A few weeks ago, I get an email at work announcing the hospital’s annual blood drive. As my finger is hovering over the delete button, I stop myself.
Three years ago, on December 4, 2008, I was diagnosed with two clots in my lower left leg (deep vein thrombosis). The course of treatment to keep these clots from dislodging and moving into my lungs (pulmonary embolism) was to start me immediately on blood thinners. This meant that for two weeks, I had to get injections of Lovenox in my stomach while my PT/INR levels balanced out – this basically meant my blood had to be at a stable level of just thin enough not to clot and to help break up the existing clots but not too thin where I would bleed out from a tiny cut. Once my levels were stable, I was able to transition to an oral blood thinner but I still had to go in almost every day for blood draws so they could watch the levels. Since there were so many factors that could change them (diet, medications – including the pain meds I was taking – caffeine, etc.), they had to monitor where they were at so they could adjust my dosage accordingly.
It was fairly complicated but I eventually balanced out and they weaned me off of getting the blood drawn every day. I got on a steady dose of blood thinner and within six months, the clots had broken up and I was completely off the medicine and back to normal, for the most part (there’s a few residual side effects but nothing I can’t live with).
Regardless, before that happened, I was TERRIFIED of needles. I don’t know where the phobia came from but for as long as I can remember, it was like that. It wasn’t the pain, or lack thereof, that bothered. It was the act of puncturing the skin that squicked me out. If I knew I had to get blood drawn or a shot, my anxiety would be through the roof – pale, short of breath, sweaty, ready to faint. It just wasn’t something that I could conquer.
When I got sick though, I had to in order to survive. It was my only option. I remember them thinking initially that it was cellulitis but when they came back in they were basically like, “You have two clots in your leg and we need to start you on Lovenox. This is delivered to your stomach and you need two injections immediately.”
I almost fainted. Literally. I cried and got short of breath and told them I was going to need pain meds to knock me out. In my defense, I was in a lot of pain so they were able to give me something that did help calm me down and start the injections.
Then they told me that I would have to do the injections twice a day until they got my levels right for oral blood thinners, which could be anywhere from a few days to a month or so. And they cheerily said, “But don’t worry, this can be done by you at home so you don’t have to be admitted to the hospital!”
I didn’t even the hear the end. I was just like, “Admit me! There is no way in hell I’ll be able to give myself an injection.”
Thankfully, my mother was able to do it for me. I was never ok with it, mostly because it was going into my stomach and because the meds burned for a good few minutes and I wasn’t allowed to rub it or anything.
It took me awhile to be able to walk in, roll my sleeve up and let them take the blood without feeling like I needed to faint. But by the end, I was an old pro at it. The anxiousness never went completely away and even now, I still feel that little flutter well up deep down, but it’s much easier to push it aside than before that ordeal.
Around the same time, I was friends with a girl who gave blood fairly regularly and she would always tell me how it easy it was. After talking about it a few times, I told myself that if I got through the DVT process unscathed, that I would give blood. That if I could handle needles in my stomach for two weeks and blood draws at the minimum once a week for six months, then I could handle giving blood. It would be the big boss at the end of the level, the gold medal, the ultimate physical challenge. And it would help people. So I couldn’t lost on any counts.
Fast forward, three years later and I’m hovering over the delete button on the hospital drive email. I think back to the promise I made to myself and without hesitation, I go and sign up. I’ve got three weeks before it happens so I’m good.
I’m going to do this.
Friday, December 23rd rolls around and I’m slightly dehydrated from drinking the night before. I had put in my calendar reminder some of the tips they gave: eat a low fat breakfast, drink lots of fluid, avoid caffeine. I realize I’ve broken them all before I even get into work since I’ve already had some Diet Coke and a Cappucino from Dunkin’ Donuts. Then there was the bagel with cream cheese I had for breakfast. And I’d barely had any water.
I considered skipping it but had no valid reason to, so I went.
“Please don’t let me be the person that faints,” is what I am thinking as I walk down the hallway.
I show up and sign in. They give me a binder to review which contains the parameters for who can and cannot donate, things you should be aware of with regards to how the process goes. There is nothing in the binder that will keep me from donating so they call me back into a private area and begin the pre-screening.
They validate my personal information, the usual. My veins are checked to determine which is the best to use. They take my temperature and blood pressure and check my pulse. Then it’s time for a finger pricks to test my hemoglobin and it’s a bitch. Man, I’d rather get my blood drawn then have them prick my finger. I text Steve at this point telling him how much the finger prick hurts and he says, “Poor baby! Wait until they put the needle in to take out the blood!”.
I’m then left alone to answer some questions about health history, most covering eligibility. The only ones that I have to answer yes to concern a history of blood diseases and because DVT isn’t listed, they have to call the medical director who clears me once she determines the duration since I’ve had it and the cause.
It’s now time to start the process. I’m texting Steve telling him it’s time but there’s no nervousness or anxiety there. They lay me in this recliner chair that similar to the camping chairs. I hold my left arm out straight and she feels around for the vein and begins to make marks on my inner arm so she knows where to place everything. She tells me to try not to move and starts taping the tubes down my arm and to my wrist.
It’s time to insert the needle and she nicely warns me while the other ladies talk to me and keep me distracted. I look away but feel a bit of anxiety in my stomach. Before it can come to fruition, it’s over and I look back and see the tube is full of the blood and on the floor is the bag collecting it, moving back and forth electronically.
She says that I’m good and that they got a great vein and it should fill up quickly.
“Is the needle supposed to be warm?” I ask, surprised. It felt like Icy Hot on my skin at the site. I thought that they warmed the needle up for me, like they warm blankets in the hospital or other courtesies. I get funny looks and they say they don’t know what I mean. It’s not uncomfortable so it’s not a big deal but it really feels like the metal is warm. Looking back, those areas have been overly sensitive since I was sick so maybe I could feel the blood warming up the needle. Who knows.
They continue chatting with me and I’m elated that I’m actually doing this and I’m feeling really good and that I didn’t faint. She asks me how I am.
“I’m good. I’m great.”
And we continue chatting, my words coming at a mile a minute. Maybe I was a bit nervous and that’s how I was showing it but I felt fine.
“How are you?” she asks again.
My head feels a bit light now but I’m still ok, kind of. Then there’s a warmth that spreads through me and the world starts to spin a little on it’s axis. Don’t faint, my brain screams. I take a deep breath. The world steadies itself a bit.
“I’m, uh … ok,” I say meekly.
She jumps into action just as I start to gag. Waves of nausea and dizziness are sweeping over me. It comes on so quickly I don’t know how to react except to keep repeating, Don’t faint, over and over in my brain.
She lays me back and places a bag under my chin and on my chest and a cold rag on my head. She tells me to take deep breaths and if I have to get sick, to go ahead. The needles are still in my arms and I’m still gagging but wishing with all my might that it would stop.
It doesn’t. I get sick and because of the angle I’m laying at and the way I’m feeling, I can’t tell if it’s all in the bag but I’m fairly certain a little bit might be on my chin and my chest.
I’m upset at this point, tearing up a bit and I remember quietly wailing to her “Why is this happening?” mostly because I was confused. I thought I was doing so good.
She smiles nicely and gently pats me and just explains that it’s my first time and it’s not a big deal, I’m not the first one it’s happened to. She also kindly wipes the mascara that’s running off my face and disposes of the bag. At this point, I am done and have been since right after I started feeling sick so she hurries to get me unhooked and once she does, I lay there for a few minutes sipping some Sprite and eating some pretzels.
This all occurs in under 10 minutes. She indicates that the quickness it came out could also be partly why I got sick.
They have me stick around for a few more minutes, moving me from one recliner to another then finally to the snack table. I really felt almost one hundred percent better once I got sick – it’s like when you eat something that doesn’t agree with you. As soon as you get rid of it, you’re fine. And I am fine, just a bit shook up but I am done. I am walking out of there with my drink and my snack and a neat little soup bowl that they gave the donors that day.
I am a little listless for the rest of the afternoon and I lay around like a sloth when I get home later that afternoon because I have absolutely no energy in my body. But other than that, I had no noticeable effects.
I have given blood.
I have conquered that mountain and realized it wasn’t that big of a deal. Yes, I got sick but it wasn’t something I could control and it wasn’t bad enough to where I wouldn’t do it again. And it wasn’t exactly Everest, but it was close enough for me.
So many people that day told me it was a great thing for me to do and that felt amazing. But it felt even more amazing that I had conquered a fear, something I never would have done five years ago. And it’s very awesome that it is something that helps other people and that I can continue doing.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving, both for myself and others.
What an amazing gift!
To learn about donating and find a blood drive, click here. This is no where near a sponsored post and everything I have done is of my own volition but it would behoove you to consider donating and if you have any more questions, I’ll be happy to answer them! But yes, in spite of everything, I would hands down do it again.