Friday, November 14, 2008

Bloody Debacle

I'm always perplexed when I run into an adult who claims that they have never really had blood taken before. Blood and its study/donation/taking/mismatch has figured largely in my life. When I was in 5th grade, our teacher assigned a research paper/presentation on a subject of our choosing, as long as it had something to do with the Civil War. I, being a budding scientist and supremely bored with the study of history and specifically the study of the history of wars (what can I say, I think it's subconscious rebellion against my history-teacher mother and Civil War-obsessed extended family) decided to do my paper on blood. My teacher, God bless her, decided to allow it after hearing my argument that quite a bit of blood was lost during the Civil War and that my paper would end with a tidy closing paragraph mentioning that Antietam was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. So while my (chump) classmates wrote papers and did presentations on Gettysburg and Robert E. Lee, I delved into encyclopedia articles about platelets and Rhesus factors.

At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with Hashimodo's thyroiditis and Grave's disease, and thus began my intimate relationship with my own blood. Since then I have had varying amounts of blood taken sometimes as often as every 2 weeks, never less often than every 6 months. At first I never had problems having blood taken, it was a very normal occurance for me. I was good at it too, the only times anyone has ever had a problem getting blood from me were after volleyball practice in high school (when I was dehydrated and had spent the last 2 hours beating the blood out of my arms) and while I was being smashed in the stomach and the back simultaneously with sledgehammers in labor with Emily, so I didn't really even notice or care that it took them 5 tries that time. "I don't understand, this has never happened to me before!" exclaimed the 3rd nurse to give it a shot.

I started to realize I was more like my dad (who did many things involving blood to monkeys in his career as a biologist but passes out at the mere sight of a drop of his own blood) in college. Finding myself in desperate need of extra cash and having previously tried various part-time jobs to the detriment of my GPA, I signed up to be a test subject for an experimental vaccine for Dengue Fever. I know, I know, I've been told by everyone I know how stupid I was, but hey, I got $750 and immunity to Dengue Fever (along with the 104 degree fever, blinding headache and painful rash all over my body for days) so there! As part of the study, they took 14 tubes of blood, and they unfortunately didn't use a butterfly needle. That means that every time they changed tubes, the needle wiggled in and out of my arm a little bit, which totally squinked me out. I told the nurse I felt like I was going to pass out, and as if she had been eagerly waiting for just such an occurance, she immediately whipped out the smelling salts which changed my status from "about to pass out" to "about to barf".

After college, I started donating blood because as an O+ donor I felt it was my duty to help. My blood is only half as awesome as O- donors, but still pretty awesome, and I figured that my extensive experience with blood-giving made me a good candidate. My husband's work runs quarterly blood drives, so it was convenient for me as well. All went just fine until my third donation, after which I stood up, walked over to the recovery table, got into a converstaion with an aquaintance (who was waiting to donate for the first time), then passed out cold. I can remember thinking to myself "Do NOT pass out, you'll scare the crap out of her and it would be incredibly rude to pass out in the middle of a conversation", but my postive self-talk was all for naught. The twinkling stars in my peripheral vision could not be held back, and as they led the blackness in towards the center, I keeled right over. I awoke to people slapping me and shouting my name. I saw my friend Matt running over and I weakly asked him "Did I throw up?" Apparently I was very concerned with the etiquette of fainting. As the phlebotomists laid me down on a cot behind a divider and assigned Matt to watch over me, my first-time donor aquaintance mumbled "I think I need another bag of cookies" and went running for the snack table.

Despite my peformance, I donated again, at which point I had the privledge of watching another person pass out. I was totally embarassed, because BOY did she look awful and I was sincerely hoping I hadn't looked like that when I had passed out.

Then I took a trip to Darkest Peru and was banned from donating blood for a year, during which time I got pregnant and that's a whole other kettle of fish. Doctors love taking pregnant women's blood, they must think since you have such an increase in blood volume you can spare it, but listen buddy, I made that myself for my baby so control yourself. After Emily was born, I learned that even though Will and I are both Rh+, the fact that I have type O blood means any babies I have who do not are at risk for severe jaundice because having Will's type B blood (as Emily does) makes them "Coombs positive". I never knew about this beforehand, but daily pediatrician visits complete with heel sticks, weigh-ins that made me cry as I watched my baby get skinnier and yellower, and the eerie blue glow of bili lights taught me quick.

I am ashamed to say that I have become more fearful of giving blood these days, and had not gone back since having Emily. When I got a call on Wednesday informing me of a blood drive that would be happening right where I would be running errands while Emily was at Grammy's house, I couldn't very well come up with any more excuses. I figured I am now sporting about 15 more pounds than I was last time I passed out (my maternal fat stores, which I selflessly carry in case Emily needs them in the future) so I was bolstered by that thought.

So yesterday I walked into a church to resume my blood donation career. And once again, it was memorable.

After being asked my gender (um, wow, do I really look so androgenous that you can't tell?) and deemed fit to donate, I was handed a big pile of plastic bags into which my blood would shortly be pouring. This was a bit odd to me, shouldn't such things remain in a sterile environment supervised by trained medical personnel until being used? I could have taken the caps off the needles and dragged them across the floor, inadvertantly punctured my bag, detatched a tube or done any number of things to compromise them. I just found this a bit strange.

Then I was escorted to my seat, and the phlebotomist had a very bustle-y, "I have way too much going on" attitude about her, but she still had time to yak for quite awhile with each patient when the topic interested her. I can't complain too much, she hit the vein on the first try, and I have no bruising today or freaky clicking in my inner elbow when I bend my arm like I have had before. She plugged me in, then went over to start on the next guy, who had to go coach a little girls basketball team in half an hour. As she was swabbing him with iodine she looked over at my bag and her eyes got big. She said "You can stop squeezing now, your bag is full!". She yelled for someone to come over and unplug me since she had just disinfected the other guy, but all she got were bovine stares so she scurried over to do it herself. She was telling me how she hadn't expected me to fill the bag in under 4 minutes when I heard her say "Uh oh". I was already feeling a little woozy from the needle removing process, but stupid me, I looked down anyway and was treated to the sight of my blood all over the floor. Luckily it was she and not me who had dropped it there, and even more luckily it was just the blood from the tube that they don't really use anyway and not from the bag that had spilled, but I didn't know all of that at the time. I tried coughing, which I knew from past experiences was supposed to push more blood to your head, but to no avail. She was desperately trying to juggle my bag of blood and cover the gore with paper towels at the same time as the other donors' eyes got bigger and bigger, and that was when my dizziness and nausea were joined by my friends, the twinkling stars and I sighed "I think I'm going to pass out".

Poor lady. Poor other donors who had to watch 3 people rush to my side as my blood splattered the floor. And poor guy I made even later to his girls basketball practice with all my drama.

An ice chip in the eye, a rest in a reclined position and a forced ingestion of a coke and I was feeling just fine again. So fine that they allowed me to eat my apple chips instead of cookies (donating blood is terrible for a diet, but I guess you temporarily lose over a pound in the process so that makes me feel a bit better about it) and I was able to leave a bit later. Apparently I bleed too fast, and my body doesn't take kindly to losing a pint of blood in less than 4 minutes. At least now I know.

So I will continue to donate blood because as bad as it briefly makes me feel, I know I am helping someone who is feeling even worse. I encourage everyone else to donate blood too, but learn from my mistakes and try not to bleed to fast when you do it :-)


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