Friday, August 18, 2006

Suburb Plasma

When all else fails, punt. City Plasma doesn’t want to allow me to donate for over two weeks while they send out my blood to an outside lab for testing, fine. I found another plasma bank in the suburbs on the Internet. I researched their Website; found out everything I thought I needed to know to attempt donating at this plasma bank outside the capitol city limits. Only having 10 minutes left on my cell phone, I decided not to call for answers, since all they’d have to do is put me on hold and my phone would be useless. A pre-paid phone with no minutes disables voice mail. There were some unanswered questions, but then, aren’t there always?

Suburb Plasma is open Monday through Saturday, and closed on Sunday. My plan was to map the closest bus route at three one-hour intervals, leaving approximately at, 8:30am, 9:30am, and 10:30am. No matter how you slice it, it’s a three-bus, approximately 90-minute ride with a five to ten minute bike ride kicker.

University of Minnesota Alumni Building

The second bus leads me from the darkest parts of Saint Paul to the structurally blissful downtown Minneapolis. I’m dropped off on Nicollet Mall with a long wait for my last bus. I’m in awe of the way people are dressed, some stylish, others in business attire, still others in wild summer outfits. Everyone’s busy, talking, and happy. Yes, there are black people here, not as many as downtown Saint Paul, but they’re all wearing ties.

I hear dinging to my left. It’s the light rail, just yards away! This is the first time I’ve seen it in daytime. I rode it one night, but you really have to see it in the daytime. I have thirty minutes until my next bus; maybe I should ride it for a few minutes, then back. Well, maybe next time.

Originally uploaded by Peter Lemon.
To my right, I see the Federal Building with its parabolic inverse arch of windows. This building housed the Minneapolis Central Library between the time the original was torn down and the new one erected in its place, which is just down the street.
All of these changes in architecture were just starting when I used to work downtown as a Software Engineer. I’m really missing my digital camera now.

Halfway there, I realize I forgot to bring a postmarked utility bill for proof of address. Oh well, I’ll just use the ID I have from The House. Although it’s not my real address, who cares? In retrospect, I’m thinking: Are you stoned or stupid? Being sober, I don’t even want to entertain the alternative.

My bus arrives. After a short ten-minute bike ride, I arrive at Suburb Plasma. My first impression is, so plasma banks do actually look clinical. Suburb Plasma looks just like a regular doctors office you’d find at a clinic. City Plasma, on the other hand, looks more like a fast-food joint (i.e. White Castles). There were young healthy Caucasian looking donors in the waiting room instead of poorly dressed, malnutrition blacks or white-trash smoking outside waiting to be screened. The staff members treat you with respect and are very professional. At City Plasma, if you’re not being hit on by staff, it usually means their simply having a bad day. It’s very relaxed there. If there’s not a non-politically correct comment being floated every few minutes, it’s usually because they’re actually dealing with an emergency. I mean, you can say things in there that would get you fired or sued for sexual harassment in the corporate world. It’s really like a singles bar, only drawing plasma instead of pouring alcohol.

The only differences that really matter is that they don’t appear to have any qualms about accepting people living in treatment facilities. This is good, since my latest ID has the address of The House, which is a halfway house. That and they pay less: $20 + $30 for two donations per week compared to $25 + $35 at City Plasma. That’s $50 instead of $60 per week. Beggars can’t be choosers.

In the process of my initial mini-physical, it comes to mind that there’s going to be questions about the injection sites in my arms. I just won’t tell them about the low protein levels. They ask me how I got the injection sites and I tell them about City Plasma. They contact them and discover I’ve donated six days ago. I cannot donate until after seven days from donating at another facility. I go home empty handed.

After checking in, having passed the customary verbal and blood screening, I continue onto the initial mini-physical. No more than five minutes in the nurses office and I’ve misspoke. The nurse was asking why am I traveling all the way out to the suburbs to donate instead of donating at City Plasma. Not wanting to reveal that my quarterly blood screening came up low on protein, and eventually having to lie about having just recovered from binging, I said I was looking to move to the Minneapolis area and that “I spent the night there last night.” Why I lied about that, I do not know.

Well, this opened up a huge can of worms. “Where did you spend the night?”

After actually spending the night at home, I found myself recovering from this lie pretty poorly. Fumbling for another lie, thinking of Mark J.’s place, a recovery center that could easily pass for on office building or apartment, I gave the street name. Well, it turns out that although that street is named after an adjacent suburb, when it passes through Minneapolis, there’s nothing but recovery centers dotted along its path.

Why did I lie, why did I lie in the first place? I thought. She was about to permanently defer me when I convinced her to have her manager talk with me. After a lot of non-eye contact ass covering, we agreed that I would simply come back with proof of residence in the form of a utility bill postmarked less than 30 days ago.

Seeing that I’d traveled so far twice to donate, the manager paid me $20 for the effort, what I would normally be paid had I donated. That was very kind of him; something City Plasma would never do. They asked when I’d like to schedule the next visit, maybe Wednesday, but I opted for Thursday since I had job interviews that day. I’d planned on donating Tuesday and Thursday, the usual 48 hours apart.

On the ride home, I thought why this happened, why I lied in the first place, why I didn’t trust good people anymore. All I could come up with was that I was in such an untrusting mood after being hounded by my landlord, Bertha W., everyday. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but her constant daily borage of complaints, letting herself into the apartment without being welcomed, while I showering or sleeping, pounding on the door everyday asking for rent; it’s just got me in a paranoid mood.

Having thought long hard about making up bogus mail for a previous address, I came to the conclusion that this would be simply digging a bigger hole for myself. Suburb Plasma keeps calling to confirm the appointment and I simply let it go into voice mail since I’m now down to eight minutes on my cell phone. Answering their calls and actually talking to someone in a vain attempt to cover up with another lie was just as horrific as facing the truth. The manager said that if I lied about my address, than not only will I be permanently deferred, but that City Plasma will also be notified.

City Plasma does not have my current address either; they have June W.’s address. It was the only picture ID I had at the time. I still have it and considered using it, but Suburb Plasma states on their Website only a valid drivers license will be accepted. Since mine is clipped, I’m afraid that will lead to my DWI, alcoholism, and eventually deferment. That’s why I used the ID I had for The House. On their Website, they don’t disclose that if you’ve ever been to a treatment facility, you’d be exempt. Had they recognized the street address of The House on my ID, they would’ve deferred me.

Seriously tempted to simply take that $20 Suburb Plasma gave me, buy a huge bottle of whiskey, cancel my appointment and crawl into that bottle, I instead resolutely decided to purchase a $10 cell phone card and some grocery staples (milk, butter, bread, mayo, mac & cheese, etc.). I put off the $10 cell phone card a day. I went home, made some mac & cheese, sealed the windows and turned on the gas...well, made mac & cheese, my comfort food.

Heading out for my Suburb Plasma appointment with proof of my current address, decide to buy the $10 cell phone card, but the usual stores don’t have that denomination. With time running out, I head for the bus stop for my second bus (it take three buses to get there, but the second bus stop is not too far away). It happens that there’s a cell phone store at this bus stop that has a $10 cell phone card. I’m early and can catch the next bus, so I’ve got time. Should I buy the phone card, call Suburb Plasma, explain my situation, plead pure stupidity and mistrust, and ask if I would simply come clean, give my actual current address, may I donate. I take the chance of never donating anywhere ever again.

That can’t be. Coming clean, telling the truth, being honest; these are things that will get me in trouble? How can that be? All I’m trying to do is donate plasma, something most people would never consider doing because of the implied risk.. Something is telling me this is not right. The clerk at the cell phone store is jerking off his computer for some customer. The first bus is arriving. I can buy the card, make the call, and catch the next if they say all if fine.

Or, I can give it up. I think, Thy will be done, not mine. I get on the bus. Whatever happens is meant to be. Diving into my Angels and Demons novel, I put the consequences out of my mind.

I get off the bus, jump on my bike, and the chain derails. I just roll my eyes. Is this a sign? I quickly put the chain back on and make it there just in time. I find some new people working the front desk. I take a deep breath, take out my bills with current postmarks, and approach the counter. “Excuse me, I’d like to update your records for my current address.”

“Certainly,” the clerk responds. As he asks for verification, I catch an error: he forgot to include my apartment number. He apologizes.

Okay, so that wasn’t so hard.

The rest of the mini-physical goes completely normally, mostly because I didn’t have to deal with the same nurse. We even joked about AIDS being discovered in 1977, when both of us were going through puberty and wishing the bar scene wasn’t so dangerous when we grew up. I have two much older brothers who frequented bars, brought home women, and enjoyed good clean fun sex. I looked forward to this pleasure, only to find that by the time I was of legal drinking age, the stakes of the game were raised, mostly due to the AIDS scare. I answered all questions truthfully, except for the fact that I’m an alcoholic.

There’s a very important reason why plasma donation centers are not willing to take alcoholics. An alcoholic can become positive for Hepatitis B from liver damage alone. I learned this in treatment, where they tested me for the disease, and which it came back negative. So, when asked if I’d ever tested positive for Hepatitis B, I honestly answered, “No.” My urine test passed with flying colors. They’re looking for common recreational drugs, alcohol, and unusually high or low levels protein and/or insulin. This means that my liver and kidney are functioning well enough to donate plasma.

So, this last relapse was not as much damaging physically as it was financially. Actually, I think it was more of an emotional and spiritual hit than anything else. I lost my way.

Donating plasma in the suburbs is more like you’d expect a clinic to look like. There were no movies playing, so I read my book mostly. But I couldn’t keep my eyes off the actual machine that extracts the plasma. It’s a vertical machine with all its parts exposed. The process extracts your blood, separates out the plasma, then returns your blood cells, then repeats. It did this a dozen times, which is twice as often as City Plasma’s machines. You can watch how your blood mixes with the anticoagulant. Then it spins in a centrifuge in order to separate blood cells from plasma. They have a different twist in that the centrifuge has a filter was well. I could tell it made a difference because my plasma, as well as others around the room, was much clearer. The staff was also much more knowledgeable. At the end, you can watch the 500 ml of less-than-body-temperature saline (0.9% sodium chloride) drains back into your body to replace the 880 ml of plasma extracted.

I check the bus schedule, and I’ve got just enough time to check voice mail using the center’s phone. Afterwards, I signed out, made my next appointment for Saturday, and as I was unlocking my bike, the cash register clerk ran me down and gave me the $20 I’d earned, but forgot to take. After all that, I’d forgotten the money.

I bike to the bus stop just in time for this hourly bus. Feeling light headed, I eat a tuna fish sandwich I’d prepared before hand and slices of a cantaloupe that June W. gave me the last time we saw each other. You know, cantaloupe doesn’t taste as bad as I’d thought it would.

On Saturday, I will donate a second time this week and earn another $30. Overall, they will have paid me $70 for the week. Subtract from that the $13 in bus fair, that’s still $57 for the week. I’ll wait until Saturday to buy a $50 cell phone card worth 500 minutes, the best deal available.

With the rest of the time left on my bus transfer, I head to The House to eat a free dinner. I talk to my old advocate there and he informs me that starting September 1st, alumni are no longer allowed to eat meals. That coincides with the time I’ll be living on the streets again. I guess I’ll be eating at Salvation Army.

I’m in the neighborhood, so I stop in at the gym to check my account. I’m a few weeks late on my quarterly payment of $27 and am not allowed to use the facility until I’m paid up. I ask if I can make that payment a week from now and they agreed; this will have me pay up through October. This is important, not only for the physical exercise that really helped me stay sober, but also to be able to shower and dress for work at any time of the day. If I can afford it, I could also rent a gym locker.

With a full stomach, money in my pocket, and a little more hope for the future, I head home. I do not stop at a liquor store, nor do I feel the need to. I slept hard for the first time in a long time.

Without Wax,


Rabbi Dale said...

Wax, Keeo miving forward and don;t forget the L-rd
Mazak Tov

Anonymous said...

good that u did not drink lots of self pity go to meetings lots of meetings.

Anonymous said...

hey I work at a plasma center and your story really put what i do into perspective and reminds me that donors are people not bags of plasma waiting to be extracted