Blood donations are down 10 percent since the start of the pandemic.
The Red Cross — the major source of blood and blood products in the 209 — is experiencing a critical shortage.
As a result, doctors are facing difficult decisions regarding patients that will receive blood transfusions or other critical blood products such as platelets and red cells.
This means there are cancer patients and those requiring major surgery that may not have the best possible outcomes due to available supplies being prioritized.
To be clear, I’m not an expert when it comes to how critical blood and blood products are to the health — and even the ability for others to still live — in the greater Northern San Joaquin Valley.
But I can offer some insight in what it is like to donate.
I was asked if I would be interested in being a platelet donor by someone in 2005 at the former Manteca donation site for Delta Blood Bank (that since then was acquired by Red Cross) in the Cardoza Center where I was donating whole blood every 56 or so days.
Now some 340-plus platelet donations later I’m still donating. I do so every two weeks up to 24 times a year. Depending on my white cell count they take out two to three units. They will also remove plasma periodically.
Platelets are critical to blood clotting. They are an essential part of many cancer treatments and are used during major surgeries. They have a useful shelf life of up to five days.
After donating for a while in Modesto, I’ve been traveling to Stockton to do so for the past 11 years. It’s always at 1 p.m. on a Saturday although you can donate any day of the week with appointments in the morning or afternoon.
Setting aside the 50-minute drive time back and forth from Manteca, the entire process for platelets takes between 3 and 3½ hours. That includes screening, the process of hooking you up to a machine, the actual donation process, and the required 10 or so minutes in the canteen that is designed to make sure you are OK complete with juice, water and various snacks.
Being a platelet donor might seem time consuming but it’s not.
For several years I used the one arm process that allowed me to catch up on reading. Others opted to watch movie DVDs.
Then they switched to the two-arm procedure. It is quicker but it put a kibosh to my book reading. I ended up trying movies but then got hooked on Netflix. Not only is it a guilt-free way to binge watch but it makes the time fly.
In exchange for “wasting” a few hours or so every other Saturday watching TV shows, a lot of people I don’t know who are trying to make sure they have the luxury of hours to spend enjoying loved ones or simply enjoying the small pleasures of life such as watching the sun set over the Coastal Range may have the chance to do so.
The big question I’ve avoided so far — does it hurt?
To be clear there are people who are squeamish with needles. I respect that. We’re not clones.
There are times I honestly don’t feel the needle as it is inserted. Most of the time there is a pain that’s slight but dissipates quickly.
And there have been a few times — perhaps half a dozen out of give or take 340 donations — where things have really hurt.
But to be honest that number would likely be close to zero if it wasn’t for the number of donations I’ve racked up. And while every phlebotomist tells me I have good veins I also have a good amount of scar tissue from the 340 donations.
This can be minor discomfort in the process of squeezing every 10 seconds with needles in both arms. But only twice in 16-plus years did I ask to abort the process due to issues. Never, though, has it created any lasting problems that kept me from assuming my regular activities that include lifting light weights, jogging, hiking or even digging up tree trunks after 12 hours have passed.
While I’m not sure Red Cross would be wild about sharing what I just did, but it underscores blood donating isn’t a major life disruptor and actually can be a life changer for a stranger.
Within 10 minutes or so of being unhooked I’m driving back to Manteca, going out for dinner, shopping for groceries, and running other errands and even working on catchup house work before I sneak a couple hours of Netflix in as I devour a half gallon of Dryer’s ice cream.
And when I have the time, it has never stopped me from under taking major hikes next day hitting trails in the high Sierra requiring a lengthy drive each way in addition to hiking 6 to 8 miles and gaining 2,000 plus feet. I’m back in my car on the way home to Manteca just under 24 hours after completing a platelet donation.
I will admit the first time I donated was a bit of a trip.
Back in 2005 they required first time donors to use both arms.
After the phlebotomist got everything set she reminded me if there was anything I needed to let her know. And for whatever reason she added even if that included having my nose scratched.
I rarely feel a need to scratch my nose due to an itch. But thanks to the suggestion my nose kind of drove me crazy that day. However I never asked to have it scratched.
The phlebotomists do go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable whether it is adding blankets — having blood taken out and put back in your body can be a cold process — propping up your head, adjusting earphones, and such.
I admit I was disappointed when they dropped the Grandma dark chocolate cookies from the canteen among their after donation snacks. They did redeem themselves by offering Cheez-Its.
The Red Cross blood donation centers in the immediate area are:
655 East Hawkeye Ave. in Turlock.
1900 West Orangeburg Ave. in Modesto.
2888 West March Lane in Stockton.
There is also a weekly blood donation at the Manteca VFW Hall on Moffat Boulevard in Manteca.
To schedule a donation appointment or for more information on what is involved to be a donor call (800) 733-2767 or go to www.redcrossblood.org