The Technology of Giving Blood

Warning: If you’re at all squeamish about blood donation, you might want to skip this one. (Not graphic, but unusual).

I gave blood today. For those not old enough yet or haven’t had the desire, this is the simplest and yet most altruistic thing you can do with an hour of your time. People out there will literally live (or not!) based on whether other people like me roll up their sleeves. If you are old enough and are able to do so, EVERYone needs to get into the habit of doing this a couple times a year. As they say, there is no substitution for the red stuff we call blood.

Okay, off the soapbox. I’ve given 83 times before (yes, over 10 gallons!), and as I drove up to the blood drive today I thought it would be just like all the previous times. It wasn’t: I was asked if I’d be willing to do a "Double Red" donation. Never having been asked before, I inquired, and found that they were going to take twice as many red cells, but also that they’d return the plasma part. Doing so meant that some patient would be able to get the benefits of two units of blood without as big a threat from rejection, and I’d be able to escape some of the dehydration issues. A win-win, and it would only cost me a few extra minutes of my time.

So I agreed, and after the usual heath checks (to try to make sure my blood won’t get the recipient sick), I was hooked up to a neat machine. Now, in the 83 previous donations, they’d stick me with a needle that went via a tube straight into a pint (actually 500ml) bag (1 unit), and less than 10 minutes later I’d be done. This time, the tube went into a device about the size of a small suitcase (maybe 15" x 20" x 10", or 40cm x 50cm x 25cm), where the red cells were separated from the plasma. Somewhere in this mass of dials, buttons, and tubes was a centrifuge, and since the red cells are heavier than plasma, they’d be forced to the outside of the spinning cylinder. The plasma would be removed from the center of the centrifuge, and stored in a separate bag. After about 10 minutes, the system stopped, the blood pressure cuff on my upper arm deflated, and the plasma was reinjected back into me through the same needle! Then it went back into "withdrawal" mode again, taking the second unit, and then reinjected the plasma again, and the donation was done.

(Some neat parts of the experience included the fact that the reinserted plasma was slightly cooler than it was when it left me, so I had a very strange experience of being cooled from the inside. In addition, the plasma had a tad of anti-coagulant mixed in it, which made my lips and tongue tingle in a strange way.)

From a techie point of view, this was a great experience: Here was a fairly complicated process of taking and returning (and taking and returning) precious bodily fluids fully in the "hands" of a computerized device. The attending nurse told me that the system actually took note of the number of red blood cells that were coming out of me, and adjusted pressures and rates accordingly to maximize efficiency. That’s an awful lot of really impressive coding showing itself, or rather, NOT showing itself. As I frequently point out, some of the most advanced software written is the stuff you don’t see. Here was this truth in spades.

So get up and give life today, and take a look at the 21st century while you’re at it!



re: The Technology of Giving Blood @ Tuesday, August 08, 2006 4:31 PM

Amazing what they are doing with technology these days. So does this count as pints 84 and 85? Do you get a special something when you donate 100 pints? I really need to donate again BTW. AlfredTwo

re: The Technology of Giving Blood @ Tuesday, August 08, 2006 11:18 PM

Yes, actually, this counts as both 84 and 85. Proof of this is that I can’t give again until November! (For the uniformed, the American Red Cross requires you to wait 56 days between donations. When you give Double Red, you have to wait 112 days.)

The good news is that I got a card from the local Ice Cream store entitled "Give a Pint, Get a Pint" The bad news is that they didn’t give me a second card!




About Mr. I

After 17 years as a PC Software Engineer I gave it all up in 2000 to become a High School Computer Teacher
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