Next up, they give you a questionnaire and seat you in a little booth a lot like voting, where you answer questions such as Have you had dental work in the past 3 days? and Have you been in prison this year? If you're filling out this form at the mall, an old man will amble over and consider it his right to invade your privacy and look over your shoulder. Feel free to poke him with the free pens provided for just such an occasion.

Then they put a number on your chest and you wait for a nurse to 'interview' you. While you wait, you are encourage heartily by several volunteers to drink your juice (provided). You should be well-hydrated before donation. You should also have eaten well earlier, and slept well the previous night. The interview is comprised of several more questions, such as Have you taken or paid money for sex or drugs?, followed by the testing of your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature, and then the nurse will kindly check your arms for track marks. Try not to take it too personally.

Then they leave you alone in the room, where you have a little heart to heart with yourself, and you decide if you have any doubts as to the safety of your blood. If you've engaged in any 'risk' behaviours, you can discreetly opt out of the process. There is no pressure whatsoever to continue. You can drop out at any time. They're actually very kind about this - whatever your reason (and people have a lot of reasons).

Depending on how you've answered the donor questionaire, the nurse may have some follow-up questions. Personally, I have to explain the nature of the AIDS tests that I've taken in the past.

If you've met the basic eligibility criterion, then lucky you, it's blood-letting time! If you're at an impromptu clinic at the mall, you'll lie down in a chair that's similar to those lawn chair chaises-longues thingies, with the plastic slats. They give you a little pillow for your head. If you go to the permanent clinic, they have nicer facilities, and leather chair. Fancy schmancy!

Unfortunately, this is where things get complicated for me. I have the distinct honour of being known as The Worst Veins in Canada. I've always had this problem, which has been more than a nuissance to me all the many times I've had blood drawn. Lab technicians and I.V. nurses who spend their whole careers doing nothing but inserting needles get the shakes when they see me. Often, I have been stuck dozens of times in futile attempts to draw blood before the nurse collapses in tears and calls for backup. The first time I remember getting an I.V. at the age of 9, the nurse finally succeeded in getting it in, at which time my vein promptly collapsed, spurted blood, and took the whole 2-hour endeavour back to square one. When a vein is tapped, it often provides little to no blood. I just suck. I am no fan of needles, and I was wary to inflict my vein-less arms on the poor staff of Canadian Blood Services, but I figure, in the name of helping people, I should be able to withstand some extra pricks, and someone should be willing to give them to me. And they always are; often, with a smile.

Last week was no different. If I'm in a hospital facility, they've often wrapped my arm in a warm blanket to try to encourage my veins (not that it helps much). But when you're in the middle of a mall, options are limited. Usually, if you are right handed, you should give blood through your left arm, to reduce hampering your activities. I offered my left, and they looked and tapped and slapped, then squeezed and pressed, but no veins presented themselves. Then they tried my right arm, but this was no better. So at this point, they are always prepared to send me home.

They don't want to jab you. They don't want to hurt you. They're very understanding.

Having given me the choice, I assured the poor guy attending me that he could jab away, and he did. And finally, he got one. And to my astonishment, my blood didn't trickle out and the sputter away...it flowed! Success! You lay there, squeezing a ball, for 8-15 minutes (usually) while 450ml of blood is taken from you. You choose to look or not look (I choose not, sorry, I'm a bit of a wuss).

Jason, on another lawn chair, has great veins. They stand at attention at the slightest provocation. He is a nurse's dream patient. For him, a regular sized needle is used (because my veins are bad, they usually have to use a bigger one). He feels no pain. His blood moves quick.

But Jason has another problem.

The first time I discovered Jason's problem, we had been living together only a short while. Jason was doing a few dishes when a plate broke in the sink and scratched his finger. It didn't really bleed so much as blood rose to the surface of the cut, but never spilled out of the skin. But the mere sight of this hint of blood was enough to make my 6'1, 200 lb boyfriend woozy and faint-hearted. He had to sit down, and take deep breaths.

He has no problem with anyone else's blood. I bleed an awful lot, as you'll all remember, and in fact, Jason had to assist the surgeon in an emergency operation on my back once, and he was completely fine. Didn't blink an eye. The surgeon thumped him on the back for a job well done. But if it's his own blood, it's a very different story.

Jason knows that he has this problem, but he always feels so confident sitting in his lawn chair that he sneaks a peak at the tubes containing his crimson blood...to his demise. Last week was no exception. I'm sitting in my chair, squeezing the ball, being ogled by pretzel-eating shoppers 2 stories over me when I hear a nurse call "Can I get a little help?"

And I know. I know it's Jason.

They take the needle from his arm, turn him on his side, remove his glasses, fan him profusely.

The nurse by my side says to me "Don't worry, he'll be okay."

"I know," I tell her "he just does this for the female attention."

Poor Jason. Luckily, he managed to donate nearly the full amount before succumbing to his condition. He is always embarrassed by it, but they don't take chances. If you're not feeling well, they take care of you. Persisently.

Jason recovers quickly. In fact, he's up and at the cookie table before I am (go figure). They like you to sit and rest 5 minutes after your donation (if you're a newbie, you wear a special sticker and they take extra special care of you, and monitor you for a bit longer). He's got a band-aid in the crook of his elbow, and another on his finger tip where they tested for his iron, but other than that, he's looking rosy and well once again.

Over at my lawn chair I am discovered to be an "oozer" (I bleed a bit more than usual) so they wrap me up good. It restricts my elbow a bit, so no hand jobs tonight. Actually, you should refrain from lifting (it could lease to bruising) and exertion for 6-8 hours afterward. No big deal, really.

When I amble over to the refreshment table, a volunteer greets me with "You have the choice of juice or juice."

"Um...I think I'll have the juice, please."

"Great choice!" he shouts at me. "Orange or peach?"

There are cookies on the table, and other snacks as well. Jason, recovered, is munching away. He might be woozy, but his stomach is strong like bull.

The volunteers like to remind you what a great thing you just did. Your blood donation can be split 3 ways: into red cells, which carry oxygen, that can help patients who are anemic due to blood loss, then platelets, which are cell fragments needed by cancer patients who can't produce enough of their own, and into plasma, the liquid that the carries everything, which is needed by hemophiliacs.

See this chubby arm? Once its contents are split up, it may help to save the lives of up to 3 people per donation. Between Jason and I, that's 6 people per donation. That's a lot of lives for just a little discomfort.

As we are finishing our juice, another gentlemen reaches the refreshment table. He has been unable to donate that day, for one reason or another. "Don't beat yourself up," the volunteer tells him, "the point is, you tried. Now you have the choice of juice or juice."

"Juice" the young man chooses.

"That's a great choice!" the volunteer tells him, and so the cycle continues, in more ways than one.

From the collection, the blood will be tested, twice, for any disease or discrepancies. It will also be typed. Like 46% of Canadians, Jason is type O. He is an important donor because of his universality. As an AB, I am typed with only 3% of Canadians - also important for its rarity. In short, every single donor is important, particulary because less than 4% of us currently donate. It's not enough.

After being cleared and typed, the blood makes its way to hospitals. Although it can be refrigerated for some time, your donation could be in someone else's veins 48 hours later. Blood is life - life for an accident victim, a premature baby, a cancer patient, or anyone undergoing major surgery.

The next day, when the bandages are removed, all that's left on Jason's arm is a tiny mark.

A small price to pay, even for the man who risks fainting and vomiting every time he donates.

My arm is slightly more mangled, but don't be discouraged: I'm allergic to band-aids and forgot to mention it.

The point is, people make a lot of excuses for not donating. Jason and I are probably the poster couple for reasons why not - but we go anyway. Needles suck. Feeling faint sucks. Band-aid burns suck. But you know what sucks more? Dying because there wasn't enough blood.

That sucks the most.


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