29. Jul. 2017
By Tom Deans- Bio

Yea, I stick a needle in my arm. So what.

For 70 straight months I have done the same ritual and I am not likely to stop. I didn't want to and it's certainly not like I enjoy the feeling it gives me. I do however enjoy the boost it provides to my depleted finances.

I give blood plasma, or rather I sell blood plasma. It has become the same process twice a week all within a system of a business model that helps save lives and puts a little money towards gas and bills. Wanna know the most important part of this little story? I have made over $30,000 doing it and it’s tax-free.

Oh I don't fashion myself a hero by any means. Plasma does great things (so I'm told). I just know that when I plop down in that chair sitting beside many familiar but nameless faces I will put on my headphones and settle in for an hour of bloodsucking fun. I notice many of those around me watch that needle right into their arm like they are visually guiding it or maybe just intrigued to see the piercing. Not me, I know where that thing is going. I have watched years of slasher movies without fail, but have no desire to see any medical procedure, especially not on me.

A specialist does the work, a phlebotomist. Truth be told some are better at their craft than others. Is it painful? Not really. It will be a pinch-like feeling sometimes but the most skilled "sticks" can go completely unnoticed. If it hurt that bad I would not have done it over 500 times.

Each visit is the same process of setting up "the machine" that will draw your liquid life-force in, spin it at a high speed like a washing machine to separate the red blood cells from the clear plasma, then return those reds to their rightful owner. It is a very safe and sanitary process complete with pre-wrapped one use needles, clear tubes and receptacles. Plasma can be rebuilt within 48 hours in your body and the cause can be helped by eating protein-laden meals before and after your donation. My best advice? Stay hydrated. Water builds blood and it flows faster when you have that hydration. If you are in that chair longer than an hour your poor water consumption is the likely cause. And I don’t mean drink huge gulps at the water fountain as you enter the building. That will just make for an uncomfortable cross-legged time during the donation. This is a must the day before.

Once the needle is inserted, you will go through a series of "cycles" 4-7 minutes of blood drawing will be followed by a ten second pause and then 4-7 minutes of blood return. This will repeat until your 880 ml of plasma is collected. A gauge on the machine is easily viewed to show you a red light for "no flow", yellow for "slow flow" and green for "good flow" during the blood drawing phases and light also alerts you of the return cycle. A steady clinching and releasing of your fist helps circulate the blood during the draw cycles and is highly advisable. Relax your hand during the return phases. I am sure to raise my hand for help if my light indicates no flow because a slight adjustment is needed to either my needle or there is a kink in the line. It's no cause for alarm and is quickly remedied. You'll also be in clear sight of your plastic bottle to watch your collection of your plasma as the time passes.

My plasma is usually a highly watered down caramel-looking color. Sometimes it is tinged with yellow. Apparently both are normal. I've seen dark green in the bottles of others so I questioned the phlebotomist and am told that usually indicates a high fatty diet or medication like birth control pills. Or they had a nice bender the day before.

A busy day may have you waiting with 30 others to get in and then seated with another 40 in the rows of reclining cushioned chair/beds. You'll have to go through the same process of computerized questions that include, "Are you feeling well today?" and “Have you donated blood in the last eight weeks?" After that you'll meet with a screener who will check your pulse, temperature, blood pressure and blood protein. The latter is determined by a finger prick test that fills a toothpick-sized glass vial and then viewed under a microscope. All the tests have an acceptable range that allow you to enter the promised land of donation. Anything out of the range requires you to sit in the lobby for 10-15 minutes and then allows one more shot at passing that required number. Blood pressure reading too high is usually my culprit for my medical "timeout" but a fast pulse got me once as well. I quickly learned that 4 hours of yard work in July heat immediately before plasma was not conducive to an acceptable pulse. A low blood protein score or a second failed pulse or blood pressure reading will garner you a "deferral" which is fancy for "come back tomorrow and try again".

You'll see all sorts of people in there. A very diverse crowd of race, gender, nationality and socioeconomic background. Some are loud and fast-talking while others are reserved and content to quietly watch TV or read a book. Texting on your phone is allowed but talking on it is strictly prohibited. Most, like me, are listening to music on their headphones to pass the time. Though I do tend to skip some songs like The Smithereens' "Blood and Roses".

After the bottle is filled with your plasma, the final return cycle brings your blood back mixed with saline. This will help replenish much like a blood Gatorade. A final beep indicates you are done and you raise your hand for the phlebotomist to remove the needle. A small bandage is placed over the entry point and you are free to go. Don't worry, you will not feel woozy or dizzy. Your money is automatically loaded on a prepaid Visa card and you are able to use the funds minutes after exiting the building. You can only do this twice a week. My location currently pays $25 for the first donation in the week and $50 the second. They back-load it to encourage you give your maximum amount of donations. 8 donations in a month garners a handsome bonus paid on the 6th, 7th and 8th time. That’s how my $30K has really accumulated!

They are always looking for new donors. Currently newcomers are presented an incentive with $50 each for the first 5 visits. I have been going for 70 months and it is part of my weekly routine. It doesn’t interfere with whatever you have going on because they are open from 6 AM to 7 PM daily. So put that “I’m too busy” excuse away!!

Seek out a plasma center in your area. I go to Octapharma Plasma which seems like the primary donation group.

Help others and help yourself. Now go get that blood money!

Tom Deans lives in Poquoson, Virginia. He is a hustler. He can be found driving around, selling books, exposing musical talents and cheering on the Philadelphia Eagles. Sometimes all at once. We cajoled him to write for OgFOMK ArTS because we want to see more of his work. His sense of humor, keen observations and thirst for life are contagious. He’s the type of guy you can discuss inappropriate titles for children’s books. His analysis on bands that are lame but have cool t-shirts is well worth listening to.

Tom Deans
Tom Deans

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  1. Thanks, Lon, Tom has a lot of other good ideas. We look forward to reading them!


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