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Giving Back: Goin’ With the Flow

(U.S. Marine Corps graphic by Lance Cpl. Eric Keenan/Released)

April is National Volunteer Month. Marines can give back to their communities in a variety of ways, including donating platelets at their local Red Cross. (U.S. Marine Corps graphic by Lance Cpl. Eric Keenan/Released)

Numb lips, cold body, dizzy and drowsy — sprawled out on a pale blue, cushioned, medical cot. My arms lay outwards at my sides, a large, beeping, metal box extracts my blood from one arm and deposits cool fluid back into the other with its tubular tentacles. Feeling like a test animal, I wait.

Slightly uneasy from my vein repeatedly being violated by a sharp needle in attempts to make the blood flow, an eternity seems to pass at a snail’s pace while I nervously and cautiously scan the room. I am careful not to so much as turn or move my arms a fraction of an inch.

The portable movie player that lies in my lap displays a menu screen after a movie finished. It’s been three hours, a digital screen reads 9:35 p.m., as I shift my sight from the screen to the machine extracting, pumping and separating the different variants to my blood.

A Red Cross worker walks over to my cot, holding a little basket of doctor-like tools, “Almost done, Eric,” she says.

Finally done with the process of donating platelets, I stand, stumble and make my way over to a table with various snacks. I am light-headed and woozy, like a meat bag of a boxer after 12 rounds in the ring.

This seemingly arduous and morbidly discouraging event wasn’t my first and certainly won’t be my last.

I try to donate platelets on my off time at least once a month. A small needle prick, a movie and a stack of snacks are a small price to pay, even for the most needle-wary person, to aid those in need.

Platelets are one of the three major cells within blood. They make blood clot, preventing excessive bleeding, and are often needed and in high demand for cancer, thrombocytopenic and many other patients.

At the American Red Cross, donors choose a movie from a large selection, lies on a comfortable cot with a blanket to prevent getting cold and relax for about three hours while their blood is separated.

Apheresis is the process in which blood is drawn from the donor and separated by a machine into its different components, retaining the platelets and returning the red blood cells and a liquid solution into their body. The liquid solution aids the return of red blood cells and keeps the donor hydrated, but often leaves him or her feeling a little cold.

Due to reduced calcium in the body, many donors get numb lips, which is easily resolved by chewing on some Tums.

I often have a guilty feeling that I could be doing more. I’m not deployed, haven’t been yet and might not be for a while, so volunteer work helps me feel like I earned my pay and like I am contributing somehow, someway. Donating platelets fulfills a prideful self-obligation to give back.

My fellow Marines joke about how emotionless I sound, look and act on a regular basis. I can’t disagree or argue that, but I am compelled and often very passionate about volunteer work. If I have something to spare and someone is in need, why not give it?