This picture was taken back in February 2014 at the CSL Plasma center in Lansing, Michigan where my family and I go to donate plasma (the pale-yellow, mainly water portion of the blood) and earn about sixty dollars per week on two separate days: $20 on the first and about $40 on the second. At the time I was working on a 365 day photo project and this sign seemed like a great addition to the mix. The photograph means something special to me because my family and I are actually saving people’s lives (in a fragmented way) by supplying various hospitals and clinics with the essential components from our donated plasma, including proteins and antibodies, needed to make certain life-saving medicines. This is a multibillion dollar worldwide business that is viewed both strongly and negatively by various organizations because of the immediate dangers of pathogenic diseases such as AIDS/HIV being spread through the blood, tainting the plasma, and infecting patients receiving it but this seems to be under control.
We began donating plasma in August of 2011; my dad began his stint just recently this summer after a couple of mishaps and going through numerous examinations saying he wasn’t ‘fit’ for donation. I remember my mom saying there was a great opportunity to make some easy money just by donating our plasma, which I had heard of (used in TVs and is the relatively forgotten fourth state of matter after solids, liquids, and gases) but did not know existed inside my own body. Neither I, my sister, or my uncle who lived with us had any paying jobs and plasma just seemed like the ticket to end our recent struggles. Well, little did I know I was entering a world that I had never experienced, where the health of my body was examined routinely like never before and there were people from the lowest, poverty-stricken parts of life desperately and impatiently scraping for money to make ends meet.
The plasma donor floor is a laboratory like facility. There are about 60 beds or couches situated in five different sections (after a major expansion last year added a fifth) and each donor gets called to a section and lies down on a bed that reminds me of one in a psychiatrist’s office. The donor is asked for the last four digits of their SSN and then their first and last name. Then, after applying an iodine solution to the puncture site and the hand being clenched tightly into a fist, the white-coated worker sticks a sterilized needle into the donor’s arm at the hinge of the elbow. The plasmapheresis machine beside the bed begins to spin and whir and the donor begins pumping their hand vigorously to get their blood flowing into the machine so it can separate the plasma from the red blood cells. The plasma is pooled into a bottle and it usually takes around 3 – 4 end cycles for it to get filled to a certain point, depending on the amount of water in the person’s blood and their pumping action.
The first time I began donating, lying in section 1 near the front entrance, I nearly fainted from a lack of water and I believe from the blood pressure cuff being too tight (this has happened around two other times), suffocating my blood flow. My face was going numb and starting to tingle weirdly. I remember touching my suddenly cold cheeks, feeling the blood leave them and my brain beginning to black out, an icy feeling rushing over me. A girl passed by my bed and gave me a look of derision as if she had been doing this for a while and wondered what was up with me. This near coma experience cleared up after the first cycle was over, me feeling relieved but so exhausted. I believe my donation was cut short and I received my money without filling the whole bottle up since I had a complication. The worker who hooked me up asked if I was alright; I had my legs crossed one over the other and he or she told me not to do that because I might hurt myself which I figured from the blood not circulating properly to my legs which makes some sense. On my debut day I was wearing my now thrown away red flannel t-shirt with black stripes going across the front. I made 40 bucks and felt like I could take on the world. Making that amount was a lot for me back then because I’d never gotten much unless it was my birthday or Christmas and at plasma I could continually make money and save up for some cool things I never would have imagined buying before.
Our donating plasma has helped me and my family make it through hard times, sometimes not having enough money to pay for gas, buy food, or pay the bills – going through one instance where we almost were kicked out of our home when the bill wasn’t paid (me having to dish out the remaining money on my college debit card to cover it, ever so reluctant but generously). It’s not the most plentiful, practical, or even healthiest way to make money but it helps pay for small things like going out to eat, buying essential groceries, holiday gifts, and having occasional fun. It is nice to donate but I would definitely like to have an actual, every-hour paying job besides this though.
Back to the picture…
The cheery face of the baby smiling in the letters has a profound effect on my post donor experience at CSL. When I go through the exit door to check my card balance I see that sign and it instantly gratifies my experience donating. I absolutely feel thanked and appreciated for giving up something from my body to help someone else. It gives the impression of a friendly atmosphere, a sedate hospital setting, and the words underneath ‘Thank You’ serve as a temporary goodbye until later message that warmly invites me back again.
But there are lies hidden behind that inviting image – problems that aren’t routinely addressed and processes that are tainted and full of gaping holes. For instance, the kiosk stations we check into ask a set of eligibility questions that can easily be lied about in order to donate and having to answer them every single time is so annoying and quite pointless. I one time brought up the idea of whether an iPad/tablet system would work better than the age old technology this center is using or having a profile system that remembers your answers (especially the question asking if I am “Male” or not) would be better and I even suggested having the kiosks in the screening booth, streamlining the process. The screening process is also botched as sometimes the blood pressure cuffs don’t work and the scales are inaccurate by a couple of pounds (I mean, seriously, how do I lose 10 pounds in one morning?). The series of personal, rather private questions they ask me during my yearly physical about my sexual history and preferences also are perturbing and I get a little ticked every time I have to continue replying, “No…no…no…no…um, seriously, no”.
Photo Challenge for Week of October 3: Signs