New Delhi: Leaning against a bed at the Delhi Plasma Bank, 52-year-old Gajendra Singh is looking over the apheresis machine to the hanging pouch filling up with a yellowish liquid. The liquid is the plasma of his blood that he has come to donate at the bank. Singh had tested positive for COVID-19 in May.
He was asymptomatic and received treatment in home isolation. He turned negative on June 4 and came to donate his blood plasma in the bank after one of his friends required it during treatment at a private hospital.
At a distance of two beds from Singh's, 29-year-old Deepak Bansal is reclining on another bed and constantly checking the time while the apheresis machine collects his blood plasma. Bansal is an IT professional. He recovered from COVID-19 in the last week of May and came to the bank to donate his plasma voluntarily. "I'm carrying something that can save lives. So I thought, why not utilise myself for a greater cause," he said.
However, Bansal seemed a little impatient and wary. "I have been here for the last half an hour. I thought it would take as much time as the blood donation takes. Besides, I hope I don't get any severe side effects later," he said. While Bansal has a fear of side effects post-donation, Singh's family is afraid that he may contract the virus again. "My wife was totally against it. She fears that I may contract the coronavirus once again. I had also asked the doctors if I can donate the plasma at my home. But they said it's not possible," he said.
Such are the doubts and fears the plasma donors carry along to the Delhi Plasma Bank, the first plasma bank in the country setup at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) in New Delhi on July 2 by the Delhi government.
Dr Shantanu Dubey, head of issuing plasma, told the most common query the donors have is whether the donation is possible at home. "This is the first query from almost all the donors. We have to make them understand that the whole setup cannot be moved to their place. If something goes wrong while donating the plasma at home, we would not have the proper resources to tackle the situation," he said.
"The query stems from the myth and stigma attached to COVID-19. The majority of the people still think that they will contract the virus again if they come to a hospital. We make them understand that their bodies now produce antibodies against COVID-19 infection, so it's improbable to catch the infection again. Our COVID-19 ward is also completely separated from the building where the plasma bank has been set up," added Dubey.
Dr Meenu Bajpai, head of the transfusion medicine department that looks after the plasma bank, said that apart from the COVID-19 scare, the donors are wary of the post-donation effects. "Since drawing plasma from the blood is a somewhat exhausting procedure, and the needle stays in the donor's arm for a good 45 minutes, the side effects like bruises and mild soreness in the arm are commonly reported from the donors. Many times, I receive frantic calls from them after experiencing such effects. However, we counsel and monitor them 3-4 days post the donation so that they don't feel anxious," she said.
Besides, one common complaint the bank receives from the donors is about the lengthy procedure of blood donation. Dr Meenu said that while they are informed over the phone to reserve 3-4 hours for the plasma donation, many get impatient and ask the staff to expedite the process. "The whole procedure starting from the antigen testing to determine their COVID negativity till drawing plasma from the blood takes at least three hours. It's quite a lengthy procedure. The donors, who come with an expectation of the time taken in blood donation, get a little impatient in the process," she added.
S K Sarin, Director of ILBS, said that plasma donation is relatively new, and the problem is the lack of understanding of the donation procedure. "Since it's a new thing for the donors, they have many questions and doubts over the procedure. However, we try our best to counsel them and make them understand the whole process," he said.
Besides the complaints, doubts and queries, the patients also express gratitude towards the bank for including them in a noble cause. "Many of them thank us as they feel great after donating their plasma as they believe that their donation would save someone's life. We also encourage them on the same lines when sharing any doubt during the plasma donation," said Meenu.