I was driving home Monday night; pondering my workout options. Mondays and Tuesdays are the nights I have a free hour for a good workout. I was all but committed to a Sufferfest session on the trainer as I watched the Fahrenheit sink into the mid 30s. But I couldn’t shake the idea of manning up and going out there for some repeats up the McIntyre access road. It would be a last minute decision.
As I turned onto Mammoth, a mile from home, I glanced left at the Red Cross blood donation sign; a sign I have looked at every single day on my way home from work for the better part of a decade. I passed it and something in my head just tripped. I took a hard left up Stockholm, headed back down the hill, and my eyes welling with determination, I pulled into the parking lot of the donation center.
I knew giving blood would blow me up for a few days energy-wise, and have some longer-term physiological implications that could stretch on for weeks, and it was completely meaningless information at that point. I needed to do this. All I could think about was looking up at that bag of blood hanging next to Maggie’s bed; how it read A POSITIVE. Which is my type. Which I only know because a few years ago, I found the card I was issued the last time I donated, which was probably 1994.
As I entered the building, I was nervous as hell. I distinctly remember the last time I did this. I nearly passed out and had to be driven home, and I slept for at least 12 hours straight. I was really, really hoping this time it would be different. But I was willing to accept any outcome. After the cursory questioning and a brief wait, I was comfortably reclining and draining my tank. Inside of 15 minutes I was already finished and still conscious. I was relieved on a number of levels. And having lived but a mile from this place for almost ten
years, I felt so stupid.
That night things were pretty low-key. I was tired, but expectedly so. I followed the instructions to drink extra fluids, and went to bed a little earlier than usual. Woke up the next day feeling a little worn out, cleaned up, and hit the road for work.
About half an hour down the road, I am starting to fade out. I’m not sure why I feel so bad, but again I haven’t given blood in almost twenty years, so I suspect nothing out of the ordinary. Even still, it is a challenge just to finish the drive to work. As a few hours pass at my desk, things deteriorate and I am barely functioning. I can’t stop shivering. Most of the time I have my head on my desk. Whatever is going on is definitely not going to be compatible with being productive today. Around noon I get up and head home, securing an orange juice before the drive, hoping it will give me enough gas to get there.
I am barely able to drive. It takes an incredible amount of concentration and my only saving grace is that this drive is exceptionally simple, boring, and I have made it thousands of times. I get home and immediately go to bed. I sleep for about an hour and a half.
I wake up and I am definitely not feeling right. Something is up and now I’m getting concerned. I call my doctor a number of times, and each time it goes to voicemail. I leave a message and then call the Red Cross. They feel I could be dehydrated or anemic, and instruct me to eat and drink. If things degrade over the next few hours, I am to see my doctor or head to the ER.
It is all I can do to will myself to get out of bed and heat up some food. As I sit on the couch, forcing food down, the thermometer reads 100.7. Then the diarrhea starts. I consider the situation to have degraded. I really need a ride somewhere. But I can’t think of anyone close enough to get me to a doctor in a timely fashion.
Somehow I get myself in the car and absolutely suffer the two mile drive to my doctor’s office. My eyes are barely open. I hobble into the waiting room and explain that I just gave blood last night and I need my vitals checked. Almost immediately I am ushered to the ER in the next building.
I am left to rot in the waiting room at the Elliot ER. One of those times that life has felt like total hell on earth. I desperately need IV fluids. Kristen leaves work and finds me still waiting when she arrives. Slumped in a chair, I’m moaning, my eyelids are struggling to stay open. We sat there for what could have been two hours. The stench of stale smoke permeates every section of the room I migrate to. It is abundantly clear that most of the people here have no need for emergency treatment. Meanwhile, I am barely conscious.
While I’m parked on a toilet, they call me in. Because I missed a small window of opportunity, they give my evaluation room away and I’m forced to wait in a hallway on an office chair. Ultimately I get the eval room, and some time later I’m awarded a curtained-off room that will be mine until I leave. Just laying there as Kristen watched on. Total suffering. It would be a long time before I even got an IV. Maybe three hours from intake before I got one. This place is a clusterfuck. On average I don’t see anyone for an hour.
I just lay there, thinking about how last night I filled a bag, and tonight I’m emptying one.
Meanwhile I hear the comings and goings of other patients. The elderly woman next to me with a broken hip, asking for “the black pill” so she can “end it all”. They try to placate her with Dilaudid. Ultimately she’s moved upstairs. You hear the occasional brief scream of agony from somewhere deep within the ER. A sobbing mental health patient a few rooms over soon trumps most of the background noise.
Around 9pm, a doctor comes in. My labs are immaculate. So good in fact that it doesn’t appear I even gave blood. No sign of dehydration in my urine. The entire thing, this bout of incredible suffering, is a viral infection. My body’s interpretation of the GI bug that Stella had one week before, which I thought had passed me by. I had worked out plenty since then and felt absolutely great. Apparently giving blood wore me down just enough for the infection to rev up and get to work. Make that two trips to the ER for Chris in the past four months for Stella-borne viruses.
About seven hours from time I entered that waiting room, I was finally able to leave. At this point, the waiting room was approaching nightmare status. A total shithole. I’ve been to that ER more than my share of times, but I’ve never seen it this bad. I invite you to stop in some night and check it out. You’ll acquire a real appreciation for the truly fucked up state of health care in this country.
I suffered badly that day. But it is a microcosm of what my cousin has endured and will endure. That’s what I clung to.
Don’t let this deter you from giving blood. Only in hindsight was this a predictable outcome. I felt spectacular in the week leading up to donating, which is why I felt comfortable doing it given my propensity for being sick. As the doctor said, it’s just really bad luck. For me, sometimes, that is an actual medical diagnosis.