We have regulars at our blood bank. Safe in the basement of the hospital, where all good med techs belong, we crack jokes about them needing loyalty cards – get a punch for each unit of blood transfused and the tenth unit is on us. We never see the patients – we get their blood, type it and check for antibodies, crossmatch some suitable units from our supply, and send the blood up to the infusion center, the emergency room, or the hospital floors. But even without meeting these patients, we get to know some of them, whether we want to or not, especially those who have chronic conditions that bring them back week after week for scheduled transfusions. Or those with “problems” that make it hard for us to find them safe and compatible blood – when we see an order print down in the blood bank, and we recognize the name, it’s not usually good. Impending doom is probably how I’d describe the feeling.
Like Mrs. B, who’s up to 550 units over her lifetime and still going strong. She has a bleeding disorder, and her own body can’t keep up with the blood loss, so she comes in for weekly transfusions. Because of all of these exposures to foreign blood, she’s developed a couple of antibodies, and because of the specific ones she’s developed, we need to get her special compatible units from the Red Cross. Sometimes she has a bad bleeding episode and comes in through the emergency room because she can’t wait until her appointment, so we always make sure to have at least two units aside in the blood bank, tagged with “Save for Mrs B”, so that in a crisis we can at least get her started with something while we get more shipped in from the Red Cross.
Or Mrs. M, who has such strong auto-antibodies that her cells clump together as soon as they come out of her body into a specimen tube, making it impossible to discern her blood type. We have to give her Type O blood because we just can’t tease her blood type from her cells and plasma. We tried asking the nurses to preheat the specimen tubes and to bring them to the blood bank on a warmer or in a cup of hot water, but even that hasn’t been enough to fix the problem.
One of our regulars passed away recently, and it depressed all of us. We’d been supporting her through regular transfusions for over two years. Over the course of those years, she developed more and more antibodies, making her case a complex one requiring a few hours of work from a dedicated tech each time she’d come in, and specially-typed units from the reference lab at the Red Cross for transfusion. We’d all grumble when we saw her orders come across the printer, and argue a little over who worked on it last time and whose turn it was, but we were all glad to be doing something to help this woman enjoy more time on this Earth with her family. Hearing that she was never coming back was a little hard on all of us.
We don’t always find out what happens to the patients, because of privacy rules. Sometimes we suddenly stop seeing a patient, and we don’t know if it’s because they got better, got transferred, or passed on. It’s very hard sometimes to have worked hard in the blood bank to help keep someone alive, and then not know if it succeeded. But by the time you start worrying about it, another patient comes in, so you just keep going.