After I finished my platelet donation at the Blood Center this morning, I was speaking with a woman who, though she had donated blood before, had just done apheresis for the first time. We chatted about the procedure for a couple of minutes and she said, "You're clearly an old hand at this." I replied that this was somewhere around my 160th time. "It's my excuse to eat Lorna Doones for breakfast," I laughed.
Though I had probably done it a few times before then, according to the Blood Center records, my first pint of blood was donated in 1981. Twice yearly, Time-Warner ran a corporate blood drive and I made it a point to get there. In later years, I pressed more and more of my colleagues at DC Comics to do it as well. (One time, a print salesman I did business with wanted to go to lunch. I made him come with me and donate blood first. He told people for years afterward, "I thought Bob was speaking metaphorically when he said he wanted my blood.")
I started donating more than twice a year by going to the local Blood Center. It was there that I met Joe, the man who was at the time responsible for recruiting blood donors to donate platelets instead. Unlike a blood donation, which usually takes less than twenty minutes, the platelet procedure -- apheresis -- requires that you sit for an hour or more. You have a needle in each arm; one carries your blood to the machine, where the platelets are separated, and the other brings the remainder back. I resisted the first few times because I did not have the extra time to devote, but finally agreed one Saturday morning. And have been doing it ever since, in part because, back then, Joe would not let you leave without signing you up for another visit.
Because the procedure takes longer, appointments are scheduled in groups, much like "seatings" at a restaurant. On Saturday, you can be in the 7:30 group or the 11:30 group. I have almost always scheduled my appointments for the earlier time. There are a number of "regulars" and it's very rare that I'm donating when there isn't at least one familiar face. Same thing with the phlebotomists; though they regularly rotate among the various fixed sites and mobile blood drives, one or more that I know by name is usually on duty.
In the old building that housed the Blood Center, there were TV monitors around the room. One of the staff would bring in a recent movie on video and we would watch it. Today, we have individual TVs, so we can choose. I usually pick a movie on Bravo or TBS or AMC that starts at 8:00. Invariably, I miss the last twenty minutes of the movie because I am done before it ends!
Blood Donation Fun Facts to Know & Tell:
1) Less than 2% of the U.S. population donates blood. Granted that many people cannot do so for reasons ranging from exposure to various diseases, where they have lived, and sexual behavior, but still...
2) The most recent upsurge in donations came in the days immediately following 9/11. The Blood Centers had people waiting for hours to donate. At the time, one Blood Center director commented that while this was great, what they needed was for people to come back on a regular basis. Unfortunately, in the ensuing months and years, donations again dropped off.
3) The New York Blood Center (covering NYC, Long Island, and the lower Hudson Valley) goes through almost 2000 pints of blood every day! Auto accident and burn victims, leukemia patients, people having operations -- they all require blood, plasma, and/or platelets.
4) There is no substitute for human blood. It cannot be made from the blood of animals nor fabricated in a lab. The only place to get the blood needed is from people.
5) One pint of blood can be separated into it components when necessary and can be used to help five separate people.
6) After donating, you can eat cookies for breakfast at the blood center. Also jelly beans, Cheez-Its or trail mix. (One of the regular Saturday donors brings fudge when he donates; some of us try to schedule our visits for the days when "the Fudge-Man" will be there.)
The woman I spoke with this morning asked if I had a reason for donating so often, some family member or friend who needed it. I said, "No, it's just something I do."
Of my 160 platelet and 60+ whole blood donations, there was only one occasion that I found out where it was going. I got a call from the Center asking if I could donate for a patient in a nearby hospital for whom I was a particularly close match. With all the rest, well, I guess there are a lot of people out there with a little bit of Bob Rozakis in them.