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Blood money 

A look inside the process of donating plasma

“Is my urine clear?”

The manual stated that my urine should be clear.

My urine was yellow. Is yellow clear? I could see through it. Did clear mean: Not cloudy? Free of particulate matter? Colorless?

I wanted my urine to be clear. As instructed I placed the lidless plastic drinking cup containing my sample on top of the flush tank returned to the lobby and awaited my turn.

There were 13 others waiting in the lobby. A rail-thin female inhaled cigarettes outside. The bandaged-hand man sweated profusely. Most of them stared at the television.

The ad for Biomat USA said: Earn $30 today and up to $220 a month by donating blood plasma.

I don’t have health insurance; they would give me a physical.

I need the STD tests: I’ve scheduled sex for December.

They’d pay $30: I need a hair cut and roach motels.

I’d sell my plasma. I don’t even know what plasma is!

After about an hour wait I was led into an office by a nurse. She said there were always nurses on duty. No mention was made of doctors. She asked standard questions: Had I spent more 72 consecutive hours incarcerated in the last twelve months? No.

Had I ever been paid for sex? I remembered Kristen from the 1980s, who had told me that all she wanted me for was sex. I tried to charge her $50 per session. We had a brief friendly argument and I never brought up being paid again.

My body temp was 96.9 (she said the cold water I drank to help urination could account for that). Iron content, protein level, blood pressure and pulse rate; all were normal.

I was healthy. Yet that wasn’t enough, I wanted the nurse to notice how healthy, to differentiate me from them. She didn’t. So I did. I told her I wanted to do my part by donating plasma. That was a lie, I wanted the dollars. She guessed 80 percent of them were there for the dollars. Just like me.

I got an explanation about what plasma is, and a Questions and Answers for Plasma Donors pamphlet: “Plasma is a straw-colored liquid that carries the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.” It is made up of 90 percent water, 8 percent proteins and 2 percent salts, glucose and lipids.

Donations are frozen and shipped to Spain or Los Angles to be fractionated. Primary uses are plasma transfers for injured soldiers in combat situations and for burn victims. Plasma is also used to make drugs such as Immunoglobulin and Clotting Factors.

After my physical an attendant checked the veins in both arms and said they were good. I felt proud.

Back in the waiting room again the donors were restless. Processing was taking more time than usual. The counter woman assured them everyone would be processed as quickly as possible. At one point she had to emerge from behind the counter and speak before them. I wanted to stand by her side for her protection. But I felt that wouldn’t end well for me. She handled them beautifully.

Soon I was led to the donation room. My Spidey Sense didn’t tingle. The chair was very comfortable. I let the needle be inserted. It didn’t hurt much.

The process is called Plasmapheresis. It separates the plasma from the blood in a centrifuge and collects it. What isn’t collected is returned to the donor’s body. This includes the red and white blood cells.

As my blood flowed through a tube and circulated and spun through the machine I asked what plasma should look like. The attendant said that you could see cholesterol deposits on a glass vial that was visible amongst the tubing, and then she pointed to examples of clear, dark yellow plasma from two unhealthy looking donors.

More yellow! Was yellow good or bad? She was gone. I assumed that yellow was bad. I wanted to have the best colored plasma. I wanted the attendants to come by to congratulate me on it. And I sure didn’t want to have the worst-looking plasma.

So I stared at my collection bottle. Because of my 191 lb. weight I’d be giving the maximum volume donation, about a pint. My plasma was clear yellow. Not as dark as the others, but dark yellow.

I eyed the vial. In less than five minutes there were already two big pieces of fat globbed onto the glass! Was my blood going to clog and break the machine? I wanted to pull the needle out.

I looked again. The globs were really just the plastic tubing. Of course they were.

There was a row of five beds and a row of six. And then there was me alone in a separate section. Was I placed there or did I choose it? The other beds contained 10 men and one woman.

One dozed. One hit on an attendant. The rest watched an Eddie Murphy movie on one of three televisions. When I told the attendant I had brought a book, she laughed.

My needle arm got slightly stiff. Once my hand and fingers tingled just a bit. I wasn’t able to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I watched the set up/break down/sanitation procedures. Everything seemed sane.

And that was it.

After 45 minutes the attendant removed the needle. I asked her about my sample’s color; she said it was normal. High cholesterol samples “look like pink milk shakes,” she said. She told me to sit and wait until I was comfortable.

“Some people get dizzy,” she said. Not me. I wasn’t going to be “some people.”

I got my band aid and sought out money. They paid in cash. The cashier said I didn’t have to pay taxes on it.

Because of some initial first-time donor processing the entire first donation experience had taken 3.5 hours. I was assured future donations would take less time.

Outside it was Savannah-hot. I needed rehydration and I was hungry. Burger King was a short walk away. I ordered, thought of the glob and my yellow urine, and changed my mind.

At Taco Bell I ordered and changed my mind again. I couldn’t do it. But I did buy a fruit punch. Wow! My sense of sweet was heightened. Was that a side effect?

At the gym that day I was able to work out as usual, though it hit me harder. Four days later my arm was still stiff at the joint.

There is an incentive plan! The second donation is $40. And I get a $5 bonus if I go back within seven days, and I have a Front of the Line Pass that will give me “priority processing” on my second visit. I also have two $10 cash referral cards.

I will have to get a separate STD test. They operate on a “No news is good news” basis. I need to know I tested negative. I’ve got the holidays coming up!

Even if I alternate arms, I don’t want to always have one arm sore so I will not sell more than once a week. But I’ll continue to sell. And now that I know a little bit about what Biomat U.S.A. does I’ll hope that my plasma helps out many worthy recipients.

As for my urine? I forgot to ask the nurse so I went to the all-knowing internet. I even found a urine color chart that runnersworld.com credited to the U.S. Army.

The internet says my urine color was OI, so it must be so. But still, no one had congratulated me on it. And I’d so wanted to have the clearest, best-colored urine at the plasma center.

To comment, e-mail us at letters@connectsavannah.com

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About The Author

Jeff Brochu

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