If it truly is the little things that make a big difference, I have a really little thing to celebrate. I gave blood today. I have given blood many times before, in fact, over three gallons. I could have given a lot more by this point in my life, but 28 pints is nothing to sneeze at. (OK you shouldn’t sneeze at any collected blood, it’s unsanitary.) I was dragged to blood drives by my Dad back in the 80s when he was donating. This was in the old days before they had a handheld computer with your entire history of blood donations, and when the iron test involved a test tube and a wooden lancet poking your ear. Dad would take Jodi and me along, and encourage us (I still call it programming, but in a good way) that when we were older, we needed to do this if we were healthy. They still can’t make blood in a lab, HBO dramas notwithstanding. With the list of exemptions growing based on health conditions and medications, being eligible to donate is becoming more exclusive.
Blood collection has come a long way, especially in the pre-draw testing and interview protocols. But even the actual draw has seen advances. It’s still a needle in the arm, but until the medical bay from Star Trek becomes a reality, that’s about the only way to get it out of you cleanly. However, if you go to give blood now, at least with the American Red Cross, you have two options: whole blood, or double red.
Ooooh, double red. That sounds cooler, doesn’t it? It even avoids the word “blood.” Here’s a full page of information about the process and how it is beneficial. To qualify, you need to have a higher iron count than even whole blood minimums, and you have to weigh more. Well heck, that’s no problem. When the weight minimum was 115 pounds, I used to joke “ok, I’m good for 3 pints!” (Yes, biology students, I know that extra fat is metabolically less active and therefore less full of blood, but all I had was humor, inaccurate or otherwise.) The procedure involves a different type of needle, with two ports, one to draw, then one to return your plasma after it has been separated from the more vital red cells in a centrifuge. This is how a donation counts as a double. It takes a bit longer, but you can only donate half as often for the sake of recovery, and the needle is smaller! So, let’s recap: smaller needle, fewer sticks, fewer trips, same good done. Sign me up!
Several years ago, I asked to be a double red donor. Actually, they asked me first. Since it’s a highly valued donation, especially for type O donors, (type A is only my personality) they recruit for it by checking out the donors and asking men mostly, who fit the profile. I was psyched to check it out. Now here’s where the giant BUT comes in. The team who does double red has to check your veins. Because the needle is different and has a return, there’s a higher standard for your veins too. The double red team checked me out and determined that I was not a candidate. My veins were too deep. I had always been a tough stick, and I warned them of it every time. Even a talented tech would often miss on the first try. The double red team told me they were so deep it would be a problem with the way the return worked, and it simply wouldn’t work.
I walked out that day devastated. I couldn’t even donate whole blood after that. I was assured that people of all body sizes can have deep veins. But in my mind, there was one explanation: they’re deep because they’re buried under so much fat. I didn’t go back to donate for some time, but I finally got back in the habit, when not deferred for 12 months for a new tattoo.
After getting my 3 gallon pin in 2010, I got more ink, and another deferral. I went back this past September to donate, and as usual, someone asked if I was a double red donor and would I consider it. I explained again, no – my veins are too deep. I’m a terribly hard stick. The regular tech with me took one look and feel on my arm and said, “what, they couldn’t use this vein right on top here? That seems easy enough.” She then had the double red team come over to inspect my arm. I was told this would be no trouble. That day they were booked up for double red, so I gave whole blood. I was encouraged to try DR the next time. I made the appointment.
Today, I successfully made my first double red cell donation. I am probably 75-90 pounds lighter than when my arms were checked before. But even more recently, my sticks were still difficult. September’s donation was the first since I began training. I asked the workers “is it possible to increase your vascularity significantly by losing weight and improving your fitness?” They sweetly avoided saying WELL DUH! but emphatically let me know that yes, this is what happens.
My goal, set many years ago, was to lose weight so that I could be a more helpful donor and do double red. What an offbeat goal, but I had it. Now I can wear this pin.
It is as important to me as a finisher’s medal. It reminds me that completing races are fun, but the end result is supposed to be improved health. I still grow frustrated at seeing my lack of fat loss over this last year, but I know what’s lacking. In the meantime, I now have concrete evidence that I am truly, literally changing from the inside out.
I post on facebook when I donate blood. It may look like a narcissistic thing (but what facebook status update isn’t, really?), but it’s a practice I know more people can and should start doing. It’s a habit that takes intentionality to get going. Doing double red, I will post half as often, but it’s something. Like my Dad said, it can’t be manufactured, it requires many others sharing to keep the supply.
And BTW, they always treat you well at a blood drive, but being a double red donor is like being a VIP. I told them they need a velvet rope and a bouncer for the extra-special double red area. You get to sit up, you jump the line at check in, and instead of plain old cookies, you get a secret stash of godiva chocolate. (OK I made up that last one. You get the same cookies.) I suddenly have a small inkling of what it must be like to be in seating group A on Southwest.