Sometimes doing the right thing is a really hard road
(settle in, it’s a long post today)
Yesterday afternoon, late afternoon, I got a voice message from Stanford Blood Center.
They call me quite a bit. Being an O positive means the stuff in my veins is in demand.
Lately instead of whole blood, I’ve been giving platelets. It takes longer to donate but is MUCH easier on me. They take the blood, spin off the platelets, and return everything else back to you.
But back to the message. They said they had a patient at the Stanford Hospital with whom I was an exact match in terms of blood panel (something called an HLA match). And this person desperately needed platelets on Saturday (it takes two days to test) and could I come in right away and donate?
Honestly, my first thought was “I can’t be bothered”. I’d taken the train in to work so I didn’t have my car. I was tired. And usually before giving platelets I like to make sure I’m ready by eating right and drinking milk before hand (donating robs calcium).
Then I stopped and thought, “What the hell am I thinking?” and called them back. I said I would be there. They gave me a 6:30 appointment.
Ok, so I looked at the shuttle and train schedules. I could take an early shuttle and train that would get me home by quarter past five. Enough time to get home, eat, drink milk, and get to Palo Alto.
So at 4:30 I waited for the shuttle that would take me to the train. The shuttle that never showed up.
I tersely called dispatch. I was put on hold for about five long minutes. Long story short. The bus had broke down.
Ok, so I asked could they promise the NEXT bus at 5:11 would show up?
I didn’t tell the dispatch my story, I just said “I have to get to the train station”.
So they sent out one of the intercampus shuttle vans (our work buildings are spread far and wide so there are vans that take employees hither and yon) to take me to the station.
Ok, with train schedule in hand, I worked out when I might get there, what train, what station and could The Good Man come get me? (he was working from home)
The shuttle bus driver, hearing my story, offered to drive me all the way to Palo Alto (which I thought was cool) but I said no, I’ve got it worked out.
So I waited for my train, anxiously bouncing my knee and watching the clock. Suddenly giving my platelets to this unknown person with an unknown malady was really, really important to me. I didn’t want to let them down.
So the train was due to arrive at 5:37. 5:37 came. And went. No train.
5:43pm, the train rolls into Mountain View. Yes!
I wait for disembarking passengers and I climb on. There are plenty of seats, just as I select my fave row, the lights turn off and the sound of the engine winding down fills my ears.
The *last* time I got on the train and the lights went out, it was due to a busted cable they had to repair. So we sat on the tracks while they did. Then when we took off, we were chugging along and the part fell off. We had to stop again. Good times. So I was imagining this happening again. In horror.
I had to employ many of my new “calm down” strategies. Deep breaths. I told myself however this worked out it was supposed to work out that way. I thought about being in Half Moon Bay this weekend. The sound of the ocean. Breathe.
After about five minutes, the lights didn’t come back on, but the engine was revved and we were moving…in the dark.
I only had to make it to the NEXT stop. Just one. Just make it to Menlo Park (one town north of where I needed to be). That is all I ask!
And we did make it to Menlo. Cool! Only about 15 mins late. Still enough time to make my appointment.
Except, the lights were still out. Usually with the train, when it makes a stop, you hear a “ding ding”, then the doors automatically open. There is a brief window of opportunity when everyone who gets off has to get off and everyone who has to get on gets on. If you miss the window, you are, in the vernacular, screwed.
So several fellow passengers and I waited at the doors.
No power. No “ding ding”.
We looked and couldn’t find a manual lever. Now, panic is starting to rise. The Good Man is at the station, but I can’t get off the train.
One helpful passenger said, “hey, the door is open in the next car”. So like a herd of wildebeests, we turned en masse and began stampeding down the aisle of the car, overturning passengers who had just gotten on.
“We need to get off!” the gentleman in front of me said loudly.
I took up the charge as well. “Help! We need to get off! Please, let us by!”
We got to the platform between cars where indeed, the doors were open enough to allow passage.
And just as the man in front of me got to the doors, the power came back on, and the doors slammed shut.
“Nooooooo!” I wailed.
And in what can only be called a Herculean effort, the guy in front of me sacrificed important appendages, placing both hands between the rubber edges of the closing doors. Then like Superman pulling apart jail bars, he grunted a little unmasculinely, but got the doors to open and leapt off the train.
“You rock, thank you!!” I yelled as I bounded off behind him. The guy behind me turned to look and gave me that headshake and “whatta ride” smile.
“It’s a weird night,” I said, and he nodded and walked off.
The Good Man was waiting right where his text message said he was, and we plunged into the night and the traffic on El Camino. Terrible.
So we turned off and using one of the newest iPhone features, “Skyhook” (basically a GPS system that uses cell towers to locate you) we meandered on Palo Alto back roads, took a few wrong turns, made heroic u-turns and found the donation location.
(Have I mentioned that my Fiancée is, without a doubt, my personal superhero? This is but one of many heroic things he’s done for me.)
Parked then in we went. There was a brief kerfuffle with the paperwork, but they got me set. The folks at the donation place were like, “are you the match?” It was kind of funny. “Are you the one?” to which I wanted to reply, “Yes, my child” but showed restraint.
Next challenge? Well, I tend toward anemia and have been turned down before based on low iron.
So I told this to the intake nurse. We used all the tricks we both know. Holding a cup of warm water (dilates the vessels), rubbing hands together vigorously, and shaking them. My hands were nice and warm and red when she took the sample.
You have to get a minimum reading of 12 on their little iron counting machine.
The intake nurse waved her hand over the machine while it worked. “Pixie dust” she said.
Then she said, seriously, “The Doctor is here tonight (Director of the Blood Services) and he can make an exception of we need one.”
The machine thought for what felt like an eternity.
And pronounced a reading of 12.3.
Sometimes good enough is good enough.
Soon I was strapped in, needle in arm, machine whirring away, book open in front of me, platelets filling a bag and all was well.
I asked my body to give up only the finest platelets so that the person who needed them most could benefit. It took about 70 minutes to give a two-bag donation. The person who gets ’em has a much longer fight on their hands.
I was left a bit shaky and weak when it was done, but The Good Man took me into custody and made sure I was ok. Plied me with juices and soup and lots of clucking worry. Giving platelets always makes me freezing cold. And I was hungry too, but I was ok.
And on Saturday, I hope my platelets find their way to the veins of a sick person who needs help.
The Blood Center folks didn’t know what the platelets were for, but they suspect it was to assist along with a bone marrow transplant.
I enjoy thinking that the recipient of my platelets will wake up Sunday morning craving a heaping plate of huevos rancheros with extra green chile, and wonder why.
We all know that green chile is a curative, right?
By the way, if you don’t do so already, and you are physically able, donate blood please. It really does save lives. And when you do, ask about being tested to see if you can do platelets. Thanks!
(Found this photo online. This is the center where I donate, and that’s the exact chair I sat in but not the machine that was used. The gentleman on the left in the lab coat was working last night but didn’t do my donation. He’s a friendly guy but is a little rough with the needle stick.)