Community Service Re-Defined

A couple of years ago I accompanied a friend to the blood donor clinic in Fort Saskatchewan. During the initial intake process we discovered my iron levels were fine in the eyes of a doctor but too low for Blood Services’ purposes. Disappointed at the rejection I went home feeling rather inadequate.

I continued to receive calls from Blood Services and each time I told my story. Not long ago I said the Fort wasn’t so convenient anymore, but when’s the next clinic at Vegreville? August 2nd, I’ll be there.

The second rolls around, I show up without an appointment but get squeezed in. This time iron levels are acceptable. Good. I get the 1st time donor sticker stuck to my chest along with a lime green one to track my time through this experience.

Anyone who’s donated knows there a slug of paperwork to do and countless people confirming your identity. My answers to the questionnaire were reviewed by a tech and more were asked of me. Things were going along swimmingly. I asked what would happen if I were having unprotected sex for sale with a cocaine-using African with AIDS because that’s the focus of the second set of questions. We laughed. Finally and privately I had to affix a bar-coded sticker to answer the question “would you want this blood given to a loved one?” A technique to ferret out the liars to previous questions I guess.

Eventually I get taken to a bed and prepped. My bed is the one closest to and in the line of vision of the people waiting to donate. In hindsight we should’ve sold tickets. The nurse can’t find a good vein in my left arm so we flip the bed. There’s a nice, bulgy vein in my right arm. Oh, this is really coming fast, you’ll be done in no time.

Hah. Before I was done giving my very first unit of blood, I realized I had a terrific headache. When I told the tech, 3-4 people sprang into action. One was removing the needle and applying a tensor-like band to stop the bleeding, another was applying cold compresses to forehead and base of the skull, someone else was lowering the head of the bed and raising the foot. I felt like shit. I felt like passing out. I closed my eyes in preparation. Open your eyes and take deep breaths I was told. Despite facing a clock the whole time I have no concept of how much time was passing. I continued to lie there being checked every few minutes. Are you feeling better? When you feel well enough to raise your head you’ll need to drink some more juice. Now my gut is bothering me. Oh, please don’t let me get nauseated. They bring a barf bag and hang it on my bed. Thank God I didn’t throw up. How gross would that have been both for my audience and me?

A guardian angel of an employee comes to sit with me, records what’s happening, answers my questions, covers me with a blanket when I get chilled, brings me fluids, takes my blood pressure repeatedly. It was scarily low at 92/50 something. It’s the body’s reaction to blood loss. In a life-saving response blood from the extremities and other organs leaves and goes to the heart. Hence the headache and digestive system upset.

I guess this precludes me from ever donating again? You’re certainly able to try one more time if you wish but I need to warn you the reaction will likely be more severe next time possibly including tetany (spasms and contractions of the muscles in the arms and legs). Sometimes people end up going to the hospital if we can’t get the blood pressure back up. It doesn’t happen often. Perhaps you should find some other way to serve your community. Did I least donate enough to be of some use? It was nearly a unit. I think she said it’s mixed with an anti-clotting substance so depending on the ratio of blood to other stuff, there should be enough to be of some use. What about taking up space for so long? Don’t talk like that, our mandate is donor safety and recipient safety, you will stay as long as necessary to ensure you’re feeling better. Don’t worry, to use your words, about ‘taking up space.’

When my pressure had crept up to 114/60 something I was able to sit up and get escorted to the snack corner. The Royal Purple ladies gave me raisin bread with jam and a cup of tea. So two hours after I checked in and because driving was not advised, my mom picked me up, made me a meal of scrambled eggs and tea and kept me at her place until I felt able to drive the 50 kilometers home. No strenuous activity for 8 hours following a good donor experience. You’re going to feel very tired, continue pushing the fluids, and go to bed. If the headache persists and you still feel unwell tomorrow see your doctor or visit an emergency department.

It’s ironic. Earlier I’d said that Hilary had given blood for the first time and had gotten a little pale during the process. I’ll be fine, I said, after all I’ve given birth. The tech and I chuckled at the remembered ordeal of childbirth and knew that everything else has to be easier. Well, maybe not everything.

As scary and awful as this whole thing was, it must be said that it is the rare exception. Most people comfortably donate time and time again without any adverse effects. I just need to find another way to serve my community.

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