Black and Blue and Read at the Right Time

Disclaimer: What follows is not meant to be a cautionary tale against giving blood (or, in my case, platelets). I still believe blood donation is important and life-saving, and once the swelling goes down, I plan to do it again…eventually.

So sometimes I really feel that I’m reading the exact right book at the exact right time. Usually, the book resonates with the season of my life, and I learn something about my inner or outer world at a time when I most need the knowledge and/or the wherewithal to apply it. But on Thursday, it wasn’t just the right book — it was the right book, the right chapter, and the right page — and it came down to the right hour.

After the fire that destroyed part of my apartment building, and which has left my husband and I out of our home for an indefinite amount of time, people have been exceptionally and overwhelmingly giving…and not just friends and family, but organizations (like the Red Cross) and strangers and acquaintances. And when I am the recipient of such generosity, it makes me want to give. And since I’m not wealthy, I give what I do have.

One of the things I realized I could give (and give more often — not just when there’s a blood drive at my church or job) is blood. I’m a universal donor, and apparently I have some extra stuff (or the absence of some extra stuff) that makes my blood even more desirable. So I get a lot of notices in the mail (and email) encouraging me to give. So, a few weeks ago, I made the decision that I’d give blood. But then I got a mailing that promised me one of those wind-resistant umbrellas if I donated platelets. I’d never donated platelets before, but I really wanted one of those umbrellas, so I figured I’d give it a try.

My appointment was just this past Thursday, and I showed up a bit nervous, but eager to give something that could help someone in need. Apparently platelets are in high demand among cancer patients, and since some people very dear to me are currently (or were recently) fighting cancer, this donation had meaning.

Now as you read what follows, please keep in mind that I’m not a medical professional. So my basic understanding of how they take platelets is this: they hook you up to a machine. The machine extracts the blood and puts it through a centrifuge which separates out the platelets from the rest of the blood. Then the machine returns the blood to your body. The process is designed to be very efficient for the collector, the donor, and the pool of would-be recipients (the collector gets just the blood components he/she needs, the donor is giving less and therefore recuperates faster, and the less the donor gives is able to do more for more people in need).

So I’m hooked up to the machine, and I’m reading this great book by Geri Scazzero called I Quit! and subtitled “Stop Pretending Everything is Fine and Change Your Life.” And if this piece wasn’t already going to be long, I’d tell you all the reasons I love this book. But, suffice it to say, the book is great, and it is deeply resonating with this present season of my life. Though it’s also one of those books that I think would resonate at any season of my life. I encourage you to take a “look inside” on I suspect the chapter titles alone will convince you to give this book a try. But anyway, I’m hooked up to this machine, reading this great book, and I notice that the machine is beeping. I look up and I see some words to the effect of “pressure too low” or something like that, and before I can read the rest of what is on the screen, a nurse comes over, gives the machine nothing more than a glancing look, and hits the “resume” button. I think little of it at first, but it keeps happening. And each time, the nurse’s response seems very nonchalant and unconcerned. But I’m getting concerned, because I’m starting to read what comes after the “pressure too low” notice. There is a whole list of protocols the nurse is supposed to be following: checking the needle insertion point, and other medical things I can’t remember. But there were at least six or seven things the nurse was supposed to be checking before she hit “resume,” and she wasn’t checking any of them. But still, I didn’t think too much of it at the time. I just figured the machine must be finicky and the nurse must know this. But a part of me is wondering why the nurse wouldn’t at least check some of those protocols once. And my worry is building, but I say nothing.

And then it all clicked. I realized what I was reading and what I was thinking. The subtitle of the book says a lot, “Stop Pretending Everything is Fine…” And I was starting to realize that everything was not at all fine. The machine beeping was fairly easy to ignore. It was fairly easy to talk myself out of asking questions like: “Shouldn’t you be more concerned?” or “I’d appreciate it if you’d check the protocols the machine is prompting you to check — even if this machine has a bad reputation for acting up.” It was fairly easy to convince myself that the nurses knew more than I did, and to assume their knowledge trumped my concern. But then the pain started. Every time the machine came to the cycle where I believe it must have been returning my centrifuged blood, I felt pressure, and over the course of the next few cycles that pressure grew into discomfort, and that discomfort became pain. And then I turned to the page in Geri’s book with a heading called “The Voice of Declaration.” And that’s when everything in my brain stopped denying and started realizing I had a right (and an obligation to myself) to say something. This book is all about freeing yourself from looking to other people to tell you that you’re okay and taking responsibility for yourself and your feelings. And the particular chapter I was in was about not blaming others and taking responsibility for our life choices. And I realized everything I had read up to that point and everything I was reading on that very page applied to what I was experiencing.

Chapter One: “Quit Being Afraid of What Others Think.” There was a part of me that kept quiet because I didn’t want to be a bother to the obviously over-worked and under-staffed nurses. There was a part of me that didn’t want to seem like a complainer or a hypochondriac. So I kept quiet. But just because everyone around you seems to think nothing is wrong, doesn’t mean that everything is alright. I needed to validate my concerns and tell the nurse I believed something was wrong.

Chapter Two: “Quit Lying.” When the pain first began, I lied to myself a bit. I told myself that a level of discomfort was to be expected, and I shouldn’t worry if the nurses weren’t worrying. But that was a lie. I knew that something was not right, I was just afraid to speak up, and so I lied to myself to justify keeping quiet.

Chapter Four: “Quit Denying Anger, Sadness and Fear.” This goes hand in hand with lying to myself. I was trying to talk myself out of being fearful that something was going wrong. And I was also telling myself that I shouldn’t be angry at the nurse for her apparent lack of concern. But feelings are valid because we feel them — it’s what we do with those feelings (how we process them and how we then act as a result of them) that can be bad or good.

Chapter Five: “Quit Blaming.” Well, I was blaming the nurse. I was blaming her for being so apathetic and giving my situation barely a modicum of attention or concern. I initially told myself that it would be her fault if something went gravely wrong, and wouldn’t she be sorry she was so inattentive if I passed out or died. And here’s where I got to the part in Geri’s book about having a voice and speaking up in defense of myself. Because even though the machine was beeping, she had no idea my arm was starting to hurt. I could hear the conversation in my head now (should something go wrong):

Nurse B: “What happened to that donor?”

Nurse A (A for apathy): “Oh, she fainted/died/insert alternate complication here.”

Nurse B:” Did you have any idea that something was wrong?”

Nurse A: “Well, the machine did beep, but you know how unreliable that machine can be. She never said anything, so I assumed everything was fine.”

And there it was…if I never said anything, the fault was mine. Sure, it would be easy to blame the nurse, but it wouldn’t be entirely right. And as soon as I broke through all the obstacles keeping me silent, tears welled up in my eyes. I was feeling my fear (and the pain in my arm), and I wanted to cry.

So I finally spoke up, and another nurse came over and gave me the attention I’d wanted. And as soon as she looked at my arm, she saw what I’d suspected, something was indeed going wrong. The blood that was supposed to be returning to my veins, wasn’t going where it was supposed to be. Instead, my arm was starting to bruise and swell. Flash forward ten minutes, and I’ve been disconnected from the machine and given an ice pack. Flash forward another hour, my arm is killing me and I can’t bend it. I can see a lot of bruising around the needle’s insertion point, and there is a bubble (of what I assume is misplaced blood) making my bicep look Popeye-ish. Flash forward to today, the bruising is worse, the swelling is better, and the pain hasn’t gone away, but I have full range of motion back. And I have to laugh at myself, because if I hadn’t been reading Geri’s book, which was basically telling me to speak up, I wonder how much longer I would have suffered in silence.

And that’s just my most recent experience of reading the exact right book at the exact right time. And yes, I’ll donate blood again, though maybe not platelets (at least not right away) — and if I do decide to give platelets, maybe I’ll go to a different donation center. And wherever I go, I’ll now be more empowered to speak up if I need to.

I just hope that after all of this, they still send me that wind-resistant umbrella.

A slightly different version of this piece originally appeared on the blog Write Away.

Editor & Writer | Dog person with cats.

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