Wednesday, September 26, 2012

let's talk about the blood drive.

Before I begin, I’d like to issue a disclaimer: I think giving blood is a wonderful thing to do. Many people have given gallons and gallons of blood and suffered no ill effects. While I am not one of these lucky individuals, I hope my horror stories won’t scare you away from donating. I simply feel that it’s my duty as a blog writer to share with you my mishaps over the years: aka, what didn’t kill me. Just laugh and be glad it wasn’t you.

My dad has given blood for as long as I can remember. Every year, the Arlington chapter of the National Honor Society would host a blood drive in the gymnasium, and they could always count on Dad. When I was inducted into the NHS, I wasn’t old enough to give blood (the minimum age is 17), but I was old enough to solicit past donors. (Sadly, the NHS advisor wouldn’t allow me to use my best Dracula voice and say, “The NHS vants your blooooood!” I think we would’ve gotten more donations that way.)

The following year, I was old enough to donate blood at the NHS drive. I had been there all day already: senior NHS members spent the day wearing Red Cross t-shirts and escorting donors from their gurneys to the cookie/recovery area. As a first-time donor, I had to lay flat on my gurney, and several of my friends gave me moral support: they made horrible faces when the large needle approached and took bets on how long it would take me to faint. 
I didn’t faint: I filled up my little blood bag in no time, and I felt great. My grandma Sheila 
and my dad also donated blood that day: how often do you have three generations donating blood at once?

I gave blood again that summer, shortly before I was to leave for college. Dad and I carpooled to the blood drive, and once again, it was a piece of cake. I even impressed the nurses with my ability to fill up a blood bag in under four minutes. Plus, they had the good cookies and the good juice: what’s not to love?

When I caught wind of a blood drive in Morris, my college town, I signed right up. I strode right into the blood drive, ready to be in and out like I had in years past. This time, I would have no such luck. I breezed through the screening process (having never dabbled in prostitution or heroin, their questions are no-brainers for me) and plopped down in the donation chair. My phlebotomist, as it turns out, was a newbie. The first time she tried to get the needle in my arm, a fountain of blood spurted from my arm. “Oops,” she said: the first of many that day. She tried a time or two to find the vein on her own before seeking help. Even then, the needle must’ve been slightly off: it took me about half an hour to fill up the bag, versus my normal five minutes. Plus, it HURT. During my blood-giving excursions of years past, I emerged with barely a scratch: just a tiny puncture wound where the needle had gone in. After this experience, however, I sported an impressive bruise that spanned from halfway below my elbow to halfway up my bicep. That sucker lasted for WEEKS.

Even after this less-than-pleasant experience, when Morris put on another blood drive in fall 2007, I was willing to give it another shot. I signed up at 2:15: jazz band ended at 1.50, and my next class didn’t start until 4:20, which gave me plenty of time to give blood and get some writing done for my job at the campus newspaper.

There was quite a long wait when I arrived for my appointment, and I didn’t actually get called until 3 o’clock. No problem: I still had ample time before my art history class. I finally got situated on my gurney, and I stuck out my arm: ready for action. My phlebotomist-of-the-hour approached me cheerfully and stabbed me in the arm without much ado. But then what did I hear? “Oops.” For some reason, my remarkably easy-to-find veins (according to the Arlington blood drives) had become elusive in Morris.

At the first Morris blood drive when my vein couldn’t be found, the staff had taken the needle out of my arm and re-punctured it, trying again. This time, they didn’t take the needle out of my arm: they WIGGLED IT AROUND IN MY ARM TRYING TO FIND THE VEIN THAT WAY. If that doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, I don’t know what will. Meanwhile, I was doing my best not to pass out as the trickle of blood out of my arm grew into a stream. The needle wasn’t taped down or secured in any way, so it would slide and flop about and aid in my queasiness. After about an hour of this – yes, friends: ONE HOUR – they finally gave up on me. I was bandaged up and sent over to the recovery area, where they had sub sandwiches and orange punch.

I couldn’t stay and recover too long: after all, I had an art history class to attend! As I stood up to leave, I tried to pick up my backpack… and found that my right arm (the donor arm) would not work. I couldn’t grasp anything, and I wasn’t even able to extend my right arm. I was a pathetic sight. I dragged my sorry self over to my art history classroom to explain my situation to my professor: in a class that involved taking notes for the entire hour-and-forty-minute duration, there was no way I could accomplish anything with a non-functioning writing hand. My professor took pity on me: “Go home!”

Going home was another issue entirely. I didn’t often drive to school, but on this particular day, I had. All throughout college, I drove a little five-speed manual. The shifter, of course, is on the right: my right arm didn’t work. I’d have to reach over with my left hand to shift while driving with my knees. Luckily, I didn’t have too far to go. That evening, I was supposed to go to an on-campus event and write about it for the school paper: that, too, involved taking notes. I gamely attempted to write some feeble notes: while I had regained gripping ability, I was still not able to write legibly. Luckily, James came with me, so I was able to enlist his help. He took notes, I got my article written, and my arm was back to full power in a couple of days (but the impressively disgusting bruise, much like the last one, lingered for quite some time).

This was five years ago. When I learned about the Bloodmobile making a stop near my workplace in mid-September, I signed right up. It had been five years, after all, and it was time for me to get back on the blood-giving horse. I put myself down for a slot right after lunch, so I was sure to be well fed. I arrived for my appointment, and the screening process was just like I remembered. I settled down in my blood donor chair, and I have to admit, it was a little weird: the Bloodmobile is a glorified bus, and it stayed running the whole time, causing me to vibrate while I sat there and gave blood. It was also freezing in there. The blood pumping tube thing was draped over my arm, so my own hot blood on my cold, cold skin was a little disconcerting. No big deal, though.

I was done with the whole process in about twenty minutes. They bandaged me up and said, “Ok, you’re free to go!” This was unusual: in all my blood-giving years, I’d only ever donated with the Red Cross. When you’re done at the Red Cross, they make you sit for at least 15 minutes, during which time you must have a glass of water, a glass of juice, and some kind of snack. This was not the Red Cross, though, so they did not require you to stay. At the front of the bus, they had some snacks and pop that you could take with you, and a little bench to sit on if you chose. No one before me had stopped to recover on the benches, and I didn’t either: I felt just fine, so I took a Dr Pepper and a little packet of Oreos and went happily on my way.

The walk back to work was only about two blocks, but around half a block into my journey, I started feeling a little strange. I was suddenly very hot, and my vision had gone fuzzy. I stumbled over to a brick wall and leaned against it, totally confident that I just needed a minute to breathe and I’d be fine. The next thing I knew, I was face down on the pavement, and some guy was telling me he was going to get a nurse.

The Bloodmobile nurses arrived and dragged my limp body into the nearest building. Unfortunately, the office where they laid me out the floor had a lot of foot traffic and a large window: I got quite a few stares as I was sprawled out on the floor. All I could think in my woozy state was “Thank God I didn’t wear a skirt today.” It took almost an hour for me to even be able to sit up without too many issues, so there was no way I’d be going back to work that afternoon, but there was no way I could drive myself home, either. Thankfully, two of my coworkers arrived to scrape me off the ground and deliver me safely home. Talk about embarrassing.

Luckily for me, James was only an hour away from home. When I called him and told him about my pitiful day, he rushed back to Sioux Falls. James did a great job nursing my scraped elbow and my bruised pride: James has all the bedside manner and compassion that I so obviously lack. Next time James is sick, I’ll do my best to be nice to him. It’s against my nature, but I’ll give it a try.

Though my blood-giving experiences have been more misses than hits, I don’t think I’ll give up that easily. Next time, though, I’ll take some extra precautions: I’ll sit down and eat cookies afterwards whether they want me to or not. I’ll be sure not to wear a skirt. And it might not be a bad idea to invest in some elbow pads. It will be a while before I donate blood again (this last fiasco happened just over a week ago), but when I do, wish me luck: obviously, I’m going to need it.

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