On this day when people are gathered around dining tables all over the country talking about giving thanks, I am thinking about a way to do something real in the way of giving thanks.
We all need blood.
I was a young whipper-snapper when a friend of my parents needed open heart surgery. This was a lot of years ago when blood for transfusions was a big deal on hospital bills and in those days people who needed blood, or who were anticipating surgery where they might need it would contact friends and family in the hopes that they would go to their local blood center and donate to the patient’s account. It was a rather crude system that we scarcely remember now that the world has gotten bigger, medicine has gotten smarter and the technology surrounding blood collection is much more refined.
Long story short, I gave my first pint of blood … a long, long, time ago. And I continue to give blood regularly. I know there are a lot of folks who have given more than me, but I’m up over 80 pints and after a break while we were RV’ing, when I only gave a couple times, I went in a couple days ago to start up once again.
There are so many ways that blood is used nowadays and the manners of donation have changed too. My first pint of blood was just that, a simple bag, filled with 500 ml of blood, flowing into a bag attached to a weighted arm on the side of a gurney. When the correct amount of blood had been drawn the bag weighed more than the weight on the other end and the tube was closed by a simple lever, stopping the donation. Typically, giving a pint of blood can take 15 minutes or so… or at least that’s how long it used to take me.
Then there are packed blood cells in which they hook you up to a really expensive machine and the machine knows how long — to the minute — it’s going to take to fill 2 bags with just the red blood cells — extracting your plasma and returning the plasma to your body via a separate line than the one used to remove it. One needle, some fancy plumbing, and a whole lot of electronics and high-tech wizardry. Packed red cells take longer to donate, but here in WI they are harder to get donors for. These donations are lengthier. You are essentially giving 2 pints worth of red blood cells, so the draw and return cycle is 30 minutes (give or take).
Lest we forget about the rest of the blood components, our blood center here also takes donations of blood platelets — part of that clear fluid that gets returned to the body when packed blood cells are taken. Here, too, they hook you up to a really expensive machine and the machine does all the work. What they want in these donations takes longer to harvest. The last time I did a platelets donation it took 2 1/2 hours — just sitting there with a needle in my arm while the machine drew blood, spun out the platelets, and returned the rest of the “good stuff” to my body. It’s a hefty investment of time.
Whole blood donors can re-donate every 8 weeks. Packed Red Cell donors have to wait 16 week — the body takes longer to replace twice the amount of removed red blood cells. Platelet donors can donate again in 3 weeks. What is removed is easier for your body to replace and hence the shorter re-donation time.
I encourage you, today, while you are thinking about being thankful for something, why not consider donating blood — regularly. Save someone’s life. Or help to save it.
I’ll warn you, wherever you go for a donation they are going to ask you a lot of embarrassing questions. Here, the preliminary questionnaire to be completed EACH and EVERY time you donate takes a good 15 minutes to read through and answer. And they keep changing the questions as science advances to you actually have to pay attention to what you are answering. After that an employee will ask you more questions in person. But then there’s good reason for them to be careful. There ARE blood-born illnesses, and some of the things floating around in your blood or mine might not be healthy for the recipient. Keeping a safe blood supply for the population is not an easy job.
But, I encourage you to swallow your pride, ignore the affront to your dignity by being asked personal questions and do something wonderful for someone who won’t ever know your name, or see how cute you are, or handsome, they will not know how many or how few donations you have made, they won’t care if you are skinny or fat, young or old, they will just be thankful you were there to help save their life.