Saturday, March 9, 2013

Rachel's Platelet Donation

This past week, my sister, Rachel, donated her platelets at an American Red Cross donation center in Washington, D.C.  When we spoke the day after, I learned so much that I never knew about the process. I asked her to write a blog so that all of you could know the valuable information, too.

At the end of the month, my cousin, Jessica, will donate her platelets at Dana-Farber. Afterwards, she and I will write a Q&A about her experience, and it should be great to get another perspective on the experience.  

For prior posts on platelet donations, please see A Call to Arms and The First Donation.  Happy Donating!

Me and Rachel, 1984.
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By: Rachel Talbot 

Today I am honored to be a guest writer on my sister’s blog. On Wednesday I donated my blood platelets and Tara asked that I write a summary of the experience, and provide any advice I had for those of you who will be donating in the future. I wish I could describe the experience with the right words my sister usually finds for things but I am at somewhat of a loss. It is such a strange experience to describe because, never before have I done something where the more not fun it was, the more I was glad I was doing it. I know that sounds strange but it’s true. I want to be perfectly honest with all of Tara’s readers, as she is always honest with you, so I won’t say that it was this super fun experience that I wish I could do every day. But, it was really an honor to feel that I was able to give something that could save a life, and the fact that it wasn’t a perfectly easy process made me more proud that I did it, and inspires me to do it again.

So let me describe what happens for those of you might be nervous. I made an appointment at the Red Cross (since I am not near Dana-Farber) and the first thing they do if you have never donated before is take all your personal information and enter it into the system. I was told they only have to do this once – so that should save some time on the next visit. Then they take your temperature and test your blood for iron. Your temperature can’t be too high or they won’t let you donate (I believe she said it could not be above 99.5 degrees) and you can’t have too much or too little iron in your blood. To test your iron they prick your finger and put a drop of blood in this little machine that kinds of looks like a tape deck from the 1980s. They also check your arms for track marks and rashes. If you pass all these tests, then you answer about 40 questions on a computer. It only takes about three minutes. The gist of the questions is whether you have taken certain types of medications, traveled to certain countries, and/or have been infected with HIV. I was told that a donor has to answer these questions every time they donate, but again, it only took a few minutes. Next, they hook you up to the machine.

One thing I didn’t know about donating platelets was that you can choose to be hooked up to the machine with both arms at the same time. I chose to do both arms because they said it makes the process go faster and you get a better platelet product. Honestly, though, I probably won't choose both arms for my next donation. I thought I would be able to move my arm a little (say, if I had to itch my face) but you can’t move at all. If you have an itch they have to come over and itch it for you, and they wouldn’t even let me hold my iPod in my hand. Obviously a small price to pay, but overall I think the experience might have been a bit easier if I was able to move one of my arms and so it’s something to think about for those of you who will be donating.

(Funny side story about this – the lady hooking me up to machine told me that I couldn’t move my arms or I would blow up. “Blow up??” I said. “Yes, blow up,” she replied. I looked at her horrified and then she starting laughing.” “No, no, not blow up, swell up.” “Oh, OK” I said, relieved. English was not her first language.)

My appointment was for 4:45pm and it was about 6:45pm when I was all hooked up and the blood actually started to flow into the machine. However, I get the impression that Dana-Farber might be a lot faster at getting the process started. So while people should be aware that the whole process overall could take about four hours, it could very well take much less.

While hooked up to the machine, the process does not hurt in the least. You get cold because they are pumping saline through your system, but the chair had a heating pad, and they gave me blankets. I do suggest wearing a vest if you have one. I was wearing a sweatshirt and having to push up the sleeves was a bit uncomfortable. So a short sleeve shirt with a vest to help keep warm would have been perfect. You get a little tingly in your hands but they give you Tums which helps for some reason. But the process really doesn’t hurt at all, and I just sat there while the blood pumped out and then back in (minus the platelets of course). They have portable DVD players you can use to watch a movie but I just listened to a book on my iPod.

The other thing I wasn’t aware of is that during the entire time you have to squeeze a ball with your hand to get the blood to continuously pump out of your arm. Honestly, if it wasn’t for that, I would have fallen asleep, that is how painless the process is. I do wish I could have just fallen asleep to make the time pass faster, so constantly squeezing the ball was kind of annoying, but given that the people who need the platelets are going through much worse, I figured I could deal with it.

After you are done donating I think you are supposed to sit in the waiting room for about 15 minutes to make sure you don’t pass out or anything. I didn’t do that, and they didn’t tell me I had to. I was hungry and wanted to get some dinner. I felt slightly light-headed, but nothing that made it so I couldn’t drive my car (although I suggest people do have a backup ride home just in case.)

As I started saying in the beginning, I would never say the whole process is super easy and fun, but that is what actually makes it so wonderful. If it was super easy and fun, everyone would do it. And while of course that would be ideal, people don’t typically have a great feeling of pride and satisfaction from doing things that are super easy and fun. A lot of people probably don’t donate because they think it’s inconvenient, and the fact that, well, it is inconvenient, but I did it anyway, is why I felt good about it. And in the long run, it’s not so inconvenient when you think that four hours of your time could save a life.

I hope this helps and that everyone goes out and donates! When I was done I got a sticker that said, “I made a difference,” and that sums up the experience perfectly.

1 comment:

  1. Good for you brave sister Rachel! Very inspiring! I'm now thinking of chasing Blue Nissan Maxima's and donating!