Sunday, April 10, 2011


I've been giving blood since, I think, sometime in 1991 or 1992.  I got into the blood donation habit for all the wrong reasons.  I had read a book by Charles Panati - either Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things or Panati's Parade of Fads, Follies and Manias, or maybe even the since-retitled Panati's Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody - that discussed the ancient and enduring fad of bloodletting, by which practitioners attempted to improve health by drawing off sometimes copious amounts of blood. This was based on the general observation that women, who lose blood regularly by natural means, live longer than men.  (Oddly, battlefield observations of the health effects of losing large amounts of blood apparently did not come into consideration.) Somewhere along the way I believe Panati pointed out that there were, in fact, health benefits to be realized from tapping off some blood, but that these could best be attained through the modern practice of blood donation.  So I decided to give it a shot.

My first donation wasn't a pleasant experience.  The blood drive I went to was at the armory downtown.  Donors lay on flat, uncomfortable, unstable-feeling gurneys while the blood was being taken from them.  Still, the donation went well, and soon I became a regular at the Red Cross donor center just over a mile from my house.  As of the end of last year, I had donated 97 units.

(My most memorable donations have been ones that didn't happen.  Once I was extemely stressed while donating, and something went wrong:  either the needle popped out inside my arm, or it actually passed through my vein.  In any case, the bag didn't fill, and I was left with a tattoo of blood on the underside of my forearm.  I gave blood once at work in 2005 or so, and once again experienced the flat uncomfortable gurney instead of the Star Trek: The Next Generation-style couches used at the donation center.  I decided to give blood again at work during another drive in late February or early March 2007, a drive which was mysteriously cancelled just before it was scheduled to take place.  It wasn't long before I found out why that drive had been cancelled.)

Near the end of last year I was contacted by the Red Cross about doing a platelet donation via apheresis.  I have seen the apheresis systems in action and have often wondered about them, but was never curious enough to investigate further.  Unfortunately, at the time I was contacted - mid-to-late November, I think - I was pretty sick with something, something that wasn't bad enough to keep me from work (mostly) but that was bad enough to keep me from Thanksgiving dinner with my family. So they contacted me again - this time in early February, when I was dealing with The Thing That's Going Around, a nasty weeks-long cold/flu/pneumonia/whatever which I believe I picked up at a zoning hearing in late January for a solar sales and distribution place that someone I know was looking to build on some land about a mile from my house.  (The immediate neighbors of this land, which formerly was home to a collection of culm banks, rose up in unified rage against the notion of a business of some sort coming to Nanticoke and ruining perfectly good mine-scarred wastelands.)

The Red Cross called again a few weeks ago.  I was completely recovered by then, and had no real reason to turn them down.  So I said yes.

I was a little uneasy about the prospect of doing this.  I hate needles, first of all.  And while I don't mind having my blood drawn off, I do have an issue with having part of it re-injected into my system.  The idea of being essentially immobile for two hours or more during the procedure didn't appeal to me, either.  But I steeled myself to the notion, and eventually the biggest concern was what DVD I should take with me.  At the last moment I decided on the J.J. Abrams 2009 reboot of Star Trek.*

Turns out my body had some issues with the apheresis process.  A "valve" in the vein in my right arm made me a poor candidate for the two-needle procedure. But there is a way of doing apheresis with a single needle, which alternates between drawing off blood and returning the separated blood components. I don't know if this procedure takes longer, but I expect that it does.  I strolled into the Red Cross building just before my scheduled 12:30 appointment, and dashed out close to 3:30 to change cars and pick up my aunt and my mother for 4:00 Mass.  The process was a bit of a chore.  I had an inflatable squeeze-ball thingy that I had to keep pumping during the "drawing off" cycle, but during the "return" cycle I had to not pump it (which was helped a bit by the fact that it deflated fully during the return cycle.)  Pump, don't pump, pump, don't pump.

The apheresis process itself took a little over two hours.  The rest of the time was waiting, and checking-in, and getting set up. Star Trek is 126 minutes long; unfortunately, I sat through about ten minutes of trailers at the beginning of the DVD first, and then discovered that the movie was not set up  to auto-play, so I needed to call someone to hit "Enter" on the remote for me to make it play.  After all that, I still had a good ten minutes of the movie left to go when my procedure was over.  The Red Cross staff were perfectly willing to let me stay through to the end of the movie, but as mentioned above, I had somewhere else to be.

This was a single unit collection of platelets, because my precise hematocrit levels at this time are unknown. Based on the results of this donation, I may be eligible to donate two or even three units of platelets next time.

I left the center feeling odd.  Euphoric, energized, amped-up.  Maybe this was a side-effect of the donation, or a side-effect of the movie, or a little of both.  I also found myself a much better driver immediately after the donation; my 1996 Tercel felt like a brand-new car, and my mother's much larger car handled just as well.  The feeling hasn't entirely dissipated yet, but I fear in time the general gloom which has hung over me for the past few months will return.  Maybe it will go away again after my next bloodletting.

*And, oh, my, did I have issues with this movie. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)  Three minutes from Earth to Vulcan, but who-knows-how-long to the Laurentian System?  Delta Vega is close enough to Vulcan that the planet looms larger in its sky than the Earth in the lunar sky?  A supernova that threatens to destroy the galaxy?  Nero has a mining vessel - even a refitted, amped-up mining vessel - that is capable of cutting seven Constitution-class ships to pieces without suffering a scratch?  And coincidences, coincidences, coincidences?  Thing is: all these problems could probably be resolved by overdubbing some dialogue.  The supernova can become a "strange matter supernova," sending out a shock wave lethal to all normal matter, which can only be countered through the use of "red matter" - or so the Vulcans believed; but the use of "red matter," delivered by Ambassador Spock, actually amplifies the explosion, causing the destruction of Romulus.  "Delta Vega" becomes the next planet out from Vulcan, and Spock is forced to watch - well, you know - which he is able to see through a fiendish projector set up by Nero.  Oh, and Nero's vengeance-ship has been retrofitted with time travel gizmos which create "lightning in space" when they run; he initially travelled back in time twenty-five years too far, and had to jump forward to intercept Ambassador Spock's time-travelling spin-dizzy, which, say, Spock was using to warn the Vulcans not to use the red matter in the first place, though he was thrown back in time  much farther than he had intended by the effects of the "strange matter" explosion on "normal" spacetime.  (Through his interference, Nero becomes responsible for the destruction of his own homeworld.)  Or is it easier to accept that he and his crew brought along enough food and fuel to last twenty-five years?


hedera said...

I'm curious - do you know if the same restrictions apply to platelet donation as apply to ordinary blood donations? I used to donate regularly and then I developed arthritis and essentially live on NSAIDs, and you have to be off NSAIDs for 10 days to donate whole blood. I'd consider donating platelets if I didn't have to quit my drugs.

And is that the real, original "Nero" in that funky movie or just a made-up character with the same name??

D.B. Echo said...

I'm ashamed to admit that for having read the medication list so many times, I can't recall what's on it! This is mainly because I don't take any medications, so none of it applies to me and reading it is merely a formality. BUT...I do recall that Feldene is on the list, and unless the Internet is lying to me, I just read that Feldene is an NSAID. So the NSAID restrictions may dtill apply.

No, Nero is a new character, a renegade Romulan miner who has vowed revenge against Spock and the Federation for, as the movie is written, having failed to save the planet Romulus, and his pregnant wife. ("Trying but failing to save" would be less cause for a personal vendetta in my book than "accidentally destroying," but that's just me.) Nero and his jolly crew of pirate Romulans actually look very little like any other Romulans in the series: they look like bulky, bald, pointy-eared humans.

Jennifer said...

I just reviewed my review of "Star Trek." The bottom line? A convoluted plot, but lots of action and humor to make up for it. Overall, I enjoyed it.

D.B. Echo said...

I've been doing some reading on this movie, and it looks like most of these issues have been raised and dealt with in related media: bonus items on the Blu-Ray, official comic books, and so on. (Nero's ship was refitted by the Romulan secret service using captured Borg technology, for example, turning it from an enormous mining ship to an enormous, nearly-unstoppable killing machine.) But that means that the movie doesn't stand on its own.

I did like the movie. I liked Eric Bana's totally off-the-wall depiction of a Romulan miner mad with vengeance - "Hi Christopher, I'm Nero" is a great line. (I could imagine John Malkovich doing a similar delivery.) I liked that Sulu wasn't the original helmsman, just a fill-in for a guy with lungworms, since in his first appearance in the series Sulu was the ship's physicist, not the helmsman. Unfortunately they missed an opportunity with McCoy, who became Chief Doctor after the death of "Dr. Pira." Christopher Pike's ship's doctor / bartender in "The Cage" was Dr. Philip Boyce, and it would have been a neat little tidbit to have his absence from subsequent episodes explained here.