Friday, June 26, 2015

The Golden Hour

She got me when I was most vulnerable: flat on my back, sleeves rolled up, and bleeding into a plastic bag.

Flattery, gratitude, an acknowledgement of a long history of donating blood and a nice, clean (boring but reliable) record free of trips to exotic countries (Africa, the UK in the 1980s), drug use and exotic sexual encounters will get you an invitation to go that one step further into the world of plasmas donation. I was flattered, eager to please and matched the profile of age, gender and weight, so I said I'd give it a go. And this week was when I did it.

Apheresis is the technique used, a system not unlike blood extraction, but using a slightly bigger needle. They don't tell you that in advance, but I don't have a problem with needles (that shooty jabby clicky haemoglobin lance and the squeezing that follows, mind... I had a bruise on my pinky for two days!) You simply check in, lie on the reclining chair and over 42 minutes and three cycles an amount of blood is drawn out of you, fed into a centrifuge to extract the plasma, and then at the end of that cycle the blood is returned to you. Because of this, there's none of the requisite potential light-headedness or faintness after ex-sanguination, and you get biscuits and sweet cordial THROUGHOUT. And at the end you can get up, walk out and go back to work with just a couple of band-aids and an interesting story to tell.

My first experience was pretty interesting, but quiet. The room was warm (it's been a cold week in Wellington, but among the weird side effects of having your blood reintroduced to your veins alongside some residual anticoagulant is a slight chill), filled with the requisite equipment and machinery; quiet and business-like, the centrifuge in action whirred with a slight whine like an old hard drive. Above us and on the far side of the room a blackbird perched on the outside windowsill and kept leaping at its reflection in the glass, as it apparently had done for most of the week. Truth be told, I've had less interesting, weirder, and more uncomfortable hours. And unless you have a severe reaction to the experience of blood donation, there's an undeniably virtuous feeling about giving something of yourself freely that might save a life, ease suffering, make someone better.

My plasma may be used to help a burn victim, a cancer sufferer, or a premature child; it might be used to make one of three or four different types of drug or it might be used for research - Glasgow University is apparently making great inroads into synthetic blood substitutes, a great need thanks to the disastrous experience of CJD. It was, in the end, a very easy thing for me  to give - a little over a lunch hour, and a free taxi ride there and back to work, and the NZ Blood Service's need is very great at the moment because demand is high, and the alternative is to buy it from other countries.

I've given plasma twice now and will do so again.  If you are able, and have thought about doing so as well, I encourage you to take part.

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