Friday, October 8, 2010

blood, sweat and piss

This morning as i walked from the train station to the office i saw a bus driver get out of his vehicle, crouch down next to his bus and pour a bottle of piss into the gutter. My first though was "could that be any more disgusting?" but then i started to think, how often would this guy get an opportunity to leave his station and take a piss? This lead me to consider myself lucky that I've never had a job where not being able to go to the bathroom as often as i needed was an issue (which is brilliant for someone who drinks as much coffee as i do) but there was that one time ... the blood donation up sell... where i nearly pissed myself whilst sitting in a comfortable chair amongst a room full of strangers.

A while back when i was giving blood one of the nurses gave me the big up sell from donating 'whole blood' to donating 'plasma'. Basically when you donate whole blood they suck about a pint of your finest straight out and into a bag, which they are happy for you to part with every three months. When donating plasma they take about 50% more but no red cells, they pump out your blood, it goes through a piece of equipment, called a centrifuge machine, which separates white and red blood cells, then the red goes back in. Depending on your size they can take up to around 3/4 of a litre. The benefit being you can front up again 2 weeks later to do it all again.

More than anything i was interested by the machine and wanted a closer look at it in operation so i decided (even though it meant I'd be at the blood bank for closer to 1.5 hours than the 25 or so minutes I'm normally there) that I'd give it a go. The nurse stressed about how much water I'd need to drink and how it's especially more important for a plasma donation than whole blood.

It was about a month later that i showed up for my appointment and i could hear my stomach swishing from the amount of water i drunk as i walked down. Whilst i waited for the lady to call me into the interview room i had to make to preliminary deposits of liquid in the bathroom! Then on to the interview, once again she stressed about how much water i needed to have drunk so i grabbed another glass on the way out. By the time i sat in the chair and was hooked up to the machine i already needed to go again, but i knew there was no stopping now... how bad could it be? I'm not an old lady, surely i can hold on for an hour.

For the first 10-15 minutes i was mostly preoccupied by the machine, it's really quite amazing watching it suck out your blood, seeing the white cells go into a bag and then the feeling of the cooler than normal blood getting pumped back into your vein. This actually happens in cycles and from memory there were about 5 for me, netting about 150ml of plasma on each run. Half way through the second cycle (and only about 15 minutes into my required 60 or so) ignoring the fact that i needed a bathroom break was becoming increasingly difficult.

Seeing as it was during business hours i thought i would try to take my mind off my pressing issue (pun intended) by doing some work. Since apple added support for VPN connections to their 4.* ios, with the aid of the Jaadu RDP application there isn't really much of my job that i cant do from anywhere with my iphone. So i upped my PPTP tunnel, remoted into the laptop sitting on my office desk and started to take some helpdesk calls. By the time i had connected a printer for someone, and told 2 other users to call me back if a reboot didn't fix their issue (i know its a popular cliche but this seriously fixes nearly 1/2 of the issues that make their way to me) i could no longer concentrate on anything. My legs were starting to shake, i was beginning to sweat and experiencing real pain, something that had never happened to me before from needing to relieve myself.

I called over a rather attractive, young nurse to enquire how long was left, when she said that the plasma was nearly fully collected but I'd then have to sit there for about another 15 minutes while they put 500ml of saline back into me i nearly started crying, more bloody water is the last thing i needed at this point. I explained that i really needed to go to the bathroom but tried not to let on just how bad. She asked me if i could wait. I said yes, even though i was pretty sure i couldn't. If she had been an older unattractive lady i probably would have insisted she take these tubes out of me straight away! I'm pathetic, i know.

The feeling of cold saline going back into your vein is even more strange than the cooler than normal blood, its a difficult thing to explain, and believe it or not it's an experience that i had twice in a month when i ended up in a hospital emergency room with severe dehydration from a very persistent flu... As a side note, if anyone takes a day off from work and comes back the next saying "i was off yesterday with a bit of a flu" I'm going to slap them. This is something I've said in the past, but it was clear to me as i lay in emergency, I'd never previously had the flu, but i digress.

When about 90% of the required saline was pumped back in i was about to lose it, literally. I was certain that i wasn't going to make it and started to contemplate the logistics of going home to get more pants before going back to the office. I completely understand that at this point i should have asked for assistance but i think its a male "I'm not asking anyone for directions, I'm in full control of the situation" thing, even though it was clear to me that i was not! I think at this stage the nurse either saw the look on my face or the beads of sweat gathering on my forehead. Rushing over she said "do you need to stop?", without hesitation i responded "YES", the next few minutes of being unplugged, and this rather large, comfy mechanical chair lowering back into a seated position felt like 18 months, i was nearly there. All i had to do was navigate my way to the bathroom, about 20 meters or so. I recall thinking to myself once i got out of the donation area "you can piss yourself now, at least the pretty nurse won't see you" ... once again, pathetic, i know.

In the end i made it, the sense of relief was like nothing I've ever experienced and i didn't need to go home to get more pants. What a relief! I ended up walking back into the main area to thank the nurse and the conversation went something like this:

"you bloody guys, I've had to cut the program short a few times for people to go to the bathroom and it's nearly always young men"

I tried to defend myself by explaining "last time i was here another lady was banging on about how important it was to drink so much water, and it was even more important with a plasma donation, clearly i overdid it"

She started laughing and said "not really, just a glass or two, with plasma we put 500ml of water back in so its probably less important than with whole blood"

Man i felt like an idiot... On my way out i was keeping an eye out for either the lady from last time or the one from my interview that morning but neither were anywhere to be seen, lucky for all of us i guess, i had embarrassed myself enough for one morning.

Cheers, the ITG.

(I'm going to get preachy in this post script... so if that's not your thing, please feel free not to read on!)

p.s. something that i found quite interesting whilst talking to the nurses at the blood bank was just how dire the situation is for them. The desperate need with which they require blood is almost inconceivable. Plasma is a great way that this need can be addressed as you can essentially make a donation over 20 times a year as opposed to 4 with whole blood. One thing that stuck with me though was when she explained that there are particular products made from plasma that (among other uses) help treat burn victims, people who suffer from various cancers (such as multiple myloma and leukemia) and help with clotting problems patients can have after various organ transplant surgeries. She went on to explain how many millions of dollars our government spends each year importing these treatments (sometimes at many thousands of dollars a pop) because we just don't have enough people donating.

In 2006 a local university study found that only 3% of people regularly donate blood. I would like to stress that i believe if you are eligible to (unlike Jimmy from the UK who probably has mad cow disease ;) you should at least try it. People are dying because of the issue of a shortage of these products. If, like me, you are lucky enough to be in good health i would urge you to consider giving back a little to the community.

 I'd like to think that the government should step up to the plate here as well. I know in other countries people get paid a fee to donate blood but that doesn't happen here at all. I'm not saying I'm in it for some kind of reward, i personally had someone close to me die after a long battle with cancer and during her battle she relied on many treatments that were the result of people donating blood. This was the catalyst for me to return to the blood bank after many years. I will say though, you do get an amazing feeling from knowing that you are helping people which in itself is a reward. I'm not talking about a reward here though, I'm talking about an incentive to get more people through the door.

Surely even from a fiscal point of view ... people not dying is good for the country, and not having to pay many millions of dollars a year to import these treatments from overseas can't hurt either. This subject has come up in conversation a lot recently for me and one thing that I've thought about was how whenever you make a financial donation you get the benefit of a tax deduction. Why cant this be the case here, surely they can put some kind of financial figure on dropping a pint of blood, if people were allowed to claim this on their tax return (even something as little as $30 or so a donation) i think we'd have all the blood we need. What do i know though, I'm just an IT guy!


  1. I think they don't pay people because then you will get the most desparate people doing it to get a bit of cash. And they will lie about diseases, travel, and needle usage.

  2. Yeah true... and i agree that makes sense. I think my susgestion though, where donating blood could be applied as a tax deductible donation can go some way towards eliminating the concerns people might have with a pay per donation system.