Give Blood, Get Pampered

"How much do you weigh?" the man at the computer asked me.

"Probably 150," I answered, knowing full well that I was 156 pounds at my last check-up, and had eaten cheese enchiladas several times since then.

"Instead of donating whole blood today, would you like to donate double red blood cells instead? It's just as safe."

With those words, he introduced my new favorite indulgence. Some people need acupuncture, TV or a massage to unwind. These pursuits have their plusses, but for complete pampering, there's nothing like donating blood.

That may sound weird, but it's true. Double red blood cell donation takes longer than the standard whole blood donation - about 40 minutes as opposed to 10. If you're a woman, you have to weigh at least 150 pounds to qualify for it (versus 110 pounds to donate whole blood). But for your trouble, you get to turn off your phone -- instant relief! -- and recline in a padded chair, with a blanket over your legs to keep you warm and a TV to keep you occupied. All in the middle of a workday!

The technician, who repeatedly thanked me, explained the machine would remove and separate two units of red blood cells, but return platelets and plasma to my body (as well as some saline). I'd give double the red blood cells, and be more hydrated afterward. And the cells would get to patients faster since the blood's components would be separated during my donation instead of at a laboratory afterward -- an important perk since someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds, according to the American Red Cross.

"I get depressed when all of these chairs are empty, so I'm sure glad you're here today!" she said.

The receptionist echoed her gratitude each time she answered the phone.

"Thank you for calling United Blood Services ... How can I help you be a hero today?"

After my donation, it was time for "at least" 15 minutes of pigging out in the recovery room. Where else does the FDA actively encourage you to boost your sodium intake? I munched on some trail mix composed of pretzels, nacho cheese chips and other fried crunchies while alternately drinking V8 and water. I eyed the popcorn machine.

"We also have ice cream," the receptionist said. My mouth was full, so I waved her off, thinking of the chips I'd stashed in my purse for later. Little did I know she was about to ask, "Would you like to take some home with you?"

As I walked to my car -- parked in a preferred parking spot for donors -- it occurred to me that it really is better to give than to receive. I'd just treated myself to an hour of pampering and could feel really good about it. My blood cells would be used in the next few days to save up to three lives. They might help someone in a car accident, or with cancer or having heart surgery. Or since my blood type is O negative, a.k.a. the universal donor, it might be given to babies born prematurely.

An average of 4.5 million Americans need blood transfusions each year, but less than 10 percent of us donate blood annually, according to America's Blood Centers. If more people knew how relaxing and rewarding it is, we might not have shortages. In the meantime, I think I'll have a scoop of ice cream and not feel guilty about it. Size 12 never felt so good.