Whole Giving


The machine beeped. All the machines in this place beep.

“Eleven point two.” Said the phlebotomist. “You need twelve point five to donate platelets.”

One. Two. Three strikes you’re out. It was my third attempt to donate platelets and my third reading of low blood iron in spite of the fact that I’d doubled down on so many supplements during the week that I was pretty sure my next period could be collected with a magnet.

“Can you test it again, please.” I said. That’s low. Last week I was at twelve point two and I’ve been taking supplements ever since.”

Another finger prick. Another slide.

The machine beeped.

“Thirteen point three.” She said. You’re good to go.”

Well, sort of.

The phlebotomist stepped out of the room to confer with another nurse about where to send me next. I could hear a low exchange of conflicting realities: I’d made an appointment, but it wasn’t showing up on their books. There was only one nurse working on the apheresis machines and they were already occupied.

The phlebotomist came back.

“We’re not able to do platelets right now.” She said. “Would you be willing to donate whole blood instead?”

I said that would be fine. I was here. I’d finally passed the Great Blood Iron Challenge; I was going to donate something.

The phlebotomist furnished me with the appropriate paperwork and then got me situated in a reclining chair. She leaned me back and put something made out of foam into my hand. It was the size and shape of a stress ball in the shape of a fragmentation grenade. I raised my head to look at it. It was a miniature propane tank. Fuel Life! It said. Donate to the Red Cross.

The phlebotomist took her time preparing the necessary accoutrements of bloodletting: the bag the catheter tube, the catheter, collection vials for testing, etc. Whenit came time for The Big Stick, I decided that this was the day that I was going to watch the catheter go in. It’s usually the only part I try to ignore, but today I was going to watch.

“Three big squeezes then clench and hold.” She said. Two veins stood out on the inside of my elbow, rising up to be tapped. The phlebotomist placed the catheter over one and in a swift movement pierced the skin.

At first nothing happened.. No blood filled the collection tube.

“Slight adjustment.” She said, drawing the needle back just the tiniest bit. The blood began to flow.

Time passed. The machine beeped. The phlebotomist checked it.

Time passed. The machine beeped. The phlebotomist checked it.

Time passed. The machine beeped. The machine beeped. The machine beeped.

The phlebotomist checked it.

“Mars can you make an adjustment?” She called to another phlebotomist. I wasn’t sure what the beeping meant, but this donation did seem to be taking longer than normal. I could see on the other chairs that there was a hook attached to a readout. I deduced that it was a scale. A second phlebotomist approached and adjusted the catheter, turning the needle this way and that until the beeping stopped: I deduced that the flow had been too weak. Now it was fine.

The rest of the donation was over in mere minutes.

Afterwards, I had a snack and then went home- freed of further blood-giving obligations for another eight weeks. I was sorry to not get to try the platelet donation, but I was glad to not have to wait around for three hours while a machine separated my blood. Maybe next time. But I was proud of myself for facing a fear: even if it was just a small one like watching a needle go into your skin. So the experience was one of personal growth after all.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on August 19, 2018.

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