Barbie Attempts to Give Blood

Blood. It is a little icky and I don’t really want to see it spurting out of an open wound, but I am also not going to faint at the sight of a cut or a needle.  Recently, the nurse at the consulate organized a blood drive and after advertising it in my Panda Post, I figured I’d better support the cause and go donate some of my own oozy, red fluid.

I had good intentions. I would like to make that very clear. Good intentions.

It started with me skittering out of a meeting and running back to my office to grab my ID, I went out to the alley where the blood bus was located. (Yes. This is legit. The donation was taking place in a bus. The bus was parked in the alley. It’s all good…) After filling in my official government form acknowledging that I do not have a communicable disease, that I have not taken aspirin in the last week, have not donated blood in the last six months and I am not currently (or within three days on either side) menstruating, I was allowed to enter the van.

Upon arrival in the van, I was taken to a table where a nurse pricked my finger and then milked blood from the tip to put on a coded chart. She determined that I had type O blood, which was actually great information to have. You see, my whole life, I had been told that I was A-positive. Then, when Thad and I  were doing our medical forms for the Foreign Service, we had to have blood tests and one came back A-positive and one came back O. Thad’s paper said he was the A-positive, but I was convinced they must have mixed them up, because I had always been told that was my blood type and he didn’t know his, so I thought it could have been a simple data-entry mistake. (Plus, as a total over-achiever when it comes to school stuff, being A-positive would have fit with my nerd-like eagerness to always have the best score.) Now I know. I’m O.

O is the universal donor though, so I was more ready than ever to hop in to that chair and do a little service for my fellow Chengdu-ers. (Chengdu-ites? Chengdu-ans? Chengdu-ren. That’s the one!)

As I was headed in, Thad was headed out with his dress-shirt sleeve rolled up, his elbow and surrounding eight inches of arm thickly swabbed in iodine and a Band-Aid covered cotton swab smack in the middle. He also had a beautifully decorated pink box with his parting gift- a ceramic bowl. I guess giving blood does pay!  As a successful donor, he wished me luck and headed up to the CLO Lounge to enjoy some cookies and juice while I got ready to make my deposit in the blood bank.

With his chair empty, I made my way to the back of the bus (just like all the cool kids!) where I handed over my paperwork, yet again, and settled in for the bloodletting.

At this point in the story, it might be good if I let you in on a rather pertinent piece of information- I’ve never given blood before! You see, when I am not excluded by travel to various countries, the nurses take one look at my arms and send me packing. I apparently have no blood veins. This has become an issue each and every time I have to have blood drawn for tests. In the past, I’ve had phlebotomists go with the insert-needle-and-poke-around method, I’ve had them fiddle with my feet in hopes of finding a good vein and most often, I’ve had them call in the head-honcho to do the poking. My veins are just not easy to access.

But, back to the blood van in the alley.

After the nurse put the tourniquet on my arm and got exactly zero veins to pop, she proceeded to add a second tourniquet and then employ the slapping-the-patient’s-arm method. After the double-tourniquet and slapping got us nowhere, she repeated the same process on my right arm. Again, no luck. At this point, another nurse, between donors, joined the fun. She decided to give it a shot and it was back to the left arm. After another left and right check with no better results, the nurses were stumped.  This entire process involved a lot, a whole lot, of arm slapping!

One of the Chinese staff members who was giving blood at the same time leaned over and asked what was going on. When I told her they couldn’t find a vein, she looked at me very seriously and said, “But your arms are so white. How can they not see them?”  Gee, thanks!

After a third round of trying and failing to find a vein, a mini-conference of the three nurses was convened. None of them wanted to be the one to tell me it wasn’t going to happen, so after watching them huddle and discuss, when one came back, I just looked at her and said, “Should I just go?” She smiled and nodded yes, sending me on my way.

Blood donation failure.

The thing is, after talking to Thad, I think I am okay with the way it worked out. Apparently, the needles being used to draw blood could have doubled as irrigation siphons in an emergency.

Blood donation wasn’t a total loss though. I may not have contributed to my local community and I definitely didn’t come home with a flowered ceramic bowl, but I did walk away humming my favorite Aqua tune. You see, as I waited for the first finger-pricking to determine my blood type, the nurses’ assistants called me over to tell me they thought I looked like Barbie! Blonde hair and blue eyes go a long ways in western China.  Barbie may be living a life in plastic, but she is fantastic!

Come on Barbie, let’s go party!