Last night at the Osprey game I was gazing around at the advertisements on the outfield wall and I could not help but notice the Biolife Plasma advertisement in left field. For the better part of three years during college, I dutifully gave plasma twice a week.
Looking back at it now, I can’t say that I totally regret it. When you are in college you have to do what you have to do to survive. I worked two jobs but I needed the supplemental income. Back then, getting an extra $60 – $70 a week was a big deal. Would I ever think about doing it now that I am out of college and actually have a career? Hell no! The whole process of what you put your body through and the time that it takes is torturous. Thankfully, an extra $70 a week does not mean a whole lot to me these days. I mean you really have to be scrapping for cash if you donate plasma. The whole experience makes me queasy just thinking about it. If you have never donated plasma before, I will run down what you can expect if you do:
Let me preface this by saying that your overall experience is going to depend on what plasma center you go to. I donated to both Biolife in Missoula and then I donated to ZLB Plasma in downtown Spokane. Biolife in Missoula was a top-notch, clean, technologically advanced plant. ZLB in Spokane was a dirty, disgusting place. The Missoula plant attracted mostly college students and middle age respectable people looking for a few extra bucks. The Spokane plant attracted transients and other very low income people with even lower levels of education. While your experience is going to be different depending on what plant you go to, the process is going to be relatively the same.
Once you get to the plasma center you check in. At Biolife all you have to do is go up and scan your fingerprint. There is a computer screen and It brings up your file and it starts to ask you a series of about 15 questions. Now these questions are always the same but they try to trick you by putting them in a different order each time so you can’t go on autopilot (they are yes and no questions). The questions are stupid. Have you had sex with someone who has AIDS? Have you traveled to Congo since 1972? Have you used needles within the last three months? Are you feeling well and healthy today? Have you used dangerous drugs? Have you had sex with a prostitute? I am not kidding, these are the types of questions they ask. If you answer all the questions with the proper answers you go onto the next step, if you don’t then someone from the staff comes over to you at your computer and re-reads the question(s) that you did not pay enough attention to and you look like a dumbass in front of everyone.
After you pass the questionnaire you get called up to be weighed. Sometimes this goes quickly, sometimes you have to wait a long time. After you are weighed you then have your blood pressure taken and your blood drawn. In order to do this, they prick your finger. No matter how many times I donated, I never got used to this. I hated it! I hated the sound of the clicker pricking your finger and I hated the feeling of the warm blood rolling down my limb as the processer collected it into a tube. After the blood pressure and blood collection tests are done, you wait to make sure you passed. This is never a gimme. I got rejected several times because my protein level in my blood was too low. Other people get rejected because their iron levels are not high enough or their blood pressure is too high. I have seen people cuss out the staff before because they were not allowed to donate on a certain day because they did not meet the requirements. True, coming from someone who did get rejected several times it does suck because you budgeted time to donate, you already got your finger pricked, and you are denied some money you thought you were going to have in your pocket. I never felt the need to act like a baby and harass the staff though.
If you do make it past the blood tests you go and sit down next to one of the plasma machines, called a bed. Then, a person who sets you up and sticks you, called a phlebotomist, comes over. He/she hooks the machine up and checks to make sure you fit the chart that someone else on staff has brought over. Once your identity is confirmed they hook you up to the machine by taping a tube to your arm, just as if you were giving blood. The phlebotomist then tells you to start pumping your hand. After a few pumps he/she tells you to hold it and then they shove a huge, gigantic needle into your vein on the inside of your elbow. Some phlebotomists are good at sticking people and the discomfort is minimal and others should be fired because they inflict so much pain on you. After the needle is inside you, they hook it up to the tube and the plasma collecting process starts.
What happens is the machine draws your blood but it sorts out the plasma. By the time your donation is over, the machine will have returned all of your blood. When donating there are action and resting phases. When the lights of the machine are turned on it is the action phase and you have to pump your hand continuously for about five minutes. The lights will then go off and you will get to rest for a few minutes as blood is transferred back into you. Then the lights go back on and it is another five minutes of pumping. You actually watch your plasma go into a plastic bag. Once the plastic bag is full, you are done. At the point that you are done, the phlebotomist will come collect the bag and then press a button that allows blood, water, and other nutrients to go back into your body. After that is completed, you are finished donating and it is time to get paid. The whole donation process of actually giving your plasma takes a little over an hour.
I never really particularly enjoyed the actual donation process. Sure I was able to study and get homework done but it sucks being hooked up to that machine. It is a drag pumping your hand. More than once I fell asleep donating. For all the people who think I don’t sleep enough now, I was about 10x worse in college. Getting three hours of sleep a night was a good night for me. Many times I would sleep for maybe two hours or an hour on my couch. No Doz got me through college. So you can imagine that when I sat down in that bed to donate, usually in the early afternoon hours after my 6am workout and three classes later, I was tired. So not only was I fighting the queasiness feeling that comes from donating but I was also fighting fatigue. When you fall asleep while giving plasma, especially if it is during one of the action periods, it sets you back about fifteen minutes. It is definitely not something you want to do.
Not everything was bad about my twice-a-week trips out to Biolife. A lot of my friends and classmates donated as well so I always ran into someone I knew when I went out there. Sometimes you would be in a bed right next to one of your friends and you could carry on a conversation throughout the whole donation period, it made it go by really fast. I actually really enjoyed the staff as well. You get to know them quite well when you are a frequent customer. Believe it or not, I ended up dating one of the phlebotomists. Before we started dating I would always cross my fingers that she would be the one to stick me so that we would get to talk. There was definitely a social aspect of donating.
I feel if you are a college student and you need extra cash, go ahead and donate plasma. If you go to a place that is clean, you really need to have no concerns. Donating plasma is extremely safe. Still, I am very happy that my plasma donating days are behind me. Unfortunately, I can’t say that my donating period in my life has not left a mark on me. I have a big scar on the left inside of my elbow. I notice it every single day. It is ugly but I guess it was the price I paid for “selling my body” so to speak. Don’t Blink.