In Short: Bladder management.
Several weeks ago I received a call from my local blood center asking if I could donate platelets in the next few days. This was unusual, but I was a match to a specific patient in need.
Platelets in your bloodstream help your blood clot. They’re nature’s way of keeping a paper cut from becoming a medical crisis.
For most people.
There are individuals who can’t make or don’t have enough platelets. For them that paper cut can turn into a serious situation.
A major reason for low platelets: Cancer. Platelets are made in bone marrow, something routinely destroyed by certain types of cancer and, ironically, certain forms of chemotherapy.
Just like blood donation, a needle is inserted into your vein. Unlike a blood donation, which collects directly into a bag, platelet donation - called apheresis - feeds your blood into a centrifuge that spins it down, extracts the platelets, and returns the rest back into your arm. You actually don’t lose any significant amount of blood in the process.
I refer to it as “borrowing” my blood.
In years past it involved two needles, one in each arm. One for blood going out, and the other going back to you. These days there’s just one needle. Blood is drawn out for about 15 seconds, then returned through the same needle. This back-and-forth process repeats until you’re done.
And there’s the only downside: platelet donations take anywhere from one to two hours. That’s time in the chair, being unable to move the arm with the needle. Add the time to check-in, be screened, get set up, and then hang around for cookies afterwards, and the total might be more like two to three hours. I bring a tablet to read, watch videos, or catch up on email, all one-handed.
While you’re donating you’re unable to go to the bathroom. It takes a little bit of planning. I call it “bladder management.” My normal pot of coffee in the morning is strictly off-limits. A single (strong) cup to get me going, and that’s it. Not until after my donation do I “tank up” on fluids once again. (And, yes, I’ve had to cut one session short due to poor planning. The good news is the blood center staff see it often enough, and totally understand.)
A traditional platelet donation generally helps three people, typically cancer patients. While blood can be stored for weeks, and even frozen, platelets can be stored for only a few days. Particularly if you’re near a cancer treatment center, as I am, platelets are in constant demand. In addition, while you can donate blood every two months, you can donate platelets every week. I try to strike a balance at about every three weeks or so.
Back to my “match.” I’m not clear on exactly what it means. My blood type, O-positive, is common, so there’s more involved.
No matter. Of course I said yes, and two days later I was in the chair while the machine “borrowed” my blood. The individual for whom I was a match would likely get the entire donation.
It’s great to be able to help several people at once, but somehow knowing there’s a single person, a person whom I’ll never knowingly meet, that I can help directly, touches me deeply. I can’t even say why.
If you have the time, and the patience (and the bladder capacity), certainly consider donating platelets, if the blood centers in your area collect them.
If not platelets, consider donating blood, if you can. There’s always a need.
Leo Notenboom is a coffee-drinking, Corgi-loving, techie who’s been blessed with an above average amount of good fortune. He wears so many hats that only an online business card can keep up with it all: leonotenboom.com.
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