You may have heard my story of how when we were struggling financially, we built our cloth diaper stash a diaper or two at a time using money my husband earned by donating (selling) plasma (blood.) He wrote this guest post to share his experience!
I first heard about plasma donation through radio advertisements for a local center that had just moved into an expanded location very close to where I was working (which was also near where I was attending classes for my masters degree twice a week). At the time I was looking for something productive to do during the 2 hours I had between leaving work and the start of my classes as the time was previously occupied by fast food and catching up on homework or reading for class. I did a little searching online and got a good idea of the process and what to expect before I called to make the initial appointment.
During the first appointment there is a large pile of paperwork, interviews, and some blood tests that they complete, this took about an hour and a half before getting into the normal routine. Once you have an ID and are in the system the process was a lot quicker. Each time you log in to the automated system, answer some basic questions, and sit and wait for your name to be called. The nurse at the desk goes through a quick checklist and process similar to what is done at Red Cross blood donations (questionnaire on past activities, pin prick iron test, blood pressure, temperature, etc.) They were far more efficient at this than Red Cross since most people there have been through it many times. After you clear the screening you are given a sealed bag of all the consumables and sent to another waiting area to be called back to the donation room.
Donation itself is the bulk of the time spent at the center. A technician hooks up all the equipment and inserts the needle and then you lay back and wait for the process to complete. The time it takes for the donation is dependent on how quickly the bottle of plasma fills, which depends on how fast the blood flows out. Squeezing a foam ball helps speed up the flow. During the donation the machine takes blood, spins it in a centrifuge to separate the blood cells from plasma then every 10 minutes or so it reverses and replaces the blood cells. During the replacement they also add an anticoagulant which prevents clotting and leaves a metallic taste in your mouth for a minute. Over the first couple appointments it became a challenge to see how quickly I could fill the bottle; the fastest I believe was about 40 minutes.
I did donations for about 4 months on and off, time and schedule permitting. The payout at this center (and I believe it is similar at other places) was $25 per donation and you could go in twice a week. There were three occasions where I was paid and did not complete the donation, first was when the nurse at the desk mis-clicked one of the answers to the screening questions and said it could not be corrected. The second was a three strikes and you’re out rule they apparently have for the technician when hitting the vein, and the final was what led to quitting going there.
From my limited understanding of human anatomy what happens to the veins when they are repeatedly pierced, similar to a heroin addict, is that the veins scar and sink down to avoid further injury. This was leaving visible scarring on the inside of my elbow. Whatever the case was with vein damage the result was that during the donation the needle felt like it was fluttering in my vein then the machine would stop and have to be restarted. It was a repulsive feeling. The technician attempted to prevent it by slowing down the feed which made the process take longer. It eventually got to the point that it was shutting down every couple of minutes and there was no lower setting to use. My last donation was cut short due to this at only about half the bottle full. At this point it was not worth the money to endure that feeling and for the extended amount of time it was taking.
The place I went was clean, nicely furnished, and well run. I gather there is a stigma associated with these places and the people who go there to donate, but that was not my experience at all. Some technicians were better than others and my last few appointments were all with one who I did not particularly care for. Overall I would say the experience was worth it, I was earning some extra money doing basically the same thing I would have done anyway (reading for school). They have inspirational posters all over the office about all the good plasma donation does, and I have no doubt that some of it is true, but ultimately it’s hugely profitable for them. Having previously been the recipient of a blood transfusion I would prefer to give whole blood donations to the Red Cross.
Did you know such a thing existed?