Preamble to becoming a plasma donor

A word to freshmen on the pros and cons of donating plasma.

by Ashley Dresser

There are many colorful rites of passage in college: leaving home, turning 21, telling off your ex, sleeping through final exams, peeing off a balcony or being kicked out of First Ave., to name a few. Most of us live to tell tall tales of our adventures and laugh at our former stupidity, but I want to give a heads up to all incoming freshmen on one of my least favorite college experiences: becoming a plasma donor. If youâÄôre living on campus, your nearest plasma donation center is just a 15 minute walk down Washington Ave., next to ArbyâÄôs. Back in my day, it was called ZLB Plasma Services, but I recently heard that theyâÄôve re-branded themselves as CSL. Based on my own experience, I can only deduce that their new name appropriately stands for âÄúCitizens (who) Suck at Life.âÄù My own experience went as follows: after an evening of poor decisions my freshmen year, I ran into a glass door and chipped my front tooth in half. Despite the fact that my new hillbilly makeover prevented me from eating anything other than yogurt, my dentist promptly informed me that my injury was cosmetic and that my insurance refused to cover any of the $850 repair bill. I needed money and I needed it fast. I had too much pride to run to my parents at the first sign of failure living on my own, so I sat myself down in the waiting room at the plasma center and began filling out a 10-page personal history. The questions are aimed at weeding out those who are fast and loose with their bodily fluids and being that I had only just begun my college career, I was mostly in the clear. I didnâÄôt have any tattoos, I had never been a prostitute, and a foray with heroin was not on my bucket list âÄî though I wasnâÄôt too sure about some of the other characters in the room. Plasma centers attract the full gamut: college kids, homeless bums, the health conscious and quite a few who make a career out of donating, though the vast majority is those down on their luck and in need of some fast cash. The process was fairly simple. At my first appointment, I filled out the paperwork and received a physical. Normally, you would start donating plasma at your second appointment, but in keeping with my âÄúI suck at lifeâÄù streak, I was unable to pee on command for my urine sample, so I had to come back again. By round three, however, I was strapped in the chair, needle in my arm, and hyperventilating like a freak. I have donated blood before, but plasma is a different game. A plasmapheresis machine separates the liquid portion (your plasma) from the cellular portion of your blood and then pumps the cellular portion back into your veins. For lack of a better analogy, the latter part feels like someone ejaculating into your arm: disgusting and warm. The procedure itself only lasts about 45 minutes, but 45 minutes is a long time when you are surrounded by loonies and the only thing playing on TV are guts-and-gore movies like âÄúGladiatorâÄù and âÄúBraveheart.âÄù I tried to close my eyes and think about how my plasma would be used to help hemophiliacs, burn victims, and people with life threatening diseases, but inevitably, I was always interrupted by the man sitting next to me: âÄúHey girl, after weâÄôre done with this, you wanna go to ArbyâÄôs with me?âÄù Do not go to ArbyâÄôs and do not go to the plasma center with anything other than the lowest expectations. ItâÄôs not a place for the faint of heart. IâÄôm certainly not discouraging the donation of plasma. It is an incredibly crucial health resource for so many and the cash is helpful. Compensation varies per clinic, but as a first time donor, I went five times in two weeks and walked away with $180 cash. And I maintained my pride. Well, sort of. I called my dad and told him not to worry about my tooth; I had it all taken care of. âÄúI donated my placenta,âÄù I said in my voicemail to him. I didnâÄôt realize my medical terminology mistake until an hour later, when he called back and exclaimed: âÄúI didnâÄôt even know you were PREGNANT!âÄù Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected].