A week ago, on New Year’s Eve, I had an appointment to donate at Atlanta Blood Services. I have been going there every other month ever since Kid A’s boyfriend, Braden, was diagnosed with leukemia, mainly because he needed blood products (we always joked that he would know when he got mine because he would have a wine hangover afterwards), but also it gave me something to do at a time when I felt in control of nothing. Even after he died, I keep going back to donate.
It was really hard to go back at first, especially since the infusion clinic is directly across the hall and he and his mom spent a lot of time over there during his treatment. The very first time I returned, I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts and got some treats and a jug of coffee because I wanted to give it to the staff over there. I even planned ahead and made a little card with a picture of him that said something like “In Memory of Braden Dean Smith” so that everybody would think of him while they were eating their yummy donuts. I intended to ask the receptionist if I could put them in the break room once I got there. But I was so overcome with emotion and grief that I was a blubbering, snotty mess and I couldn’t even get words to come out of my mouth. Instead, I showed the girl the picture of Braden and held up the jug of coffee, all while tears and weird noises kept pouring out of me. I was like the deaf/ mute people who hand out cards asking for money, except I had a Box O’ Joe and two warm dozen. She didn’t even bat an eye as she buzzed me through to the back and guided me through the labyrinth of halls to a room marked “Staff Only.”
I was eventually able to calm down and I finally went across the hall to Atlanta Blood Services to start the donation process that day. Each time has gotten a little bit easier after that.
Until last Tuesday.
Looking back on it, it turns out that last Tuesday, the 365th day of the 2,013th trip ’round the sun, Anno Domini, was a fitting end to a quite sucky 2013.
Each time I go in to donate, I first have to do the dance for the lawyers (reading some legalese, mumbo-jumbo, CYA crap that basically says “I know I can die at any time and it’s nobody’s fault but my own”). Then I answer a long set of questions on a computer from 1999 in a tiny, private room (questions like “Have you ever had a transplant of your dura matter?” and “Have you ever had sex with a man who has had sex with another man?”), and then they take my vitals. Following the computer exam, I get poked for a blood sample, and they run tests to see what and how many blood products they can safely and most efficiently extract from me over the next two hours. They always want my platelets.
Last Tuesday was no exception, as I had just shy of 400,000. Be amazed, people, because that makes me a rock star, if only in that room.
So I went into the donation room with the nice nurse (are they even nurses?… I honestly don’t even know) who had reviewed my Scantron and all of my bodily tests (she was new), and she put me in a bed which was not my regular spot. That kind of thing doesn’t really bother me, so I didn’t say anything, but the other nurses/ people who enjoy extracting other people’s blood products without proper qualifications were all like, “Whoa, Nelly! That’s not her bed. She goes over there!” The new lady and I just laughed at them and I stayed put. Mistake #1.
The machine was on the other side of this particular bed – the right one, which meant that I would be donating from my dominant arm. Traffic had been really easy that morning (some days it takes me 2 hours to get there, especially since they started taking down the toll on GA-400!), so I was all, “NBD and whatever!” I climbed in and snuggled under the warm blankets (it makes the blood flow better). Mistake #2.
While she was setting everything up, the machine started to do weird things. It was being quirky and disagreeable. It crossed my mind that I should suggest a move to my regular spot then, but I was doing a great job of being laid back, so I decided to commit fully. I said nothing. Mistake #3.
There was a man donating to my left who is also a true regular. He comes in every two weeks and donates one or two bags of platelets, which means he donates at least 26 bags a year. That is super impressive. It also takes a whole lot of his time, but he teaches yoga and his schedule seemed flexible. He also video blogs (or “vlogs”) about his donations, because he wants people to see that donating is easy and painless and everybody can (and should) do it. He had already vlogged on YouTube about his own New Year’s Eve donation, his final one of 2013, but made a big deal about me sitting next to him (remember that I am a triple donation rock star here), so much so that he made an addendum vlog about me!
So, I had fully committed to this different spot, and I was talking to my new friend, and the new nurse finally tamed the machine and got me hooked up and started my actual donation process. Pinch, release, then slowly and continually squeeze the stress ball to keep the blood pumping. Eventually, I settled in and everything was A-OK.
About two bags in to my donation, I started watching The Truman Show on my laptop. When the second bag was just about done, the nurse wanted me to eat a snack and drink something. I asked for crackers and water. She brought them to me and proceeded to open the water bottle (I only had one free hand… everybody knows you are not supposed to move the arm with the needle in it).
Then came the slow-motion, yet speeded-up combination of events.
The water bottle was not level on the bottom, as sometimes happens with disposable plastic water bottles (I suppose it is karmic punishment for selfishly destroying Mother Earth with those BPA-laden landfill staples). When she put the bottle on my tray, it promptly tipped over onto the keyboard of my MacBook Pro. She reacted and I reacted too. She yelled something and ran to get paper towels, and I moved my dominant arm (along with my left one) to save my laptop.
Yep. I did that. Even though I know better, I moved my arm with the needle plunged into the vein. It immediately hurt (I don’t know which hurt more… the needle or knowing that my laptop just took a shower), so I quickly brought it back to immobile station zero on the arm bar. All of the nurses freaked out and checked on me, making sure I was okay, drying off my laptop, and checking on my arm and the apheresis machine. The new nurse was so freaked out that she came over to help clean up and accidentally dropped the water bottle again, this time into my purse (fortunately, my phone was not in there). I honestly felt so bad for her. It was a complete and total accident. And for whatever reason, I was (honest to goodness) not even upset about it.
The pain in my arm went away quickly. We determined that the needle likely punctured through the vein and I would have some bruising afterwards, but it was not life-threatening. I even finished my full donation and they collected three whole bags from me. I’m still a rock star!
Except this past week, my arm looked like that of a rock star who shoots up (poorly), or maybe a rock star who dates Chris Brown.
“Yes, but you should see the other guy!”
It is getting better every day. It doesn’t hurt at all. It just looks awful. And because Sheepdog took excellent care in drying out my laptop, even the MacBook Pro is recovering nicely. No harm, no foul. I plan to go back in 7 weeks or so. I promise that donating is easy and safe and something that I hope everyone will consider doing.
Except next time, I am sitting in my regular donation bed. And I’m bringing my own reusable water bottle.
Wish me luck for tomorrow…