My Volunteer Journal: Episode 40 – Giving Plasma Hurt Like a $*&!@ but I Would do it Again…


When I first wrote this blog entry I kind of tip-toed over the whole pain issue.  Upon reflection I decided it would be dishonest to mislead people so let me add a little disclaimer here - Though I would definitely do this again I found this much more uncomfortable than giving blood.  The arm giving blood/plasma during the apheresis was virtually painless after the needle was in place.  However, the arm receiving replacement fluid was very uncomfortable - like burning/pressure uncomfortable or family reunion uncomfortable. It was bearable mind you, but not joyful or painless.  This could have just been my personal reaction (and we did have a bit of a saline mishap and I received half a bag of fluid in minutes versus 1 hour).  The men across from me zoned out with smiles on their faces like they were getting foot massages so obviously some people are fine with the whole experience.  I, on the other hand, broke into a flop sweat.

Disclaimer done...onto he original post...

I’ve given blood - lots. Giving plasma and platlets is not like giving blood. 

I went to my local Red Cross donation center for the procedure. In the beginning it is similar to blood donation in that you answer the same questionnaire and read the same instruction book. And yes… Apheresis (plasma/platelet donation) also involves needles and blood, but that’s where the similarities end. Blood donation, for me, always takes between 10 and 20 minutes with one needle stuck in my left arm. Plasma/platelets donation took about 75 minutes with a needle in each arm (though I am told that was because it was my first time, next time two needles in one arm.)

I had the most wonderful nurse with a soft, calming voice named Tasha. She could see I was scared so she walked me through each step, telling me everything that would happen and everything that could happen. She told me that my platelets would most likely be used for cancer patients. After chemo, shots are given to patients to improve the regeneration of blood components, but the platelets don’t regenerate quickly. Tasha said they would test my blood for specific protein markers, beyond type A, B, AB etc., to see if they could get an exact match because cancer patients do better if they have an identical match.

To start the procedure Tasha settled me into a large lounge chair and propped my arms up. She covered me with blankets and hot packs. Cold saline was going to drip back into one arm to replace lost fluids so the hot packs would keep my body temperature normal. I had brought a large bag filled with activities to do like knitting; books to read, and my computer because I thought one arm would be free. Tasha said I would only be able to watch a movie so I pulled out the Netflix movie I had gotten in the mail (they also have a large selection of movies to choose from). She popped it in the player, put a set of headphones on me, and the movie started on a small screen attached to the chair. Once it started to play, and I was slightly distracted, she put in the needles (she did warn me before they went in). I must admit I was a bit of a wimp and said “OUUUUccchhh” and whined a bit.

Through my left arm they removed my blood, which went into a large machine next to my donation chair. The machine separated my platelets and plasma into different bags and monitored my vitals. In my right arm was the IV of saline. Note – the arm receiving the saline ached more than the donating arm.

Tasha had covered my arms, at my request, so I couldn’t see anything. She checked on me every thirty minutes to make sure the procedure was going smoothly. Honestly, when the needles were in I tried to relax my arms and watch the movie, but it was hard to pull my mind away from the slight so I kept checking the clock. I couldn’t wait to get out of the chair.

When the needles were finally pulled out Tasha massaged my arms. She told me to touch the saline drip arm and I was shocked – it was really cold, like I had rubbed it with ice. The Red Cross staff told me to sit and offered me snacks, but I felt fine so after a few minutes of rest I left.

Talking to my mom the next day I learned that in a freak accident at my brother’s house a knife went straight through her hand. Blood had pooled on the ground around her hand as she had tried to stop the bleeding. At the same time I was giving blood she was loosing it. She told me she was going into surgery, assured me she was fine, and hung up. Ten minutes later my phone rang.

“I just remembered something. You and your grandfather are so similar.”

That was a huge compliment.

“Why’s that?”

“You said you have a really rare blood type. Your grandfather had an extremely rare blood type too. The Murray Hospital use to call him in the middle of the night to give blood. It was such a small town I guess they didn’t really have a bank. I remember him getting called in the middle of the night. He always went. You know he couldn’t have weighed more than 150 lbs. But he always went. He went until he couldn’t donate anymore.”

I didn’t know this about my grandfather. Just another reason he was the greatest person ever.

The morning after donation I felt completely normal and had only one small bruise on my right arm. Everyone should give plasma once, if for no other reason than to experience that small adventure and say you did it. Of course, the positive results of your donation far outweigh those simplistic reasons to donate. You are helping heal people. You can literally save a life while you watch a movie – it doesn’t get much easier than that.