Well, maybe not entirely the right choice of words, but there were chemicals and needles in abundance, so hey. I attended my first blood platelet donation session in five years today, and things have barely changed a bit. I arrived at 9.05am on the dot, having been held up by Stoke-on-Trent's glorious traffic system (which is only about two notches away from being branded a major disaster) and was ushered in to the waiting room. For anyone who's never voluntarily donated bodily fluids in an official capacity before, the screening process for regular donors takes the form of paperwork. I filled out a questionnaire asking whether I'd traveled to anywhere more exotic than Stoke in the last month or so (that would be Barton-under-Needwood, then) and whether I'd been making mad, passionate love with anyone I shouldn't have (details withheld for the sake of sanity). After that was done and dusted, it was blood test time. They have these disposable lancets that are about the size of those little pencil sharpeners you can buy. Quick mini-harpoon and I passed the blood-drop floaty test and then it was time for more forms to be filled in. If it seems a bit paperwork-heavy, that's because it has to be. Like any medical procedure more complicated than a visit to the doctor's surgery, consent has to be obtained and the donor has to be aware of the uses to which the platelets will be put (cancer treatment and life-saving transfusions for newborn babies, for instance). Then, once the checks and consents were finished with, it was time for the fun part to begin.
Of course,, 'fun' is subjective. I've never really liked sharp things all that much, and so becoming a blood donor was a big leap for me when I started doing it. I've still not got over it; it's a sort of mild phobia that I've never really shaken off. The good thing is that you only get needled once during donations (unless you opt for the local anaesthetic, in which case you get an extra dose of sharp things. In this case I was sat up on a couch that bears a resemblance to a dentist's chair, but one with a bulky cabinet that's all centrifuges and monitors attached to one side. That's the platelet separator. It's programmed to siphon blood off and harvest the platelets and then give the rest of the blood back to you again. It siphons for a few minutes and then pumps back for a couple more, and keeps that cycle up until the blood bag is filled with a fluid that rather resembles jarate, which is your platelet cells suspended in anticoagulant, plasma or whatever else goes in there. The amount of time you spend on the machine is directly proportionate to your body mass index. Basically, the larger you are, the longer it takes. I'm dieting at the moment and so my weight's gone down since my last attempt to donate, when they turned me away after the ibuprofen debacle. However, the machine stipulated that the donation was going to take 87 minutes to complete. That's rather a long time to go without the use of your left arm if you're not used to it. After an hour or so, the separation anxiety really begins to kick in.
At any rate, I was given some last checks and confirmations of identity and then I was good to go. Donation needles are rather heavy calibre, bigger than the syringes you normally see, but then they have to do a more important job. There are three tubes (plus valves and anti-backflow locks and whatnot) leading from the needle, plus a reservoir from which samples are taken for testing. The first tube is for outgoing blood, on its way to the separator. Second one is for blood on its way back to you. Third one contains the anticoagulant, which is basically citric acid. It gets mixed in with the blood to keep it from setting, but the downside is that you end up with it in your bloodstream, and it can cause side effects if it's not monitored. You feel the effects in the form of a tingling sensation in your lips, plus a metallic taste in your mouth, and enough of it can trigger allergic reactions. The way to stop that happening is by drinking a quantity of full-fat milk beforehand (which is hell if you're trying to diet!). The molecules of anticoagulant bond with the calcium in the milk and, in that way, they don't cause any other mischief. Don't ask me how it works; I'm just the patient.
Minor ouch as the needle goes in, and then I settled back in the couch and let the machine do its thing. I had a book with me about Bomber Command in WW2, which was a suitably beefy read. Other people take laptops for the free wifi, or smartphones, crosswords, newspapers or whatever. I got through two chapters before the donation was finished. The milk did what it was supposed to do (as well as fattening me up) and all I had to do was sit there and fight the pins and needles as my left arm went to sleep. There's a heating bad in the armrest that's there to stop your arm going cold, since the blood coming back from the separator has cooled considerably and a cold arm is not comfortable and indeed feels quite weird. They gave me a little rubber ball to play with, just to give my fingers something to do, and the timer clicked and the machine whirred and then that was that - donation over, up you get and where the hell's the toilet?
I'll be going back again next month and then the month after that. The thing with platelet donation is that because you're not losing haemoglobin in any great quantities, you can donate more frequently, once a month as opposed to once every six months for whole blood donation. Then it was back into the car and off home for me. So that's one session down and plenty more to come. Any questions about the platelet donation procedure, feel free to ask