Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis 

This month, the Old Curiosity Shop presents a public service announcement.

The Blood ees the life, Meester Renfield

This edition of The Shop will discuss Blood.   Now before anyone starts feeling faint, or a little queasy, this has nothing to do with matters best left to CSI or Bones (either the young lady on current TV or the cantankerous medical officer on Starship Enterprise).  No, this is about your blood and mine, and how it can be a blessing to someone we'll probably never know.  We're talking about blood donation, a field in which it is definitely more blessed (and more pleasant) to give than to receive.  I've been donating for more than 40 years.  Not sure how many gallons, but it would probably be enough to provide a drink for every vampire in Transylvania.  When I started, the collection vessels were glass bottles, something you'll only see in old movies or medical museums today.  Now they're specially designed plastic bags.  For those of you not of the Blood Brotherhood and Sisterhood, listen up:

The equipment used to extract the donation is strictly a one-shot deal.  It comes from the factory (and despite jokes by some donors-- not the New Bedford Harpoon Works) sterile and sealed, and after being used for one donor, is classed as “biohazard”, and probably cast into a fiery furnace (sounds much more dramatic than “hospital incinerator”).   So don't worry about catching some weird disease, or cooties, or recalcitrant plebney from the needle or its associated plumbing.

Does it hurt?  Yes, you will get poked with a needle a couple of times, but think of the accident victim or sick person who will receive your blood.   Now that’s HURT!  During one of my sessions, the donation was divided into four containers, because they needed some for the neonatal unit.  One will never know, but perhaps your donation will help make the difference between a healthy, growing baby and a sad day at the infants and children section of the cemetery.

Fixed location blood centers, such as the one I usually go to at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, usually request that appointments be made, so they don't have a whole herd of eager donors showing up at one time, but walk-ins are OK.   Another way of gathering donations is the traveling center, also known a “Bloodmobile”.  A crew sets up cots in a large room and the technicians deploy their gear for a one-day session at a business, government facility or college.   Some of the more enlightened companies, knowing the importance of this service, let workers donate on company time.   This brings to mind the TV series, "M*A*S*H," during the course of many, if not most, episodes the camera would pick up a wall placard: BLOOD DONORS/ URGENTLY NEEDED/Sign up now!  I've wondered how many donations by civilians on the “home front” were prompted by these notices aimed at military personnel.  Stay tuned for the end of the show—we'll give you some important phone numbers.

So you show up at the donor center at the agreed upon time.  Now what?  First of all, you fill out a registration form and a questionnaire.  This has become more complex over the years.  When I started, as long as you hadn’t visited a tropical fever swamp in the past few years, there were no more geographical questions.  Now they ask about the British Isles.  England?  Home of National Health Service?  The place where vaccination and penicillin were discovered?  Yup—if you stayed over a certain time span in Merrie Olde England, there’s a remote possibility of Mad Cow Disease. 

Then we get to some personal questions, not about where you have been, but who you have been with.  This is where folks who have led relatively dull lives, at least in the romantic sense, have the edge.  These questions, is case anybody wonders, were added after HIV/AIDS became front-page news. 

After you hand in the form, you’ll be direct to a seating area to wait for the technician/interviewer to call your name.  You'll have a finger poked for a small blood sample and go over the form; questions such as “What is Chagas Disease?” can be answered at this time.  Pulse and blood pressure readings will be taken, and if everything is OK, you'll have another short wait before being assigned to a bed. 

Mobile blood centers have rather hard cots, but permanent locations usually have comfy recliners.  The donation nurse will apply another blood pressure cuff (if you want to impress people, call it a “sphygmomanometer”) and pump it up to locate a suitable vein.  Once the tapping spot is found, he or she will swab it down with disinfectants and insert the needle.  You'll be given a soft hand-exerciser to squeeze, and you're in business. 

I've never timed it, but in not too many minutes, your bag will be full, the nurse will remove the needle, apply a dressing to the hole in your arm, and hoist said appendage to a vertical position.  After wrapping a bandage around your arm, you'll be asked to sit up.  If you're a bit dizzy, you can lie back down; otherwise you'll get to the best part of donation: MUNCHIES!  You'll be escorted to the post-donation table and get a choice of drinks and assorted goodies.   Sometimes the drinks and eats will be brought to your recliner.  

Regarding aftereffects: An old cliché about blood donation is the story about a college program.  A petite secretary from the Dean’s office, who just barely makes the minimum weight, goes through the process without a problem, but the big, burly football lineman takes one step and is so dizzy he can barely make it to a chair. 

Most donors don't have any problems.  After completing the donation, donors are required to wait for 15 minutes before leaving (just to be on the safe side.)  You'll be instructed to leave the bandage on for four hours, or long enough to impress everybody that you're a Blood Donor!, whichever is longer.  At Huntington, you have a choice of bandage colors, e.g. Dodger Blue or Angels Red. 

Drinking plenty of water for the next few days is important.  One blood center worker reminded donors, “If you pass a drinking fountain, don't pass it up.”  You'll also be told to avoid heavy or hazardous physical activity for the next day or two (skydiving will just have to wait!), and you will be thanked for your donation.  Sometimes gift items are handed out to frequent donors; I have a T-shirt that shows a bat (the sort associated with Count Dracula, not Manny Ramirez) and the question, “GOT BLOOD?”  This time, they didn't have any prezzies that I could use, so I just said, “I look at this as saying ‘thanks’ to my guardian angel for keeping me out of the other parts of the hospital.” 

 Back when I lived in Duarte, I’d sometimes get a call from the Red Cross donor center on Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles.  They would need my type to “prime” a heart-lung machine for open-heart surgery (which in those days was “cutting edge” medicine, so to speak).  I'd go truckin’ on over to the far side of downtown and do my bit.  One day, one of the volunteers who helped at the center heard “Duarte” and told me how his parents were among the founders of the City of Hope, which started as a place where tuberculosis patients from snow-belt cities could get better in the fresh air (this was a long time ago!) and sunshine of Southern California.  Nowadays, of course, City of Hope is known world wide for its medical research, using techniques and technology that wouldn't have even been in the science fiction of its early days.

And now for the phone numbers:

 Huntington Memorial Hospital Blood Center:  626-397-5422

Go south on Fair Oaks to Congress St., turn right and then left to the east parking structure.  The Blood Center is south of the Emergency facility.

City of Hope Michael Amini Transfusion Medicine Center: 626-471-7171

e-mail: donateblood@coh.org

A little blood center humor:  A man is busy filling out the questionnaire at the blood center and notices a stretch limo pulling up outside.  An attendant rolls out a red carpet and an ordinary looking fellow steps out of the limo.  When he enters the room, everyone reacts like a rock star or famous TV personality has just arrived.  The man working on the paperwork asks one of the staffers the reason for all this, and is told, “AB Negative.”  (for those not aware of such things, AB Neg is the rarest of blood types, found in less than 1 percent of the population)

Not sure where I heard this; I'm not a doctor, and don't even play one on TV, but at least one medical expert was quoted as saying that blood donation stimulates various functions of the body and is beneficial to the donor. 

At the start of this column, I mentioned Bones, as in Dr. McCoy of the Starship Enterprise.  On one of the episodes of "Star Trek" (the original series), the doctor finds that he has somehow contracted a form of “polycythemia” a rare but real blood disease.  The story winds up with Bones being cured by advanced medicine found in the course of rescuing a planetoid/starship.  The first time I saw this episode, I thought, “Aha!  Whoever wrote the script was either a medical student or a blood donor.”  Although it’s not on today’s questionnaire, for many years, “Do you have polycythemia (too many red blood cells)?” was part of the donor interview, and otherwise is not something that many people would be aware of.

Live long and prosper!

New!  Got comments? Bobby Boy’s e-mail address:  dnry122@yahoo.com

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