After I had been unemployed and looking for work for a few weeks, I decided to take matters into my own hands and donate plasma.
When you donate plasma, unlike when you donate blood, those who take your plasma do not rely exclusively on your sense of altruism. When you donate blood, it is your good deed for the day, and you are rewarded with some orange juice and crackers to ensure that you don’t pass out on the way home. Plasma donors, on the other hand, get cold hard cash for their time and bodily fluids. Around here, they will pay you $20 if you donate once in a week, and $35 if you donate another time during that same week.
Ethically, some people may have problems with donating plasma for money. I, on the other hand, do not. After all, the plasma donation process takes quite a bit longer than the blood donation process: about an hour and 15 minutes each time, including the pre-donation screening. I feel that they are paying me for my time as much as for my plasma. And it’s not as if they use the stuff to make water beds, or anything. Plasma TVs are not made from it. Your plasma is used to treat diseases.
I began my career as a plasma donor by making an appointment and going in to the plasma donation center for them to size me up. They took a blood sample and ran tests, gave me a (non-invasive) physical, and asked me many, many questions. Most of these questions had to do with whether I had made it a habit of playing fast and loose with my bodily fluids, sexually or otherwise. Since I have not, it was easy to answer “no” to them. And since I am in good health and not on any medications that might disqualify me, I was given the green light to donate.
After drinking plenty of fluids and going to the bathroom, I went into the room where you donate. In this room, there are rows of people lined up on special chairs that elevate your feet, and a machine between each chair that does the actual sucking of plasma. There are several attendants whose job it is to stick you with a needle, get the machine started, and keep an eye on you if anything goes wrong.
I had been told that the actual plasmapheresis process could take an hour, and that they encouraged you to bring something to listen to or something to read, so I brought with me a magazine, a book, and my iPod, just to give myself some options. If I felt fine throughout the process, I would read the book. If a little woozy or distracted, the magazine. If more woozy and distracted, I would turn to the iPod.
When it came time to stick me, I offered them my right arm, since I am left-handed and regard my right arm as helpful, but essentially expendable. Unfortunately, one of the problems with my right arm is that its veins are smaller than those in my left. On this day, the vein was too small for the needle to find it. And don’t think that the attendant didn’t try: he stuck it in, fished around a bit, and in the end cast his jealous eye toward my abundantly veined left arm. The machine was still to the right of the chair, but he pulled the cord across my body, stuck my left arm, and the process began.
The process was fascinating to me, a first-time plasma donor. You can see the blood going out of your arm, but instead of filling up a bag, as I had seen it do so many times when I was donating blood, the cord split in two before it got to the machine. A yellowish liquid began filling up a bag, while my blood filled up a plastic container on the front of the machine. There was a row of four red lights and four green lights on the side of the machine, and I had to keep squeezing my hand to keep the green lights lit up so the machine would keep pumping blood out. It was a little like a pinball machine.
Then, after about 8 minutes, the plastic container filled up with blood and the cuff that had been squeezing my upper arm deflated. The blood then began to go back into me. I can imagine that some people might have difficulty with this concept. It’s one thing to see your blood outside your body, but then to see it be put back inside – that’s something else entirely. I didn’t feel much, aside from a slightly cool sensation that came from the anti-clotting stuff they put in the blood as it goes back in. It was a strange sensation the first time, since for my whole life up to that point, cool sensations caused by liquids entering my body had always been caused by liquids that I had put in my mouth.
After the plastic blood container was emptied out, the cuff inflated, the green lights lit up, the machine made a ka-CHUNK sound, and the blood and plasma were coming back out again. I kept an eye on the machine for a little while longer, but in the end decided that the machine would alert me if anything unusual was happening. Since the needle was in my left arm and the machine was on the right, I thought that holding a book or magazine might become complicated, so I listened to a lecture that I had on my iPod for the rest of the time.
The blood container filled up and emptied out seven or eight more times, and the plasma bag was full. The final step was the machine putting a saline solution through the needle to hydrate me. Again, I got the strange sensation that I was drinking something without drinking something. At the end, they bandaged up my left arm (the right was already bandaged) and sent me out. I checked out, and found that my plasma donation credit card had been credited with $30 (including the coupon I had cut out and given them). All in 2 hours’ work.
I’ve been back twice since then, and the last time I got the big payoff: $35. It would be nice if I could continue doing it, or maybe if it could turn into a full-time job, but I don’t think so. In the first place, they only allow you to do it twice a week. And in the second place, while it’s nice to do when you’re unemployed, it does cut into your day and have an effect on the rest of your day. You’re not supposed to lift heavy things, and I didn’t feel so sure I should go running after giving plasma. In the end, my career as a plasma donor will likely be short-lived.