A genuine Haight-Ashbury hippie acquaintance of mine once gave me a “street-smart” survival tip on how to raise a little cash when you’re down and out; namely: sell plasma. Blood plasma is the yellowish liquid that carries the red corpuscles in your blood. Whole blood can be drawn about once every two months and is generally donated but plasma can be sold and sold as often as twice a week.
In 1980, in a mysterious process called plasmapheresis, medical specialists called phlebotomists would withdraw a unit of whole blood and put it through a centrifuge, separating the plasma from the red blood cells which were then returned to the seller. The whole process took about two hours in which time you sat in a lounge chair and had to remain awake (eyes open) so the phlebotomists would know you were still conscious. You could read or visit to pass the time. I would sometimes make the big mistake of drinking some coffee or soda beforehand and thus, (as I was stuck in a chair and hooked to an IV drip for more than an hour), by the time my red blood cells were finally returned (mixed with a saline solution and chilled well below body temperature) the cold infusion into my vein would trigger a teeth-clenching and almost uncontrollable urge to urinate. When I first sold plasma I was paid $24 per unit, but as the economy deteriorated and unemployment rose, the lines at the Plasma Donor Centers grew longer and the price paid for plasma dropped to $18. Altogether I may have sold about 45 units. To this day I still have telltale “junkie scars” on both arms.
In 1990 I once again found myself selling plasma; but by that time the technology had been vastly improved by a time-saving machine that was connected in a more or less continuous loop directly to the circulatory system, making it a quicker but also a much safer single-step process.
Having previously sold a few units of plasma that year, I found myself at the Plasma Donor Center on a slack day. There were only a few men left there so the phlebotomists (a couple of young men) had time to talk. Phlebotomy is a 50 cent word for bloodletting – as indicated by the red stripe on a traditional barbers’ pole, and pays about the same. A semesters’ work can get you a Technical Diploma in Phlebotomy. There are Certificates to be had but it’s mostly OJT (On the Job Training). These two kids were barely out of high school.
We talked about the unemployment situation and job opportunities. I allowed as how, for every job offered there are hundreds or even thousands of job applicants and how the employer must sort through the sometimes tall stack of applications. It’s a huge waste of time to apply for a job you’re not minimally qualified for, but some people still insist on doing so and even lie on their application (or résumé) as though they’ll never get caught. Once the employer eliminates the fraudulent applicants and those who are obviously unqualified for that particular job, he’s still left with a fairly large stack of applicants.
So who does he choose? The dumbest applicant in the stack. It’s usually not a good idea to hire someone smarter or stronger than you. You can neither outwit nor bully them.
The employee already knows his job and as soon as he learns all of the other aspects of the employer’s business he becomes a potential competitor and a threat to his boss’ business. So the employer hires the dumbest applicant who can still minimally perform a particular job.
One phlebotomist turns to the other and says: “So that’s how you got hired here!”
I’ve long suspected that this conversation resulted in what happened next: On my very next visit to the Plasma Donor Center I was immediately called into the doctors’ office and informed by him that I’d tested positive for Hepatitis B, and, even if it proved to be a False Positive test, I’d still be banned from donating blood or selling plasma – for life.
Worried and having no other recourse, I went to the VA Hospital at Wood for a blood work-up. I was interviewed by a woman, an intern, perhaps. She was typical of the “I’ll Show You!” radical feminist medical professionals of the era who were more concerned about looking like a real doctor than being one (and making an accurate diagnosis). Drawn by the glamor and wealth associated with the medical profession, these women were overly concerned about, if not obsessed with, their stethoscopes. Should I clip it to my neck? Should I drape it over my shoulders? Should I let it dangle from my breast pocket or protrude from the hip pocket? It was all highly symbolic and essential. They habitually wore white lab coats so as to be positively and unmistakeably identified as doctors. Their male counterparts rarely did so unless they were actually doing messy examinations, emergency room procedures or some other such-like really dirty laboratory work.
Assured by the media that she could have it all, She wanted it all and had most of it: She was young, blonde, blue-eyed, tall and slim; and beneath her brilliantly white lab coat she wore a contrasting fire engine-red dress that matched her fire engine-red high-heels that matched her fire engine-red lipstick. Sex – Status – Money – Power. Career and Family.
For those in the know: Don’t spoil it for the others. She informed me that, as my suspected Hepatitis B was a contagious disease, I was to refrain from any sexual activity during the virus’ incubation period. She therefore rescheduled me for a second round of blood tests.
Six Months Later:
I found myself once again giving more vials of blood to be tested for the alleged Hepatitis B infection. I was once again directed to an examination room. I sat down in the patients’ chair next to a desk. The very same woman wearing the very same outfit came in and sat down at the desk beside me. She silently opened a manila folder she carried and read from it for a moment. She suddenly jumped up and ran out of the room. Curious, I got up and went to the doorway and leaned out in time to watch her diminishing figure running down the long hall. Although puzzled by her actions, I just returned to my seat and waited.
Some time passed before a young male doctor (another intern?) in a dress shirt and tie came in. He sat down and read from the documents in the manila folder she’d left behind.
I asked: “What was that all about?”
“The incubation period is six weeks”, he replied.
I busted out laughing. What else could I do?
In retrospect, I should have chased her down the hall, shaking my fist and bellowing in my deepest, most masculine voice:
“You dumb-ass bimbo! You owe me six months worth of hot, salt-sweaty sex!”
She still does, you know.