K.T. McKee

It’s not everyday you come face-to-face with both the flaws in our healthcare system and the uncelebrated heroes who do their best to counteract those deficiencies.

A week ago, I was in desperate need of both blood and platelets as my recent chemotherapy treatment for metastatic breast cancer had left both my hemoglobin count and my platelets critically low.

Normal platelet count is 150-450. Mine had dipped below 18. Without platelets, your blood will not clot. This means you could easily bleed to death if you were cut. You could also experience spontaneous internal bleeding which could prove fatal.

I was told to go straight to the Day Hospital Unit (DHU) of Memorial Satilla Health in Waycross at 1 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, for the blood and platelet transfusions. I was to get one bag of O-type blood and two bags of yellow platelets.

I assumed these life-saving donations from three different people were coming from our local area.

I live in Offerman, so it’s a good 30-minute drive every time I have a doctor’s appointment or a blood draw and that’s at least once a month.

When I arrived at the DHU, a young nurse got me settled in a room and even had the TV turned on for me. She took my vitals and got my IV ready.

I took a deep breath. I tried not to think about all the things that could go wrong with the transfusions.

The nurse gave me some extra strength Tylenol and ran some saline and Benadryl through my IV to prepare my body for the strangers’ fluids before she left the room for what seemed like an eternity to fetch the blood.

“Well, I’ve got your blood!” she declared as she slapped the beautiful red bag down on her metal cart. “Unfortunately, it looks like the platelets are stuck in Atlanta.”

WHA?????

She said they weren’t expected to arrive until later that night and that I would have to come back Thursday for them.

I angrily asked her why I was told to come in if everything wasn’t ready for me. She said that they at least had the blood for me and that I should go ahead and get that taken care of.

So I did and did feel a little better after the transfusion.

She apologized for the delay in the platelets and explained there’s been a critical shortage of them lately because people aren’t donating as much as they used to and there’s nowhere to donate platelets in our tri-county area.

Blood donations, too, aren’t what they used to be, despite several local drives by the American Red Cross. Even when someone does donate locally, it’s not guaranteed that blood will stay local. She said the last time she donated, her blood ended up in Alabama.

I asked her if it was OK if I came back for the platelets at about 11:45 a.m. the next day as I was dropping my sweetie off for a minor procedure nearby that required anesthesia. I figured we might get done at about the same time.

She said that’d be fine and that her fellow nurse Amanda would be there to take care of me.

When I arrived once again at the DHU, Amanda informed me that the platelets I’d been waiting for had been delivered to another hospital and that they had to put in a new order for me.

Again, I was not a happy camper. Here I am, weak as can be, with my own platelets continuing to drop to an even more critical level.

Amanda said that in all her years in nursing she’d never seen anything like this. She’d never seen a patient have to wait so long for something so vital.

She promised me she would call me the minute the platelets arrived from Savannah, which would probably be around 6 p.m. that day.

Normally, Amanda’s shift ended at 6 p.m. and normally there wasn’t anyone else working in the DHU after that. She assured me she would make arrangements to be able to stay later to help me.

So I waited for my significant other to wake up from the endoscopy and we went back home to wait for that call from Amanda.

Finally, at about 6:20, Amanda said she had the platelets. I am grateful there weren’t any speed traps between Offerman and Waycross at the time.

The hospital was quite eerie that time of night. There was no one at the main entrance and I only passed one nurse in the long hallway as I struggled to make it down to the DHU. I have experienced shortness of breath since battling the Coronavirus in Ireland in mid-March.

Amanda quickly went to work. She explained that although I am O+, the platelets can come from any blood type. My two donors from the Savannah bank were not O+ and I didn’t care. I was just grateful to them for giving so unselfishly.

By the time the two bags were emptied into me, it was about 8:30. She said my oncology nurse had asked her to wait 15 minutes and then get a blood draw to find out what my new platelet count was.

Again, Amanda was going above and beyond.

“Guess what your new count is?” she said excitedly.

“Fifty?” I said.

“Close. It’s 63!”

Although still under the normal 150 minimum, I knew this would at least keep me alive.

By the time Amanda was able to wheel me down to the main entrance, it was well past 9 p.m. We joked about the empty hallways feeling like a scene from “The Shining.”

To our surprise, the front door was locked. She got on a phone to find another way out and wheeled me to that door and then actually walked me down to the front parking lot to be sure I was safe.

Nope. You don’t see that everyday. Thank you, Amanda.

And thank you to local Red Cross volunteer Jake Dixon, who has so far donated 58 gallons of blood and platelets in his lifetime and helped organize local blood drives.

Now in his 80s, Dixon said he first became aware of the need for donating when he was 18 in Florida and provided blood to a friend who’d been shot.

“We lived in Ft. Lauderdale for 40 years and I gave 30 gallons,” he said. “I’ve lived in Georgia for 24 years and I’m at 28 gallons here. If the Lord lets me live long enough, I’ll reach 60 gallons.”

Dixon said to be sure to mention the next local blood drive is May 24 at the gymnasium in Blackshear from 1 p.m.-6 p.m.

“We used to get 60 or 70 people donating every other month, but now we’re down to 30 or 40,” he said. “I think people were scared of the pandemic. They thought they’d get it by donating or were scared off by the requirement to wear masks. Maybe now that things have eased up, we’ll get more people. I hope so.”

• K.T. McKee is a writer for The Blackshear Times. Reach her at katemckee2011@gmail.com.