Tag Archives: blood banking

Blood Donation During a Crisis

(Author’s note: this was written in 2013 after the Boston Marathon bombing, and it’s incredibly depressing just how often I come back to this post to share it after tragedies)

As is our human nature when faced with violent acts, people reacted with horror, sympathy, and an aura of nervous energy after the Boston Marathon bombing. Whenever there’s a tragic event, whether it’s a bomb, a plane crash, or a tornado, most of us feel like we should do something to help those affected. Even if we’re far away, even if we’re not directly connected to anyone who was hurt, there’s this spark of humanity inside us that drives us to action.

It’s crucial to note, though, that not all helpful actions are necessary, and not all good actions are immediately helpful.

Many people in my Twitter feed were urging people to go and donate blood. I am an occasional blood donor. I encourage people to be regular – for their own personal definition of “regular” – donors. But this week, when I saw the flood of “go give blood” tweets, I cautioned against rushing to the donor centers.

Why? People were horribly injured and being rushed to hospitals for surgery. Didn’t they need blood?

Yes, many of them likely did. But the hospitals were prepared. Every hospital has a plan in place to help them deal immediately with an “external disaster.” They keep a good supply of blood on their shelves, and they have means to get more very quickly.

An organization like the American Red Cross* can move blood products efficiently from one area of the country to another. It happens every day, even in calm and peaceful times, but in an emergency, the wheels turn very quickly to get blood products to where they are needed as fast as possible.There seems to be an almost-constant “blood shortage” going on, so it does seem confusing when Red Cross officials tell people not to come in right now and donate. What’s important to understand is that the key to having enough blood available for a crisis is to have an adequate blood supply at all times. That’s why the Red Cross encourages regular donations: the need is constant.

So why isn’t more blood better? Why is the Red Cross of Eastern MA asking people to please wait and come in next week if they want to donate blood?The thing about blood is that if you go to the donor center right now and roll up your sleeve, and have a unit taken from your veins, that blood will not be used immediately. It needs to be tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, West Nile Virus, and all sorts of other things. There’s a two-day turnaround for blood products. Donating blood during a crisis isn’t necessarily going to help the victims of that particular crisis. The Red Cross will do its best to accommodate all the generous donors inspired by the tragedy, but there’s a risk involved with a huge rush of donors at one time. Blood is perishable. Units of blood get a 21-to-42-day expiration date. So what happens a month after the crisis, when everyone’s just donated but all the blood is about to expire? Nobody wants to see blood wasted.

And that’s why I urged people to wait and see whether there was a need before rushing to donate. Replenish the supply by donating a little later, so that there’s always blood available for everyone who needs it.

What can you do to help when disaster strikes, then, if you shouldn’t give blood?

  1. Don’t misunderstand me! Do donate blood. Please do. It saves lives and nobody would argue otherwise. But don’t rush in after a disaster. Wait. See if the American Red Cross puts out a call for donors. If there is no immediate need, make an appointment a week in the future, or two weeks. Give often. Help keep the supply constant so hospitals can do their thing when they need to.
  2. Follow @RedCross on Twitter or like them on Facebook. When something is happening, those accounts are very active and are an excellent source of news and support. There are accounts and pages for local Red Cross areas, as well. They will tell you how you can help.
  3. Learn CPR and first aid. If you’re ever in a position to give more direct help to someone injured in an accident or attack, you will be more confident and better equipped to act.

*I use the American Red Cross in my examples because I have a familiarity with their processes thanks to my work experience, and because they are a very important blood supplier for much of the United States. I don’t claim to speak for them in any official matter.




In My Blood

In most other workplaces, a blood-spattered desk would be cause for a police investigation.

For me, it was just Friday.

Let’s just say that if blood or other bodily fluids and excretions bother you, you probably don’t want to pursue a career as a medical laboratory scientist.

But maybe you do want to pursue that path. Maybe you love medical science but aren’t masochistic enough to put yourself through medical school. Maybe you love helping sick people but don’t want to be anywhere near them while you do, because, frankly, they’re a little needy. Maybe you love biology and lab work, but don’t want to spend a lifetime begging for grant money to keep your cell cultures or graduate students fed. There’s hope for you yet! Stay tuned to find out how you too can have a vibrant healthcare career!

I know, that’s a ridiculous infomercial, but I feel like it’s my duty to promote my profession, because there are too few of us out there. We’re not well understood or respected. I want that to change. Everyone knows about doctors and nurses, but the third vital side of the healthcare triangle, the medical “techs”, live in relative obscurity.

The Board of Certification for medical technologists here in the US changed things up a couple of years ago and tried to give us more respect by changing our title from “Medical Technologist” to “Medical Laboratory Scientist”. It was a lovely gesture, but it didn’t really help. I mean, I didn’t get a raise or a talk show or anything, and I still get a blank stare and polite nod when I tell folks what I do. Although I think people picture a lab coat and some test tubes now, which is a little closer to right.

I write about my work sometimes on this blog, and last year, I wrote a series of posts here for Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. Some of them explain the science and techniques behind laboratory tests, and some of them are about my experiences in the various labs I’ve worked in. I would very much like to do that again this year as a way to raise awareness about the profession. I never heard about medical laboratory science careers until I was already through university with a Bachelors in Physiology and couldn’t find much to do with it. I hope that by writing about it here, I can make the profession just a little more visible, and maybe inspire someone to look into it as a career.

Even if I can’t inspire anyone to get into a lab career, maybe I can help people understand what the job is about. Why do you only have to fast sometimes before a blood test? What happens to a blood donation? How does blood tell the doctor how sick someone is? I’d love to make Medical Laboratory Professionals Week into a sort of Q&A session, but for that I will need your help. Does anyone have any Qs that I can A?

What do you think the job is? Have you ever heard of it before? What would you like to know about labs, blood, and medical tests? I’m getting started early this year because I want to collect questions and get to work answering them well. I want to give myself time to draw diagrams and take pictures and maybe even interview folks in different types of lab positions, so I can really do right by my profession and show off my colleagues as the caring, intelligent, dedicated people they are.

So, hit me with your questions, and I’ll do my best.