Okay, a little bit about the process first. Instead of a whole blood donation, an apheresis donation only takes platelets and some plasma--not the red blood cells or the white blood cells. This means donations can be made much more frequently, as the body replaces the lost cells and fluid quite quickly. Unlike red blood cells, which can be kept alive for weeks, platelets only keep for 5 days. This means that the donation center takes people seven days a week (though only during evenings 5 days of the week) as the hospitals need a steady supply.
I got there in good time and had to sign a waiver as it was my first time. The rest of the preparation was quite similar to a whole blood donation--go through the same information to review, questions to answer, iron test, blood pressure check, temperature check (mine was actually 99 (37.3 C) this time; usually I'm below 98 (36.6 C), but that might be a time of day thing for me).
One very neat thing that doesn't come with whole blood donations: they had a board there listing the names and ages of people who had benefited from platelets received during the last week. There were 9 people listed, and 5 of them were children, the eldest of those 12 years old, the youngest 3 months. That really brings it home when you 'see' who you're helping and what they're struggling with!
What's quite different is the apheresis set-up. Of course, I'm used to donating at blood drives, where everything is set up and taken down a day or two later. This room is a permanent location, one of three in the Twin Cities. Lots more equipment, as the apheresis machine is far from small. About eight televisions suspended from the ceiling. The funny parts? First, having them work on both my arms--the best way to do this type of donation is to have saline/blood sans platelets coming in one arm and blood going out the other simultaneously. It was odd to have two people working away, one on each arm, and getting two needles stuck in, one right after the other. Odder still to be completely immobilized at that point (this is not nice when one's face begins to itch!).
The other oddity was being a 'mummy'--blankets and blankets piled over me, covering everything except my head. This is because the saline solution is room temperature (and that room was probably as cool as my apartment). One gets cold mighty fast while bleeding out warm blood and having something far from warm replacing it. The wonderful thing was that they had an electric heating pad laid over the upper part of my left (bleeding) arm. I tend to bleed slowly at whole blood donations because I get cold very fast and my veins constrict. But I chugged along quite nicely here--the apheresis machine had a cool monitor that told what percentage of the platelets was collected.
Ah, another side note. One can do either a double or triple collection. They had me do a double, as it was my first time, so the whole affair didn't take as long as I was anticipating.
Once they got me all hooked up and covered up, they put a pad across my lap for stability, placed on it an itty-bitty dvd player with a screen about half the size of a laptop, put headphones on my ears, and put in the 'Sense and Sensibility' dvd I'd brought along (but they have a huge collection of donated dvds of their own). It was so odd to be so helpless--they had to put the headphones on my ears and press play and adjust the volume for me!
I was happy I passed the calcium test. Apparently a fair number of donors get tingling and numbness in their face and extremities as their calcium level plummets, and they have to eat Tums while hooked up to get the symptoms to remit. I guess I scarfed down enough cheese and yogurt this week--I didn't need any!
My appointment was at 6:30, I think it was shortly before 7 when they got me hooked up, and it was maybe 8:10 when I was done and got to head off to the snack area. I didn't think I was that cold until I poured a bunch of grape juice into my stomach--then I was shaking uncontrollably. To my delight, they had some small pastries there, and a microwave to warm them up with. I have a thing for pastries, I do. ;) That helped with the coldness, but I was happy to have my car snug and warm for my trip home.
But since all I'd given was platelets and plasma, there wasn't any of the weakness or lingering chill/susceptibility to cold I sometimes have after a donation. I'm glad it's in the evening--keeping myself from any heavy lifting/exertion for the 6 hours afterward would be harder to remember when I don't feel at all weakened. I'd probably chase Arun around the apartment and start bleeding from the needle pricks, or something dumb like that. But since I go to bed shortly after the donation is done, I just have to focus on getting plenty of liquids.
So there's my long ramble about my experience. I have a whole blood donation scheduled for May 15, so I won't be eligible for apheresis donation for 4 weeks afterward, though I might be able to work one in next week if they really need me. I'm curious now whether or not I'm CMV negative. If I am, they might be calling me soon. ;)
A couple closing notes. In talking to my friend Christi about this at lunch on Tuesday, I learned she has a coworker who's needed platelet infusions/other blood transfusions a couple times to survive. Makes for a 'small world' feeling! Also, I can't help wondering about timing myself...I started my prescription in late 2006, and one unexpected side-effect was that in 2007 (autumn, probably) I quit being underweight for the first time in about a decade. Then, after my January 2008 donation, is when the Red Cross started drooling over my platelet counts--and I've been donating since I was in college. Can't help wondering if all that is linked. =)