The Cone of Shame

Back in the day, when I was young, I donated plasma once. I was in college, so we’re going pretty far back, because “I’m no spring chicken,” as they say. I think it was in the summer of 1991, when I was 18.

I did it partly because I, like every other college student I knew, could use a little extra money, but also because donating plasma is supposed to save lives. What I didn’t know then was that, because I only donated once, chances are they weren’t even able to use my plasma, because it was probably all used to test to see if it was safe for use. Sigh.

There was a reason I only did it once back in 1991. It was something of a miserable process. They took a big bag of blood, took it off to the back room, ran it through a machine, then brought it back out and put it back in. They did this a couple of times, if I recall correctly. It was pretty scary, because there was a risk that the people in the back might bring back the wrong blood, that the wrong blood might be the wrong type of blood… you get the idea. Human error can cause deaths, right? I decided, in my 18 year old wisdom, that the little bit of money they paid out wasn’t worth the anxiety and the yucky feeling. While the idea of helping people was nice and all, truth be told I’m not that benevolent.

That was then, and this is now, and times being what they are, I decided to try it again. After all, I have several friends who do it on a regular basis, and there are allegedly even some health benefits to donating plasma.

When you go to the donation center, they ask you a series of questions and there is a screening process. One of the questions is whether you have eaten a meal in the past four hours. Now, when I arrived, I had. But it was getting close to that four hour mark when I arrived at 5:00. By the time they actually started physically removing my blood? It had been over four hours.

The process has changed a bit, too. They hook you up to a machine that alternately takes your blood and separates the plasma out, then returns your blood. It cycles a good six or seven times, and fills a HUGE (1000CC) bottle of Plasma. I did drink water right before they did this.

Where am I going with all of this, you ask? And what does any of this have to do with a cone of shame?

While the machine is pumping out your blood, you have a blood pressure cuff inflated, constricting your arm, and you are supposed to pump your fist. Then, it deflates when the blood goes back in.

By the time all of this was finished, I was exhausted, my arm ached, and I just wanted to go home. But when I got up, I felt just a little dizzy. So they had me sit down again until I felt okay, a couple of minutes later. They walked me out to the front desk. Standard procedure.

As I stood at the desk, looking down at the envelope on the counter, I started feeling lightheaded, and I was concentrating on trying not lose it, when suddenly I was waking up from some sort of dream and they were asking me if I knew where I was. I was on my knees on the floor surrounded by people who weren’t there the moment before. There was some talk about whether I had hit my head, but I didn’t think I had – my head didn’t hurt at all. Of course, I didn’t remember going down.

They walked me to the back room, had me lie down on a couch, went to get Adam, who was sitting in his car (he had driven me) and then I woke up from more funny dreams, with a sore tongue, and wet pants. Yup, I pissed myself, too.

My blood pressure was very low. They administered a palm-bag of IV fluids, put ice behind and in front of my neck, had me drink water, I seemed to be recovering. They had me stand up, took my blood pressure… I needed to use the restroom again. Adam had to walk in there with me and keep an eye on me, but I was fine. I ate some peanuts from the vending machine, drank more water, and left.

When I got home, I wanted to take a bath, more than anything. I was cold, too… But I had Adam come sit in the bathroom with me while I took my bath, because I’m not a total idiot, and I knew that if I passed out in the bathtub, I could drown.

I’m thankful that my older son and my daughter were both still at play practice when I got home from the plasma donation center, because not only was Matthew there to drive Meg home, but Meg has her own issues with anxiety and depression, and I’m glad she wasn’t there to witness what happened first-hand last night. My thirteen year old was home, and I’m sure it upset him, but of the three, he is the most able to deal with “stuff” in life.

I was fine in the tub, and enjoyed the hot bath. I sat up the whole time, I didn’t wash my hair, I just sat in hot water and relaxed. When I got up, I got up slowly. I got out carefully. I sat on the toilet before trying to get dressed. And then it started to hit me again. Adam thinks it was shock from the temperature change of going from hot water to cool air. I told him I wasn’t feeling right.

When I came to, he was on the phone with 9-1-1. I got dressed, then went outside carefully with him to meet them, and have them take my vitals, but I didn’t want to be transported by ambulance, I had Adam drive me to the ER instead, because even with insurance, ambulances cost a fortune. Obviously, if I’m so hard up for money that donating plasma seems like a good idea, I don’t need that kind of medical bill…

The cone of shame? An immobilizing cone they made me wear for a while at the hospital until they could be sure that I hadn’t injured my neck.


It was very uncomfortable.

On the bright side? I had a head and neck CT, and everything looked good, so now I know I have no surprise tumors or aneurysms or anything unpleasant of that nature. And I have a brain, such as it is…

I was joking around about the incident earlier today, and Adam kind of got mad. “I’m glad you can laugh about it,” he snapped. “You stopped breathing last night.”

The official hospital papers they sent me home with said I experienced “Syncope.” The conclusion, based on the timing, was that it was caused by “loss of volume.” So, I fainted. Adam keeps insisting it was beyond a mere fainting spell. It may be that it seemed worse watching someone go through it, or it could be that it actually was as bad as it seemed, but I do know that I am okay now. I told Adam it was a “Pokemon faint.”

When my friend and coworker Melissa died, she suffocated after passing out. She was alone at the time, and the way that she landed cut off her air circulation. Had Adam not been with me, and not had the presence of mind to get my head into a position where I could breathe, had I been alone, my boss could have been getting another horrible call on a Sunday night.

So even though I have made light about it, I realize that donating plasma could very well have killed me.

Reality check. Things are just things. Money is just money. Bills have to be paid, and I will probably have to cash the rest of the kids’ savings bonds to pay the power bill this week. My ex called last night, too – while we were driving home from the plasma place, before my third episode – and told me he will be able to send some money our way at the end of the week. Unfortunately, it will come after the utility cut-off date. (They have already extended this for us, but not quite enough…)

All of these things are troubles, and so many people I know are going through troubles. Every time I’ve had to cash a savings bond, I’ve looked at the dates, thought about the year they were given to the kids, and felt a sense of guilt that I am using their money to pay bills.

Selling possessions is one thing. Selling one’s life force is another. Would my children be happy with a pile of savings bonds and a dead mother?

Money comes and money goes. But for all the money in the world, we can never buy back time.




2 thoughts on “The Cone of Shame

  1. What a scary story. Take care of yourself first. Somehow the financial stuff takes care of itself, no matter how bad the situation. Better to be poor and alive, than for your family to have enough money without you. Trust me, I know.

    Liked by 1 person

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