The Elixir Of Life- Blood!

We read about these things in our books, but when they happen for the first time it’s a surprise.  The parents rushed their 8 year-old girl into the Emergency Department.  She had been riding her bike, turned the handlebars too sharply, and tumbled off.  When she fell down the end of the handlebars speared her in the belly.  Soon she was pale and weak.

Examining her, the only mark was a quarter-sized bruise just above her belly button.  But she certainly was pale, and when I sat her up, she said “I can’t see,” like she was passing out.  Laying her flat, she suddenly could see again. She clearly was fainting from blood loss, and I had read about the “handlebar-spear” as a risk for internal injury.  While my nurse started the IV and slapped on the monitor leads, I ran and grabbed a second nurse, “I need blood and I need you to hang it!”  Next I called a surgeon, and my girl was off to the OR.

Lots of kids need blood.  Some are injured, like our girl above.  But also kids with cancer need blood products too.  The most common childhood cancer is leukemia, which affects bone marrow.  Bone marrow manufactures blood, and leukemia crowds out the good, blood-making cells with cancer cells, and those kids thus need transfusions.  Some chemotherapy drugs also impair marrow function.  Children (and adults) who have heart surgery also need lots of blood, to keep up with surgical losses and to feed the heart-lung bypass machine.  Occasionally premature babies need blood transfusions too.

Where does all that blood come from?  You!  Blood doesn’t come from a pharmaceutical factory, but from donors, in our area and across the nation.  Our local blood bank, United Blood Services keeps that vital stuff coming. UBS is a non-profit, charitable organization that provides this crucial resource.  There are UBS centers across the country, and one on Bertrand Drive here in Lafayette.  Their blood-mobiles fan out across Acadiana, going to charity events and churches, schools and universities, stores and work places, to collect blood from volunteers.

Giving blood is easy, except this one time for me: I was in medical school, and there was a blood drive in the cafeteria.  The night before, I had been on call in the hospital, too busy to eat or sleep.  I came to the drive pale, hungry, and exhausted, but ready to do my part.  Giving the blood wasn’t bad, but after they put the bandaid on, I saw that they had free cookies and juice.  I leaped out of my chair, bellied up to the table of goodies, and started chowing down.

Suddenly, I couldn’t see.  “Gee, that’s weird,” I thought.  Several blood drive staff noticed that I was more pale, had stopped chewing, and was staring off and starting to sway.  While I was still puzzling over my vision black-out, they helped me back into my chair before I fainted completely.

Soon my body began to send more blood to my brain and my vision returned.  I learned an important lesson on donating blood- get up slowly after.  Your body needs to adjust to losing a pint.  Also, start eating slowly, sitting down.  When you’re eating, your body shunts blood to your digestive system to absorb all those nutrients.  If the dipstick is low, there may not be enough blood to go around, and it’s harder to pump it up into your head when you’re standing.

Giving blood is easy (for well-rested non-medical students), and it’s important!  Like we discussed above, lots of kids in Acadiana need blood to save their lives: accident victims, kids with cancer, children who need heart surgery, and the occasional premature baby.  Donations are down in Acadiana, with the oil down-turn.  Fewer people have an hour to spare to donate.  Companies that once sponsored blood drives have laid off employees that used to be donors.  The employees that are left have to work harder and fear taking company time to donate, not wanting to be labeled a slacker and lose their jobs too.

Donations are down, but need isn’t.   Donating is voluntary, and a really good deed.  You might even get a t-shirt or a chance to win a prize.  And I still like free cookies and juice too.