Saturday, February 6, 2010

Double Red Blood Cells

After the last couple of days my feet need some time to heal. A couple of down days isn't going to hurt, plus it gave me the opportunity to donate blood, which I haven't done in a few months.

I went down to the Puget Sound Blood Center in Bellevue and after going through the traditional preliminaries (including the finger prick, the worst part of donating blood), they asked if I would be interested in doing a double red blood cell donation.

Although I've donated blood quite a lot, this is the first time the question has come up. Blood is comprised of four main components: plasma, platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. In the past I've donated whole blood, which means they just suck the blood out of your arm, stick it in a bag, and ship it off for transfusions. However, most transfusions do not use whole blood. The components are separated out in a lab through a process call apheresis, and each part is typically used for potentially a different person.

With a double red blood cell donation the apheresis is done at the time of the donation, and the parts not used are returned to the donor rather than being sent off to the lab. Because some of the blood is returned to the donor this is a more complicated procedure involving what I call a "machine". This machine separates the blood into its different components, keeps the component it wants, then shoves the remaining detritus back into your arm.

It's kinda cool.

And it's called "double" red cell donation because they draw twice as many red blood cells - which also means you can only donate every four months instead of every two. Because the machine is required, this type of donation is not possible with the mobile donation centers.

So they hooked me up to the machine and the weird part is that it oscillates between drawing blood and pumping it back into your body. The first couple of cycles of pumping it back in felt really odd, plus my face, especially my lips got kind of tingly, the way your foot does when it's getting sensation back after being asleep; apparently this is due to the anti-coagulant that is added to the mix before it's pumped back into you (calcium helps get rid of the sensation: they gave me Tums).

The process took about 25 minutes on the machine for me, about what you'd expect because they're drawing twice as much blood, plus it takes time to fill you up again.

I feel a little strange, more so than after a regular donation. Will definitely not be running today, and probably not tomorrow. My feet will appreciate that.

Giving blood is one of the few things I can think of that is simply an unmitigated good. If you can donate blood I highly encourage you to do so. Is there an easier way to save a life?


  1. What was your recovery period for running like afterwards? Did it take days or weeks to get back to a normal everyday run?

    Scheduled to do exactly this type of donation today and wondering how it'l affect me.

  2. One week later and I must say it doesn't feel good. I've had 5 not so great runs. Feels like I'm wearing an extra couple of layers of clothes or something while I run - like everything is bogged down.

  3. I'm over 2 weeks out and can still notice it going up climbing hills on my bike. I am veery in tune with my heart rate and know this is not normal. However, I'm not really trainging for anything right now so I joke with myself that I am getting my heart rate higher with less effort! I will say I am suprized that I still feel it this much.