Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The day before President Obama's inauguration happened to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This federal holiday has been designated for community volunteerism, and the President-Elect called for a national day of service for all Americans, even the lazy ones.
Eager to rid myself of the stagnant, unclean feeling I had had for the previous eight years, I was ready to do my part. Before the 19th arrived I got on the old Internet to get to the USASERVICE.ORG site, which allowed me to see all the volunteer opportunities available in my area. My time not being my own, I choose something that would make a difference, and at the same time be easy to do and take relatively little time to accomplish.
I choose to donate blood. Blood is a specialized bodily fluid that spreads oxygen and nutrients to all the cells throughout the body, and carries away waste products from these very cells. It does other neat stuff as well. Blood itself contains cells. Red blood cells transport oxygen, white blood cells defend against disease, platelets promote clotting, and plasma proteins perform various functions. At least in humans, that's what it does, and other vertebrates. Lack of blood can be very trying.
There really is no such thing as synthetic blood yet. Maybe one day, but not now. There are blood volume expanders, such as simple saline and dextrose solutions. And there is what are called oxygen therapeutics, that help distribute oxygen. But the white blood cells, platelets, and proteins have not been duplicated in a laboratory.
That is why donating blood, blood plasma, or platelets is so important. Others who are ill and don't have good blood of their own, or who experience blood loss due to accidents, need good blood from others who donate it. So it's a good thing to have some extra good blood on hand in case of emergencies.
There are whole industries dedicated to harvesting good blood from all sorts of people, in case others have emergencies, or get sick from bad blood. Some of them out right pay others to give away some of their extra good blood that they don't happen to using at the time. For more years than I care to remember I sold my own blood plasma, twice a week, for about $2,400 a year in tax free income. Sometimes I did this when I was working at other jobs, but most of the time not. Why not sell it? Plasma consists mostly of water, 92% by volume, and if someone wants to buy this special water for $50 bucks a week who was I to say no, especially when the money came in handy. I stopped selling my special water years ago, not because I wanted to, but because they sucked all of the gamma globulin (a protein) out of me, and wouldn't let me sell it anymore. Apparently you have to have some gamma globulin in your blood to be able to sell it.
I guess I have my gamma globulin back, or you don't need very much in order to donate whole blood, because they asked me to return to give them some more of my good blood.
Last week I called up the blood people at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where I had first donated in January, in response to a letter they had sent to me telling me I could come and give them some more blood (there is a two month waiting period between donations in order for the body to replenish the red and white blood cells). An appointment was made for this afternoon at 12:30.
I took the 16 bus to the hospital which is very near the intersection of Third St. and La Cienega. Many people who are going to this hospital, to give blood, or for other reasons, chose to drive there with their own cars, but I took the bus. I always take the bus. I don't have a car!
It let me right off at the hospital, and I knew from the last time exactly where to go. The Rita and Taft Schreiber Blood Donor Facility is located on the ground floor of the south tower of the hospital. You can spend all day inside the north tower looking for it, but you won't find it because it's not there. It's across the street in the south tower.
I walked in with five minutes to spare to my appointment, and said hello to the lady receptionist.
"Hello. May I help you?" she asked.
"By golly, yes," I said. "I have a twelve-thirty appointment to donate."
"Your name?"
"Joyce. J.O.Y.C.E."
She looked that up on her computer. "Richard?"
She printed out a form that had all of my personal information on it, asked me to make sure it was current, and to answer the questions on the back.
It was still current, and the questions were related to my medical history, and where I had traveled since the 1970s, and who I might have engaged in sexual relations with, like people with aids, or prostitutes, or other men. Yes or no questions, it didn't take very long.
The answers to these questions must have been satisfactory, as I was asked to continue the donation process. This consisted of having a tiny little blood sample taken from the index finger of my left hand to see if my blood iron content was high enough (it was. The technician was very happy. "Wow, great iron," he said. They don't care about gamma globulin, I guess), and have my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature taken. All were satisfactory, and I was led to a state of the art blood donation recliner.
Very soon (as opposed to plasma donation centers, where you typically spend four or five hours going through the entire process) a lovely Asian nurse, named Sonny came and introduced herself to me. She asked me if I was Mr. Richard, and I told her, why yes, I was. She then asked me what my birthday was, and the last four digits of my social security number. I told her, and she said "Good."
"It's good that I remember that stuff," I told her.
She giggled. I can make ladies giggle rather easily.
"Wait a moment while I set up," she said.
"Okay, I'll stay here." She giggled again.
Soon she was washing my arm with disinfectant. They always do that. She noticed the big crater in the crook of my left arm from all the years of donating.
"Gosh, you have a lot of scar tissue," she observed.
She eventually poked me with her little needle, much smaller than what I had been used to. Could hardly feel it. She pulled the needle back a twinge, and my blood began to flow into a pint sized plastic bag.
It didn't take more than ten minutes.
"I'm going to take the needle out now."
"Thank you." She giggled again.
She put a nice purple bandage across my arm, to match the color of the shirt I happened to be wearing, then gave me some apple juice to drink, as they like donors to wait 15 minutes before leaving, just to make sure everything is okay.
I could have had some orange juice, or cranberry... she offered, but I choose apple. They had small television sets attached to suspension arms at the head of the recliners I could have watched, but I had a book with me, and my reading glasses, so I spent the time reading.
After the time was up, Sonny came to me and said there were cookies in the other room, if I wanted some.
"Thanks Sonny, you were great."
I went in the lounge and filled my jacket pockets with oreos, lorna doones, swiss creme sandwiches, and oatmeal raisin cinnamon cookies, then took off.
I invite all of you, dear readers, to do the same. Not necessarily donate blood, but perform some type of community service, for your community, and for the nation.
Maybe you'll get some cookies too!

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