Donating Platelets

Up until recently, every 56 days, I donated whole blood. I felt good about it, but I was usually the only person one a regular donation chair without sheets and blankets. You see, when you donate platelets, you get a heated chair covered in a sheet, then you are covered in warm blankets. This is because you get cold when donating platelets. You get cold because you get something called citrate, which makes you cold.

“An anticoagulant containing citrate is used to keep the blood flowing while our device collects the platelets from your blood. The citrate binds calcium temporarily to keep the blood from clotting. To prevent clotting, your blood is mixed in the machine with a liquid called an “anticoagulant” during the collection process. When the blood is returned to you the anticoagulant can sometimes cause numbness and tingling of the fingertips or around the mouth. If you feel numbness and tingling, you should inform the operator running the machine immediately. These symptoms are easily treated with calcium, but if not treated can progress to muscle cramps. The citrate is an energy source for your body and will be metabolized.”


During my vacation before starting my current job, I decided to donate platelets for the first time. I felt I never really had the time before. Sure, they have weekend appointments. But that always interfered with running and social plans, since you can’t drink the night before or for 24 hours after donating (it’s way worse than drinking after donating blood). And I’ve been hooked ever since!

Technically you can donate every 7 days but as a petite person, they told me to plan on donating every 3 weeks. Works for me! The whole process takes about 2 hours now that I’ve gotten the hang of it. There’s about 15-20 minutes of paperwork and testing and an interview, just to make sure you’re feeling well, don’t have a fever, and have a high enough hemoglobin count. I’ve only ever failed the testing once – it was my last month at Dana-Farber in 2015 and it was hot outside, so the 20-minute walk from my office to the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center spiked my temperature too much, and they sent me away. I went back a week later and the SAME DANG THING happened, but this time they let me sit in the waiting room and fan myself to cool down, and sure enough – I was fine a few minutes later.

The past few times I’ve gone, my hemoglobin has been nice and high, which is great to hear because I’ve been eating a lot less red meat (as in, almost none in an average week). But I’ve been eating a lot more iron-rich foods such as spinach, dark chocolate, eggs, and chicken. I’ve been taking iron supplements for a few months now, because mine was always borderline low and I wanted to be able to donate regularly, but I could probably start weaning myself off them and maybe only take them for that one week of my cycle.

I firmly believe everyone who is healthy and able should donate blood or platelets as often as they can. Why?

  • It’s free.
  • You lose 1 pound (1 pint of blood = 1 pound).
  • You get free snacks.
  • You get a free blood pressure, temperature, and hemoglobin check.
  • If donating platelets, you get a free platelet count.
  • You help patients, 69% of whom at Dana-Farber and the Brigham are cancer patients (see photo).
  • The needle used for collecting platelets is smaller than the needle used for whole blood.
  • You get 1.5-2 hours to yourself in a warm, cozy chair.

Between July and September, I went 3 times in the 6 weeks, but then had to take some time off for sinus surgery and the subsequent recovery. I finally went again on Thursday and THE WORST THING HAPPENED.

I couldn’t donate.

I passed all the tests – my BP was nice and low, my temp was spot-on, and my hemoglobin was a perfect 13.3. I got all comfy in my chair, even started watching some Netflix on my iPad while the technician got going. He did say that my vein rolled just after he inserted the needle, but he was able to correct it. Except about 10 minutes later, when you’re supposed to get your first “return” (meaning you’re now getting your red blood cells back from the apheresis machine), but the machine started sounding alarms. Apparently the needle insertion was no good. He tried to adjust it a few more times to no avail, so he apologized profusely and asked if he could try my other arm. It would mean my right arm and hand were out of commission for 90+ minutes, but of course it was OK – I’m saving lives here, people!

So he tried my right arm to no avail. I mean, the needle was in but the machine was yelling at us, telling us that it was a no-go. The tech explained the problem.

When the needle went through my vein on the left side, it caused internal bleeding. My platelets – doing their job – clotted my blood to stop it from leaking. Therefore, there would be no platelet donation for me. The tech couldn’t stop apologizing. He felt terrible, but I kept replying that “sh*t happens” and reminded him we could redeem ourselves in a week.

It’s now been 7 days and my bruises are almost gone, and I’m making another attempt at donating tomorrow after work.


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