The Blood ees the life, Meester Renfield
This edition of The Shop will discuss
Blood. Now before anyone starts feeling faint, or a little queasy, this
has nothing to do with matters best left to CSI or Bones (either the young
lady on current TV or the cantankerous medical officer on Starship
Enterprise). No, this is about your blood and mine, and how it can be a
blessing to someone we'll probably never know. We're talking about blood
donation, a field in which it is definitely more blessed (and more
pleasant) to give than to receive. I've been donating for more than 40
years. Not sure how many gallons, but it would probably be enough to
provide a drink for every vampire in Transylvania. When I started, the
collection vessels were glass bottles, something you'll only see in old
movies or medical museums today. Now they're specially designed plastic
bags. For those of you not of the Blood Brotherhood and Sisterhood,
The equipment used to extract the donation
is strictly a one-shot deal. It comes from the factory (and despite jokes
by some donors-- not the New Bedford Harpoon Works) sterile and sealed,
and after being used for one donor, is classed as “biohazard”, and
probably cast into a fiery furnace (sounds much more dramatic than
“hospital incinerator”). So don't worry about catching some weird
disease, or cooties, or recalcitrant plebney from the needle or its
Does it hurt? Yes, you will get poked with
a needle a couple of times, but think of the accident victim or sick
person who will receive your blood. Now that’s HURT! During one of my
sessions, the donation was divided into four containers, because they
needed some for the neonatal unit. One will never know, but perhaps your
donation will help make the difference between a healthy, growing baby and
a sad day at the infants and children section of the cemetery.
Fixed location blood centers, such as the
one I usually go to at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, usually request
that appointments be made, so they don't have a whole herd of eager donors
showing up at one time, but walk-ins are OK. Another way of gathering
donations is the traveling center, also known a “Bloodmobile”. A crew
sets up cots in a large room and the technicians deploy their gear for a
one-day session at a business, government facility or college. Some of
the more enlightened companies, knowing the importance of this service,
let workers donate on company time. This brings to mind the TV series,
"M*A*S*H," during the course of many, if not most, episodes the camera
would pick up a wall placard: BLOOD DONORS/ URGENTLY NEEDED/Sign up now!
I've wondered how many donations by civilians on the “home front” were
prompted by these notices aimed at military personnel. Stay tuned for the
end of the show—we'll give you some important phone numbers.
So you show up at the donor center at the
agreed upon time. Now what? First of all, you fill out a registration
form and a questionnaire. This has become more complex over the years.
When I started, as long as you hadn’t visited a tropical fever swamp in
the past few years, there were no more geographical questions. Now they
ask about the British Isles. England? Home of National Health Service?
The place where vaccination and penicillin were discovered? Yup—if you
stayed over a certain time span in Merrie Olde England, there’s a remote
possibility of Mad Cow Disease.
Then we get to some personal questions, not
about where you have been, but who you have been with. This is where
folks who have led relatively dull lives, at least in the romantic sense,
have the edge. These questions, is case anybody wonders, were added after
HIV/AIDS became front-page news.
After you hand in the form, you’ll be
direct to a seating area to wait for the technician/interviewer to call
your name. You'll have a finger poked for a small blood sample and go
over the form; questions such as “What is Chagas Disease?” can be answered
at this time. Pulse and blood pressure readings will be taken, and if
everything is OK, you'll have another short wait before being assigned to
Mobile blood centers have rather hard cots,
but permanent locations usually have comfy recliners. The donation nurse
will apply another blood pressure cuff (if you want to impress people,
call it a “sphygmomanometer”) and pump it up to locate a suitable vein.
Once the tapping spot is found, he or she will swab it down with
disinfectants and insert the needle. You'll be given a soft
hand-exerciser to squeeze, and you're in business.
I've never timed it, but in not too many
minutes, your bag will be full, the nurse will remove the needle, apply a
dressing to the hole in your arm, and hoist said appendage to a vertical
position. After wrapping a bandage around your arm, you'll be asked to
sit up. If you're a bit dizzy, you can lie back down; otherwise you'll
get to the best part of donation: MUNCHIES! You'll be escorted to the
post-donation table and get a choice of drinks and assorted goodies.
Sometimes the drinks and eats will be brought to your recliner.
Regarding aftereffects: An old cliché about
blood donation is the story about a college program. A petite secretary
from the Dean’s office, who just barely makes the minimum weight, goes
through the process without a problem, but the big, burly football lineman
takes one step and is so dizzy he can barely make it to a chair.
Most donors don't have any problems. After
completing the donation, donors are required to wait for 15 minutes before
leaving (just to be on the safe side.) You'll be instructed to leave the
bandage on for four hours, or long enough to impress everybody that you're
a Blood Donor!, whichever is longer. At Huntington, you have a choice of
bandage colors, e.g. Dodger Blue or Angels Red.
Drinking plenty of water for the next few
days is important. One blood center worker reminded donors, “If you pass
a drinking fountain, don't pass it up.” You'll also be told to avoid
heavy or hazardous physical activity for the next day or two (skydiving
will just have to wait!), and you will be thanked for your donation.
Sometimes gift items are handed out to frequent donors; I have a T-shirt
that shows a bat (the sort associated with Count Dracula, not Manny
Ramirez) and the question, “GOT BLOOD?” This time, they didn't have any
prezzies that I could use, so I just said, “I look at this as saying
‘thanks’ to my guardian angel for keeping me out of the other parts of the
Back when I lived in Duarte, I’d sometimes
get a call from the Red Cross donor center on Vermont Ave. in Los
Angeles. They would need my type to “prime” a heart-lung machine for
open-heart surgery (which in those days was “cutting edge” medicine, so to
speak). I'd go truckin’ on over to the far side of downtown and do my
bit. One day, one of the volunteers who helped at the center heard
“Duarte” and told me how his parents were among the founders of the City
of Hope, which started as a place where tuberculosis patients from
snow-belt cities could get better in the fresh air (this was a long time
ago!) and sunshine of Southern California. Nowadays, of course, City of
Hope is known world wide for its medical research, using techniques and
technology that wouldn't have even been in the science fiction of its
And now for the phone numbers:
Huntington Memorial Hospital Blood
Go south on Fair Oaks to Congress St., turn
right and then left to the east parking structure. The Blood Center is
south of the Emergency facility.
City of Hope Michael Amini Transfusion
Medicine Center: 626-471-7171
A little blood center humor: A man is busy
filling out the questionnaire at the blood center and notices a stretch
limo pulling up outside. An attendant rolls out a red carpet and an
ordinary looking fellow steps out of the limo. When he enters the room,
everyone reacts like a rock star or famous TV personality has just
arrived. The man working on the paperwork asks one of the staffers the
reason for all this, and is told, “AB Negative.” (for those not aware of
such things, AB Neg is the rarest of blood types, found in less than 1
percent of the population)
Not sure where I heard this; I'm not a
doctor, and don't even play one on TV, but at least one medical expert was
quoted as saying that blood donation stimulates various functions of the
body and is beneficial to the donor.
At the start of this column, I mentioned
Bones, as in Dr. McCoy of the Starship Enterprise. On one of the episodes
of "Star Trek" (the original series), the doctor finds that he has somehow
contracted a form of “polycythemia” a rare but real blood disease. The
story winds up with Bones being cured by advanced medicine found in the
course of rescuing a planetoid/starship. The first time I saw this
episode, I thought, “Aha! Whoever wrote the script was either a medical
student or a blood donor.” Although it’s not on today’s questionnaire,
for many years, “Do you have polycythemia (too many red blood cells)?” was
part of the donor interview, and otherwise is not something that many
people would be aware of.
Live long and prosper!
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