Monday, September 30, 2013

Bloody Hell, Needles Scare Me

I would have made the absolute worst junkie in the world. There are few things that freak me out more than needles piercing skin. I'll never forget the (second) time I got my ears pierced, that inimitable SQUEAK I heard and felt, deep in my bones, as the head of the needle penetrated the last layer of skin. (The old school way with ice, potato, and white thread, followed later by broom straw to stretch the holes.)

Note: no photos of actual blood OR needles here, for those as squeamish as I am.

When I was in labor, somehow I was persuaded to get an IV. Being a gullible, first-time mom, all someone had to say was "It's for the good of your baby," and I'dve agreed to have my head amputated with a pocket knife.

I told them, "I'm really scared of needles."

"Oh, we'll be quick," the nurse lied.

After poking around in my left elbow for several centuries and not being able to find a good vein, they moved on to my right arm. Where they popped a vein, and then returned to torture me on my left side some more, finally getting the IV in.

About five years ago, I decided I needed to grow up (in some if not all ways). It's not within my skillset to cure cancer or bring about world peace, nor within my budget to make substantial contributions to other organizations, but I could help save some lives in my own way.

I was determined to get over my childish fear of needles and start donating blood.

My one-gallon donation pin!
I'm 50% there. Still terrified of needles. When I have to have blood drawn for lab tests, because we all do, I can't stand to watch the needle going in, nor can I watch blood being drawn from anyone else. Not even on TV or in the movies.

I can't even watch those nature documentaries with a close shot of a mosquito sucking blood, for cryin' out loud.

But I have become a (semi-) regular blood donor. I've had lapses; gone off schedule for a year when I got my tattoo, and again when I was eating ibuprofen like TicTacs last year with the advent of my frozen shoulder problems.

I'm far from the most impressive donor, but I am proud to be working on my 2-gallon pin.

And if I can do it, wuss that I am, chances are, you can do it.

The temporary interview rooms are private.
They ask questions about your height, weight,
check your blood pressure and iron levels...

Must Have Blood

To be a donor, you need to be over 110 lbs (no problem there), in good health, and not be having sex for money or drugs, or intimately involved with someone who is having sex for money or drugs.


There are other questions about medications, medical conditions, life style (see sex for money/drugs), and travel. I always feel like The Most UNExciting Woman in the World, when I get to the travel questions: Have you lived in or traveled for three or more months in any of the following countries..? No, I haven't lived in the UK, Iraq, Africa, the West Indies, etc.
Most of the questions you answer yourself, in private, just you and the laptop.
Then someone comes in to check your answers and ID.

No, I have not been anywhere or done anything even vaguely dangerous, m'kay? Though, lest they think I am too old and boring, I am always tempted to brag about the time I almost had a one-night-stand with a sexy nightclub bouncer from the Caribbean.

The the nice little girl follows up on my pregnancy answers to the questionnaire: When did your last pregnancy end?

Me: "Uh, 1988, miscarriage."

Her: "What month and date?"

Me: "Geez, I don't remember - that was over 25 years ago! Do you remember everything from 25 years ago?"

Her: "Uhm," she looks away, "I wasn't actually born yet...?"

The only thing worse than humiliating oneself is not even maintaining shred of self-respect in front of taxidermied animals.


Identity Thieves Need Not Apply

One of the things that gets old, quickly, is that at every step of the process, the Red Cross people ask for name and date of birth. When you check in, when you start the interview process, when you are lying down about to donate, somebody is always coming up to ask you who you are. So far, while I may have flunked the Dangerously Exciting Life test, I have always been able to correctly verbalize my name and Date of Birth.

One you've completed the initial screening, they print about 10 labels. (more?) Labels are placed on each blood bag, on each blood vial, and for all I know, there are extra labels who gather together and party with Elvis the Elk afterward.

The blood collection technicians use electronic scanners to verify
the right donation bags and tubes are matched with each donor.

The first time I saw them bring over a set of donation bags, I almost levitated off the table. They expected me to fill all that?

You only have to fill ONE 8 oz bag; same as a small disposable water bottle.
Afterwards, provided your blood has no cooties,
it is separated out into red blood cells, platelets and plasma, and given to recipients.

 One donated pint of blood can save THREE lives

I won't lie - sometimes all doesn't go according to plan. There's an anti-coagulant packed in the tip of the needle, and sometimes that stings upon needle insertion. I can NEVER stand to watch as they stick the needle in me, and I've had a couple "bad" donations where my veins have not wanted to play nicely, resulting in some minor bruising. I've never passed out, but have seen a few high school girls do so.

I still get more out of giving than there are drawbacks, even as a total needle-scaredy-cat.

These blood testing tubes are filled from the overflow from the lines that go into the blood bags.
They are then sent off to be tested for HIV, West Nile, hepatitis, and other potentially communicable diseases.

Come for the blood donation, Stay for the cookies

Generally the whole process takes about an hour. 15 minutes to check in and review the reading materials. Another 15 minutes for the blood pressure and laptop quiz. Another 15 minutes or so for the actual donation, and then 15 minutes in the "canteen area," sucking up water and juice, eating cookies and snacks, and high-fiving the other blood donors.

I have been offered cookies the like of which I've never seen on grocery store shelves. I've also met some extremely interesting people. (As a writer, new hunting ground, yesss!) This last time, there was a young bearded man totally grooving on the idea your blood could be put into someone else's body! and save his/her life! Was that not the most awesome thing, ever?! (Enthusiastic Young Man also shared that he was passing on the raisins offered as a snack choice, since they gave him gas. Elvis Elk and I shared a secret laugh.)

Blood drives occur in all sorts of interesting locales. I've donated at actual Red Cross centers, at high schools, at local gathering spots, but one of my favorites is the Burbank Elks Lodge.

Because between Elvis up on the wall, the fairy lights around the edge of the room, and this glittering mirror ball. gently swaying in the breeze from the AC unit, it's like all our blood donations were having a party.

Watching the glitter ball, as I tried to remember to squeeze the hand ball every five seconds,
was soothing and hypnotic.
If blood had a disco theme song, what would it be? Staying Alive? I Will Survive?

Eventually, all good things must come to an end, and the blood is packed away. Is it bad of me that I was checking out the storage boxes...

...and truck, and contemplating an urban fantasy-type story where a gang of vampires began stealing a box or two of blood from the Red Cross trucks?

I didn't hang around long-enough to work out all the specifics, but that would be one way for a vampire to get by, in a pinch.

So there it is. Donate blood, receive a multitude of story ideas, characters, locales, cookies.... there is much material in the situation that any writer can make use of, for the price of a pinprick.

Not to mention the feeling-good-about-saving-a-life thing.

Have you ever donated blood?
Got a funny or scary story?
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