Return Fluids to User

Over the last year or so, our local blood bank has been encouraging donors to give what they call “double red” donations, rather than regular old whole blood.  I’ve done it a couple of times now.

The Good:

  • You get to lie down on a heating pad.  It’s awfully nice.  The apheresis machine (which centrifuges your blood, keeps what it wants and returns the rest to you) gives you extra saline, and it’s cold.
  • My employer gives time off to donate blood.  That’s awfully nice of them.
  • You can go in half as often as whole blood donation and still give the same quantity.  After all, most of what hospitals need is your red blood cells; they’re happy for you to keep the rest.

Now, regular blood donation is pretty straightforward: Someone sticks a needle in you and waits for the bag to fill up.  Then they walk you over to a kitchenette, holding your arm in case you start to faint, and you celebrate with a snack.  But apheresis involves a more intimate encounter with technology.

The Weird:

  • You can taste the machine.  (I’m sure this is true for being on an IV drip, too.)  When it puts electrolytes back into you, they come through a fresh vinyl tube.  It doesn’t take long for the fumes to spread throughout your circulatory system, including the back side of your taste buds, so that it feels like you just ate a new inflatable pool toy.  Does that mean we are constantly tasting ourselves from the inside, but we we’re just used to it?
  • It can make your teeth tingly.  The phlebotomist explained that, with the red cells, I’m losing calcium from my blood, and my body is drawing it out of my bones and teeth.  But that’s okay, there’s a remedy, she said, and gave me a couple of Tums to chew on.  It seemed to work—the tingling went away.

A few weeks ago, I went in for my fourth double-red donation.  I was well-hydrated, and I had just gone out to lunch with my Mom and had a nice big plate of chicken fajitas to prepare.  The blood donation folks hooked me up to the machine, and everything was going well, until the phlebotomist called a supervisor over to look at the machine.  She was doing her best Professional Calm.

“What is it?” the supervisor asked, in a half-whisper.

“It’s saying 12/09.”  They both inspected the machine’s little LCD display.  “This one came out of the same box I’ve been using all month.”

“Well, it’s expired.  We can’t use it,” the supervisor admitted.

“What should I do?”

“You’ll have to give him his fluids back.”

“How do I do that?”

“Select ‘Return fluids to user’ in the menu.”

Man, if I ever get to use “Return fluids to user” in a computer interface, I will have truly lived.

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3 Responses to Return Fluids to User

  1. Amy Felty says:

    Return fluids to user? I’ve never heard of such a thing in blood donations, so I’m curious. What was going on?

    • Billy says:

      Rather than just draw blood into a plastic bag, they were drawing it into a machine, separating the plasma from the red blood cells, and returning the plasma. That way, they could take twice as many red blood cells without stressing the donor. But in this case, the donation kit (still a plastic bag, actually, plus some tubes) was expired, so they had to abort the operation and decided to return not just the plasma, but all the red blood cells as well, since they couldn’t use them!

      • Amy Felty says:

        How curious! “Curiouser and curiouser,” said Alice.
        “Yes,” replied the white rabbit, his ears twitching with wonder. “Can you imagine red blood cells taking a detour on the way through your body?”
        “Only in wonderland,” remarked Alice.

        Is this stop wonderland, then?

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