Selling Body Fluids...

For the past six years, I have been donating plasma, twice per week, at my local center. I began donating because one of the staff attended our church and made a plea that we consider participating—not only for the money but in order to meet people who might need to talk about God. He also mentioned that plasma is used to help many individuals needing medical treatment.

His plea made sense to me and I enrolled the next week. Over time we had interns, staff, and members donating regularly. One of our church plants in the area had most of their core team as donors or staff at the center. We had a baptism, countless Bible studies, and prayer with many of the donors and staff. Over the next six years it became clear that he was correct—we were meeting and helping many people. I developed many friendships through this experience. Even more, I had a window into a fragile world of which I had been unaware.

Plasma donors are hooked to a machine that withdraws blood, separates the platelets from the plasma, puts the platelets back
Plasma donors are hooked to a machine that withdraws blood, separates the platelets from the plasma, puts the platelets back into the vein, and finishes the process by pumping saline solution. Donors can spend forty to eighty minutes on this machine depending on their level of hydration, health, and oxygen levels.

This “fragile” world involved a delicate balance between financial peace and poverty. Many of the donors depended on this compensation and had to arrange their lives around the bonuses, decreases in pay, or even ability to donate. Many of the staff would donate to compensate for their lower salaries. It also became clear to me that both groups were vulnerable, even in this system that promised “blessings” for a donation of these precious “body fluids.”

  • If a technician bruised your arm—you were deferred for weeks until the bruise disappeared. If it was their fault they simply said, “sorry,” and that was it.
  • If your heart rate, blood pressure, or body temperature were too high that day you were deferred. You could return the next day, but you had to change your schedule and donate only on that day. This became difficult for those who rode their bike to the center, depended on public transportation, or walked. Those with potential high blood pressure had to make sure they were calm, didn’t hurry to the center, or spent an extra thirty minutes relaxing.
  • If the company decided to increase the pay, they did. It might be a blessing. However, if they decided to decrease the pay, they did so without warning. It would not be a blessing.
  • Blood samples were tested at another lab and had to be approved each week. If the corporation had not sent approval for your blood test by Monday, you could not donate—whether it was your fault or not. You had to change your schedule.
  • If you needed a medical person to review results, you had to wait, sometimes a week, for them to approve or disapprove any results.
  • Since donations had to be at least a day apart and you could only donate no more than twice per week, being deferred would force you to change your schedule or skip a donation to get back on your regular schedule.
  • If you had a job, busy schedule, or depended on any type of regular routine you would typically lose at some point. You had to be ready to adjust, readjust, or sacrifice.
  • Sometimes you received “bonuses” but you had to be a regular donor and give six to eight times that month. If you were deferred at any time, it would mess up your schedule and possibly chance to complete the requirements. If you missed a day, you missed the bonus.
  • Technicians had to stick a needle in people’s arms hundreds of times per month and continue to be calm, friendly, and smile at various personalities. They also had to do this while struggling to make a living.
  • Technicians had to cover for those who did not show up to work. They would work hard to catch up, keep people happy, and get people in and out of the center. They still received the same pay. So did the donors who could end up spending 30-60 minutes longer at the center.

I have heard that plasma brought a high price to the company. I had heard that other states paid much more to donors. Maybe that is true, but I felt that God had called me here and I met many new friends. I worried about them, prayed with them, tried to help find housing, helped them in their walk with God, and listened to them. I would talk about my experiences when locals complained about a business that “pays for body fluids” or the “kind of people who would sell their fluids.” I would share their stories when I was asked about “those people who donate at a center,” or people who have to work in that environment. I would share with police and POs how hard it is for their clients to do this and find a consistent income.

My friends are humans trying to survive in a fragile system who are vulnerable to this business. People work hard, try to live with regular and consistent schedules, and hold out hope that each month would provide an extra benefit. Most hoped for the “extra blessing” to get ahead—but we all knew that no one ever really gets ahead in this system where financial peace and poverty teeter on a pointed fulcrum of corporate promise of blessings and economic stability.

In this system the reality is all too clear to me:

  • You make a mistake—you lose.
  • Someone else makes a mistake—you lose.
  • You lose—you pay.
  • You lose—you have to adjust, readjust, reevaluate, and try to create temporary stability.
  • You lose—you make a sacrifice
  • You lose—you try to find hope for a blessing.

In the end the blessing you find is temporary because soon you, or someone else, will make a mistake. It’s inevitable because we are all human.

It is in this humanity and fragility where I believe most people live. I guess I can fool myself that I have a flexible job, steady income, and don’t depend on the compensation. Yet, I found myself caught also hoping for the blessing, wrestling with a consistent schedule, and feeling for those who would “lose” in this system. There were times I would “ice” a potential bruise so I could stay on the schedule, would be deferred for a “bad stick,” and now experienced a four-month deferral because a colonoscopy is considered “an invasive surgery resulting in potential blood contamination.”

It is tempting to lie on health questions. It is sometimes honesty that gets one deferred, dismissed, or penalized. Yet many of the donors are honest, hardworking, people who try to be healthy and donate for others as well as themselves. The technicians are honest as well and try to do their jobs professionally, deal with cranky people, and provide for their families.

All of them/us are vulnerable. They are vulnerable in a system that promises blessing but doesn’t always provide consistency. Donors and staff strive to be dependable and loyal, but they serve a company where the bottom line is money—not the vulnerable people who donate their fluids or obtain fluids from donors.

I realize that someone is making a lot of money off of the sale of plasma—but it is not the donors or the staff. I understand that the corporation provides for those needing plasma—but in the end those who need plasma will pay what they must to survive. However, that is another blog post. They are vulnerable as well, but they do have advocates.

So, I, like my friends, will continue to sell body fluids. I will also appreciate those I know, pray for, and try to bless. It is a world that is fragile, with fragile humans, who try to find consistency each day of their lives.

They live in hope…hope that there will be a blessing that will stick.

No pun intended.

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