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No "Count Alucard" jokes, please

The worst part is when the technician asks me to clench my fist so she can figure out which vein will be the best one to take the needle. I watch the veins pop on the inside of my elbow while she tap-taps, tap-taps, then takes a black Sharpie and puts two dots on the vein to mark where she wants to tap my blood.

I always get a shade disoriented at this point, as if I’m not entirely there, as if part of me has slipped outside my body and is watching it all. I’m always tempted to say, “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll give blood some other time.” Instead, the technician does the speaking:

“Come over here, please.

“Lie down, please. Stretch your arm out here, please.

“I’m going to put the cuff on,” and she does, wrapping a pressurizing cuff around my upper arm. Then comes the iodine swabbing, painting a fist-sized area of my skin a tired orange.

The technician, dressed in her blue lab coat with the American Red Cross logo, hands me a soft red rubber ball to clench, then unwraps the needle. I never look at the needle.

“Squeeze hard, please,” she says. I squeeze the ball. The veins in my arm bulge again.

The people who are waiting their turn to donate shift their gazes our way. This is when The Code of Being A Man requires me to look as nonchalant as possible and not betray any sensation of leeriness or, god forbid, pain when the technician moves in for the needle stick. I’ve got the nonchalance down, as well as the anti-flinching behavior, but if I were really a tough guy, I’d watch as the technician pierced my skin and eased the needle into the vein. I’m not really a tough guy.

The anticipation is always worse than The Moment. Then, it’s just a matter of waiting for the machine to do its work.

I make what the Red Cross workers call “double red” donations. This involves hooking me up to a machine that draws the blood, separates the red blood cells from the plasma, and then returns the plasma to my system through the same tubes and needles that the blood is extracted from. It’s one thing to watch blood being siphoned away in a rivulet that’s so red it’s almost purple; it’s another thing entirely to watch the flow reverse and see the blood that’s left in the tubes get injected back into you, along with the plasma and some saline to keep the whole plumbing system from clogging.

The funny thing is, the needle they use for double-reds is smaller than the needle used for typical donations, so the stick is never as bad as expected. Because this method collects twice the number of red blood cells than a routine donation does, I'm only eligible to donate blood three times a year — and as someone with a needle phobia, that’s enough.

The other day, the technician peeled back the gauze pad to make sure the saline and plasma were indeed going back into the vein; sometimes, the needle can slip from the vein, or the vein wall can break, resulting in the fluid being returned under the skin, which leads to pain and a forearm like Popeye’s. When she moved the gauze, I looked and saw the needle poking out of my arm.

That’s something I don’t need to see again. But I maintained my nonchalance – I think.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 13th, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)
I hate needles, and I especially hate getting my blood drawn. My arm started to tingle as I read your story.

Which means you did a great job. Props.
Aug. 13th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC)
Aug. 13th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
It's been a few months since I've given blood, but reading your story brings it all back.

My record was a pint of blood in less that 6 minutes. The technicians said they had never seen blood run out of someone that fast. Works for me; the less time spent in that chair the better.

Excellent post.
Aug. 13th, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC)
A pint in six minutes? What did they do, have you hang from a chin-up bar while they took the blood from your big toe?
Aug. 14th, 2008 01:32 am (UTC)
Not-so-funny story about that. I have a history of "white-coat hypertension," meaning my blood pressure is normal most of the time, but around doctors (and dentists, and lab techs... basically anyone in a white coat) it goes through the roof.

So while I was sitting in the waiting room, I was totally calm, reading my magazine, etc. Then, when it was my turn to give, my blood pressure shot up right after the needle went in. I'm betting if there wasn't a tube, it would have looked like a Quentin Tarantino movie. It pretty much just shot out of me. That was the time I started to black out in the chair...
Aug. 14th, 2008 05:20 pm (UTC)
A salute for giving under those circumstances, then, and a second salute if you've made a donation since then.
Aug. 13th, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
I'm not eligible to give blood, but reading this made me feel like I was! You have the gift of completely transporting the reader into the scenario you depict, and it's excellent. Makes me think of the time they had to prick me over and over to find a vein to draw blood (apparently mine are small?). This was after they mistakenly removed one IV only to insert another ten minutes later because the nurse didn't follow instructions. Ughhhhhh *shudders* I hate needles too, and this gave me chills.
Aug. 13th, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC)
Your "human pincushion" tales have me sitting here shuddering.
Aug. 13th, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC)
That was my anonymous comment typed on my BlackBerry while bouncing down the road in the back of the bus. Didn't notice I wasn't logged in until after.
Aug. 14th, 2008 12:41 am (UTC)
I applaud your number of donations. Good for you!

Wow: cold saline. I'm thinking next time I'll ask them if they'll put a shot of Jack into the plasma before they pump it back into me.
Aug. 14th, 2008 01:12 am (UTC)
Reading this made me squinch my elbows shut, the picture was so well painted. I have not ever, nor can I or will I ever witness a needle being inserted into my vein or anyone else's, for that matter.

I used to be an RH donor which involved the same process, taking blood, spinning out what they want, and then putting blood and saline back in.

It was a paying gig, $40 a time, and I did it twice a week, in theory. It was like having a part-time job. It took over an hour, but I got to read so that wasn't bad. Iron and protein levels were tested and had to be healthily high before each draw and that eliminated me often enough.

I did it for at least a year, (maybe two) but over time, my veins started revolting. They're not real big and would often roll away from the needle, requiring up to six sticks before they'd hit. That was torturous. And sometimes they'd collapse on the needle and that wasn't fun, either.

Eventually it got so hard for them to draw from me they booted me out of the program and I was ready to go when it happened. I have scars on the inside of each elbow that resemble what, I imagine, a junkie would get after shooting up in the same spot over and over again. Elbow dimples.
Aug. 14th, 2008 05:22 pm (UTC)
Your fourth graf had me inhaling involuntarily, then squirming.
Aug. 14th, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC)
Oh good, my plan worked! That's exactly the reaction I was hoping for, since you made me read a horribly well-written description of your needlage. Oh, you can argue that you didn't "make" me read it but the fact remains, you wrote it, I read it and so it's all your fault.

I still can't believe I did that, because I am nearly as needlphobic as I am dentalphobic but the money was good, getting paid to read while being tortured.
Aug. 14th, 2008 06:47 pm (UTC)
"Needlage." I wish I'd thought of that.
Aug. 14th, 2008 01:56 am (UTC)
Sorry, dude--I couldn't even read this one. I am that allergic to needles.

Heidi just gave blood on Saturday. She's been a proud donor for all the years I've known her. People who are able to donate are awesome.

Aug. 14th, 2008 02:02 am (UTC)
Loved the Alucard reference, by the way.
Aug. 14th, 2008 05:23 pm (UTC)
Good for Heidi for donating. Hope I didn't scare you away from my future posts!
Aug. 14th, 2008 02:39 am (UTC)
You are a braver soul than I, and a good person for donating! One of the last times I had to get blood drawn, I (accidently) punched the nurse. Even if I was eligible to donate, I'm too much of a baby to risk being that close to a needle.

Also, this was a really great read.
Aug. 14th, 2008 05:24 pm (UTC)
I am neither brave nor good. I hope the nurse you punched has recovered.
Aug. 14th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
Receiving allergy shots and being around a diabetic for years killed any needle phobia I might have had, but that made me shudder all the same. Kudos for toughing it out.
Aug. 14th, 2008 05:25 pm (UTC)
I had a hunch some people might have a visceral reaction to this post. Anyone without a needle phobia is far tougher than I am.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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