I had been a blood donor for years, but never had I been an apheresis donor of platelets. I had lots of excuses for not doing so, including, “It takes too long,” and “It looks uncomfortable.”
But then I lost two good friends to cancer. They were both named Mary, they were both in their forties, and they both died within months of each other. It was heartrending for me.
While grieving my losses one day, it dawned on me that their lives had probably been prolonged by the generosity of total strangers; people who had willingly taken time to donate their platelets, and who had not caved in to any excuses.
As the days went by, I couldn’t get my mind off apheresis. I finally realized that donating platelets was something I had to do.
When I called the Red Cross to make my appointment, the receptionist patiently answered my myriad questions, assuring me I’d be fine.
But when I arrived at the donor site I still had to fight the butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I really didn’t want to do this, but I couldn’t seem to make myself leave the building, either. So, during the screening process, in hopes of calming my fears, I asked even more questions.
Finally, after feeling somewhat at ease about the entire process, the assistant asked me some questions and then said, “Follow me.”
When we got to the back of the room, I was impressed with the sophisticated apheresis machine and quickly became mesmerized by the way it so effortlessly separated blood.
Before long, it was my turn to be hooked up to it. Within minutes I was snuggled under a blanket in a comfortable recliner, a needle in each arm, and to my surprise, contentedly watching television. The rest of the prep work had gone without a hitch; I had almost forgotten where I was and what I was doing.
Then it happened. My nose began to itch.
Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal, I’d simply scratch it. But when I remembered that I had to keep both arms straight and was unable to bend them, for some reason I began to panic. My eyes wildly searched the room for a nurse, but the only staff member present in the room at the time was busy with another patient.
The panic worsened and I began trembling uncontrollably. A paralyzing fear swept over me as I struggled to fight an overwhelming desire to yank the needles from my arms and dash out the door.
Not usually prone to panic attacks, this was a new experience for me, and I had no idea how to handle it. All I knew was that the more I thought about my situation, the worse it got.
Finally, I shot up an emergency prayer: God, I’m scared. Please help me.
As if on cue, a nurse appeared. Assuming she had seen my distress and would immediately unhook me, I was taken aback when she very calmly asked if I would like some information about the recipient.
What? But what about me?
I collected myself and managed to stammer, “I… I… I can know that information? I can know who my platelets are going to?”
“Well,” the nurse quietly continued while monitoring the machine, “we don’t usually have any information on the recipients, and we cannot give out any private information on anyone, but in this case I do have a little of his history.”
“Oh,” was all I could respond, still struggling to get my bearings.
“He is a man from this area, about forty years old,” the nurse continued. “With a wife and two kids, and… he has leukemia.”
If she said more, I didn’t hear her.
I froze, unable to even breathe, as I struggled to comprehend what she had just told me: there was a man right here in town, about my age and, like me, married with two children; but he was waiting for my platelets… in hopes of staying alive?
Finally, I looked up at the plastic bag that was gradually filling with my cream-colored platelets — and swallowed hard.
God, please forgive me for whining about being a little uncomfortable.
As the nurse walked away, the plight of my situation suddenly seemed extremely trivial. For, unlike my recipient, in less than two hours I would be able to get up from this bed and leave. I would go home and cook dinner for my family as normal. I would feel good, think clearly, and have energy to clean, work in the garden, or just take a walk with my husband while watching a panoramic sunset.
Ever so slowly I came to grips with what had just happened, and realized that not only had my nose stopped itching, but compassion had replaced the panic I had experienced just moments ago. No longer uncomfortable, I was completely at peace.
When the whole process was finally finished and I was gathering my things to go home, I stopped by the receptionist’s desk and humbly signed up for another appointment.
As I walked outside and felt the warmth of the sunshine on my face, and deeply inhaled the fresh air, I couldn’t help but be consumed with the thought: but for the grace of God, go I.