My dad loves to tell me old stories from his days in the Navy. One of his favorites is about how him and his sailor buddies would sell blood to get extra spending money for a big weekend away from base. Back in the 1970s, selling blood was a fairly popular practice, you’d go into a blood center, they’d milk you for your red stuff and out the door you’d go with some cash. Times have changed because now donating blood is far more common than selling. Nonetheless, now like then, blood is in short supply and dearly needed by hospitals around the world. So why don’t people donate more blood?
Let’s start with me, why have I never donated blood? I have no fear of needles, I’m in good health, I’ve spent the past four years living mere blocks from the Blood Bank of the Pacific (Masonic and Turk) and I’ve passed by the BBP’s mobile collection center as it’s parked in front of Cowell Hall many times in my tenure here at USF.
I didn’t have any good reasons for not donating, so last Thursday, when opportunity knocked again, I took the plunge. I had an unusually free couple of hours, and I was walking through the McLaren Center when I saw a familiar face. It was Genevieve, a student I was interviewing for a story (see New Face of the American Legion, page 2), and she was volunteering with ROTC to help run their blood drive.
She asked if I wanted to donate, and without hesitation, I said yes. I went into the conference room and began filling out the long, two-sided questionnaire they require. The first thing you should know about donating blood is that there is a lot of red-tape. The form asks a lot of questions about your health, sexual contact with other people and travel outside the country.
After filling out the paperwork, a nurse checked my work and ID. You have to have a government issued photo ID (the girl in front of me got bounced for only having a USF ID). They also require that you have eaten recently.
After this station, I waited patiently to get strapped to the chair. On Thursday, they had five to six stations set up for collecting blood. The ROTC students were nice enough to provide a large projector and played “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” while we waited. They also had snacks (supposed to be for after donating) and Guitar Hero.
When it was my turn, Jerry the nurse took me behind a curtain for privacy and measured my blood pressure and iron levels. Jerry told me that since my vitals were so good, I could partake in a donation process where they take only red blood cells, a kind of blood concentrate if you will, and pump the rest of the stuff (plasma) back into your body. This way they can take more of your valuable red blood cells than they could from the regular process.
Being the thrill seeker that I am, I said sure, and Jerry walked me over to my chair. As I waited, Melissa, the Foghorn photographer that came to take my photo, smiled warmly at me. It reminded me of when I was young and my parents would bring my sister and me to a theme park. We would climb into the seat of a roller coaster and wait with great excitement for a ride we knew was going to be terrifying, and our parents watched on amused by what we were about to go through, yet content that they were watching safely from the ground.
Another nurse inspected the veins in my arm, polished off an area between my forearm and biceps and stuck me with the needle. I looked away and braced, but it really didn’t hurt that bad. I’ve had shots that hurt worse. I think Melissa grimaced more than I did.
With the needle fully inserted, the nurse handed me a foam ball and told me to give it a few squeezes to get the blood flowing. Melissa was repulsed as she watched the blood flow over my arm in a transparent tube while I enthusiastically described how hot it felt against my skin.
My blood flowed into a collection bag, and then into a centrifuge that separated it into red blood cells and plasma. Giving blood made my fingers go to sleep, and get really tingly. After about five minutes, 300 ml (10 oz) of blood had been extracted, yielding about 100 ml of red blood cells, a nurse came over to reverse feed some of the plasma (which is clear) back into my veins.
As the plasma flowed back through the tube into my vein, it started to hurt. The nurse stopped and started the flow a few times, but when she started again, it really hurt. She said she was going to stop for good because she was afraid the plasma was not going into my vein correctly.
She pulled the needle out of my arm and told me that since they had only collected 100 ml of red blood cells, it would not be enough for a donation and they would have to throw it away.
As I left the donation area, I was bummed that I went through the whole process, which took an hour, and in the end was not able to contribute any blood. However, I am glad that I understand how the process works, and I feel compelled to donate again in the future.
I was also amazed at the selfless students around me who were taking time out of their days to donate blood. The girl sitting next to me while I was donating had come alone. She was very casual when I asked her about her experience. She said she liked to give blood because while it hurts a little while it’s happening, she feels really good about herself when it’s over.
The blood drive was successful; the coordinators, ROTC and the School of Nursing had set a goal of 100 units of blood, and received 112. Blood Bank of the Pacific comes to campus several times each year, their next blood drive will be later on this semester. If you’ve never donated before, I challenge you to give it a shot.
Hunter Patterson is a senior economics major.