Can anyone spare me a pint?
January 16, 2010 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone had blood transfusion in a non-life-threatening situation in order to speed healing?

I had a fairly simple gynecological procedure in early December. I then had a completely bizarre complication that put me into renal failure. After 6 kidney/ureter surgeries, a total of two weeks in the hospital, and a double nephrostomy for a month, I am home and everything is "working" normally. One of the side effects of the original procedure, is that I have been bleeding vaginally for almost 5 weeks. My doctor says this is normal. However due to the other trauma to my body, my hemoglobin is 8 (or was on Jan 6 when I was last in the hospital).

My doctor offered me blood transfusion at the time, but also said that I would probably recover on my own. The idea of the transfusion squicked me out, so I decided to see how things went on my own. I had a few good days, but I am back to feeling completely exhausted. I just can't seem to get on top of the constant bleeding I am experiencing. So, now I am reconsidering the transfusion.

I know that blood transfusions are very safe (I can only blame my hesitation on reading "And the Band Played On" last summer). But I still have hesitations. However, I've been so sick for so long, at this point I feel like I have to start looking at all the options. I was hoping to return to work by Feb 1.

Has anyone had a blood transfusion in a similar situation? Did it make you feel better? Did the effects last?
posted by kimdog to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
Side note--ask your physician if Erythropoietin may be an alternative.
posted by 6:1 at 4:02 PM on January 16, 2010

And by the way--if you have a transfusion there are a host of side-effect you could also get. Not to scare you, but you could develop antibodies that may make it more difficult to have a safe transfusion in the future. IANAD, but other countries do not have the transfusion rates we have in the US. This article says if you are young and healthy, a hemoglobin of 7 in a healthy person is adequate.

This is something to further discuss with your physician. They have more data. But if it were me, (fairly young and healthy) I wouldn't get a transfusion.
posted by 6:1 at 4:08 PM on January 16, 2010

My 79 year old wife had a transfusion 5 months ago. It took 7 hours to infuse (2 units). No complications and no problems. She began to feel and look better in about 3 days. But it took 3 weeks for her strength to return. Her hemoglobin went from 8 to 10.9 over a 3-month period.
posted by JayRwv at 4:14 PM on January 16, 2010

After the birth of my first kid I 'bled too much' and had a really hard recovery. After the birth of my third I did the same thing but this time was much more dangerous. I had three transfusions total. The first two were the ones that saved my life. After the second, my doctor sat down and discussed the options with me. She recommended the third because my blood counts were low but told me that the choice was mine and that I would heal without it. I took the option because of my experience with my first pregnancy.

I am really glad that I did get that last pint. It really made me feel so much better. The effects were amazing. There is a reason they call it life blood. I felt like a totally new person after that last transfusion and was able to go home and deal with two kids and a newborn. I healed so much faster than the first, weeks instead of months of recovery. I am anemic, and there are days when I wish I could have another just so I could feel that good again. (Those days are very rare, I'm just telling you so that you understand how positive it was for me.)

I did have a problem with my vein. The strain of the transfusions was too much and it sort of popped. My wrist swelled up and I had to have the last pint in my other arm, but even with that it was still worth it.

My experience in the hospital was a scary one, but looking back that last transfusion really made a difference. I understand that for a regular, healthy, young person a transfusion doesn't make sense, but you are having some serious health problems and so obviously no matter how young you are you aren't very healthy. Discuss the options with your doctor, and if he thinks it's still a good idea then listen to him.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:26 PM on January 16, 2010

My friend needed 2 transfusions on occasions when her iron count was dangerously low. It did help her get some energy back.

If the reason you're squicked out is because it's a stranger's blood, you could always ask your doctor if it would be okay if a close relative/friend who shares your blood type and is healthy gives you a direct donation. If you're comfortable asking your close friends/family to do this, that is.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:10 PM on January 16, 2010

Thanks for the input so far. I should have added that I am 36, and have no other significant health issues. I was very anemic during my initial hospitalization, and received iron intravenously. My iron was okay during my last blood test.

The other complicating thing is that my appetite has been completely fucked up. I've lost a total of 45 lbs (which I had to spare) and I still am not able to eat much. I survive on large doses of juice, vitamins and supplements, and eat what I can when I can. I know I should be trying to get more protein, but it's tough.

Right now I can basically move around my apartment, but spend much of my time on the couch or in bed. I've tried to push myself, but have only been able to leave the house once (to a cafe on the corner for 45 minutes). The next day I felt horrible.

IndigoRain: I have no family nearby, and a somewhat rare blood type. Had I any idea that this would have happened, I would have banked my own blood.
posted by kimdog at 5:47 PM on January 16, 2010

There is really no way that you are going to get your hemoglobin up other than by using a blood transfusion. Sometimes when people are sick, their hemoglobin just goes down. It could be from almost anything. You don't use EPO when someone already has major bleeding.

Part of making RBC's is he responsibility of your kidneys. Sounds like those haven't been doing so well. You need all your strength to recover.
posted by verapamil at 6:25 PM on January 16, 2010

You might find that you've left it too long and the option is off the table. I've had quite a few and always feel much better after having them. Sometimes I've tried to battle through... such a little soldier... and have said after a few weeks, 'I still feel like shite, can I have a transfusion now?" only to be told "Nope, your hb is low, but has risen and will continue to rise, just wait it out."

Which is a decision I will never make again.

If you're ever offered blood, take it, I reckon. But then it's always possible you could have an allergic reaction to the blood and that wouldn't be good.... so there's always that to consider.

Sorry to hear you're poorly. What a nightmare. Hope you get better soon.

Oh... and you also need a certain number of calories each day to heal. If you're not eating properly, perhaps get some kind of nutritional drink supplement... with your doctor's direction, of course. Not eating enough would also make you feel like shite.
posted by taff at 9:37 PM on January 16, 2010

Please check your memail.
posted by Daddy-O at 9:58 PM on January 16, 2010

Your anemia could well be making you feel crummy (at least in part), and fixing it may certainly make you feel better. But it's important for you to understand that how one goes about best fixing an anemia depends on a number of factors that really only a physician can assess. Whether a blood transfusion (versus for example, Epo, oral iron, intravenous iron, supplemental vitamins, attempts at correction of the root cause, or doing nothing) is right for you can't really be answered without knowing all the details of your medical history as well as the results a variety of blood tests.

Blood transfusions are relatively safe, but they are not entirely risk free. The risk of catching HIV or hepatitis (since you mentioned And the Band Played On) are exceedingly low, but there are other more common concerns. Some folks have reactions to the transfused blood that can range from mild fevers to anaphylaxis, they may make one prone to developing antibodies that might complicate future care, and they may even have a negative impact on your immune system at least transiently. Moreover, transfusion is a time-consuming process and blood supplies are a limited resource.

So in summary talk to your doctor about your options.
posted by drpynchon at 10:36 AM on January 17, 2010

So... an update. The day after I wrote this question, I started having some really significant symptoms related to my uterus. My surgeon told my to go to my gyno, and my gyno examined me and sent me directly to the hospital because I had a massive infection (I had finished up my course of oral antibiotics two days prior). She immediately put me on IV antibiotics, and ordered two units of blood because I needed a D&C and she was worried about the blood situation before operating on a blood rich organ. My hemoglobin was still only 8.6.

Turns out I had a giant (football sized) necrotic fibroid sitting in my uterus. So I ended up in the hospital for another week because she wanted to make sure my uterus wasn't going to go south (again) after removing so much tissue. I was released to day and so far so good.

About the transfusions... I felt immensely better within 36 hours. I had my D&C in the morning, and was walking the halls that night because I felt so much fucking better. I'm now able to walk 10 blocks, possibly more, where as two blocks would have been a challenge last week. As of today, my hemoglobin is 9.6.

The other thing... after all my recent surgeries, my veins are pretty much wrecked. My IV's took multiple attempts, and only lasted about 10-12 hours. It was also taking phlebotomists 2-3 sticks to draw blood from me. The first pint was given to me near the end of one of those IV's and it hurt like holy hell. Seriously, I was in tears and hollering as the nurse kept having to flush the line because the transfusion had be done within three hours, and my veins just couldn't take it. But it was eventually done. A new IV was started for the second unit, and while uncomfortable, it wasn't as bad. After this my doc ordered a PIC line, which was really the best thing ever because I didn't have to get stuck any more the whole week. It was pretty painless to insert and remove.
posted by kimdog at 5:03 PM on January 24, 2010

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