How-To Succeed at Freelancing – Part One: How to Donate Plasma in Six Easy Steps

Successful freelancing requires mastery of your craft, networking skills, and a super large slice of the luck pie.

Donating plasma requires none of those things, and unlike freelancing, can provide a steady portion of your income.

Therefore, I’ll be kicking off Junto Magazine’s series of blog posts “How to Succeed at Freelancing” with step by step instructions on how to donate plasma, based on my own experiences. There’s a long history of artists donating plasma to support the freelancing lifestyle, but to many it can seem intimidating. So I’ll walk you through the process and hopefully remove a little fear of the unknown. Let’s get started!

Step One: Budget Your Time Accordingly

As freelancers, we all know that the only thing more satisfying than practicing our craft is NOT practicing our craft. As such, few things are more rewarding than plasma donation. Waiting at the DMV, navigating airport security, and negotiating late fees at the local library are all activities that have a similar time-sink to misery ratio. But plasma donation has the decided benefit of paying you for your hours and agony, so bonus points there.

You need three to four hours of “not creating” time built into your day the first time you donate. Don’t believe the plasma donation websites that tell you it will only take two hours.

Step Two: Find a Donation Center

Many plasma donation centers are located in what your mom probably calls “the bad part of town”. As you’re a freelancer, this is the part of town you where you are renting your non-bathroom half a studio apartment. Finding a donation center is as easy as putting down your creative implement, drawing aside the curtain that separates your eight square feet from your roommate’s, and walking outside. The donation center is located in the building that used to be your local grocery store.

Step Three: Navigate the System

First-time donors are forced to navigate a labyrinthine system of clipboards, tethered pens, and small-print paperwork familiar to anyone who’s spent time in an emergency room waiting area. Don’t let this dissuade you! After a mere forty-five minutes of paperwork, you are treated to a fun and informational video about plasma donation. This video, which incorporates all the high-end video production techniques that the mid-to-late nineties had to offer, will remind you that actual people will be putting your essential juices into their bodies. If you are the squeamish type this might weird you out for a second. If this happens, simply glance up to one of the posters scotch-taped to the wall. The posters will remind you that donating plasma could earn you as much as two hundred and fifty dollars a month!

After the video, you are handed another clipboard of paperwork. At first glance, this paperwork might appear to be the same exact paperwork you just spent forty-five minutes filling out. You are assured that it is not. You might point out that the questions are, in fact, word for word identical. You are once again assured that this is simply not so.

Find a poster. Give it a stare. Think of all the rent you’ll be able to pay with that money. Almost a quarter of it! Locate the least ripped vinyl chair and get back to work!  

After completing clipboard number two, you are led to a cubby where a friendly young man holds your hands under a black-light. You are not told why this is happening. He marks your finger with a black-light pen. You are not told why this is happening either. Later on, you will realize it is to keep drug addicts, alcoholics, and freelance creators from skipping around to multiple donation centers in the same week, essentially draining themselves dry.

The friendly young man pricks your finger, takes your blood pressure, and measures your heart rate. If you are a healthy person with a hobby like running (many creators take up running so as to further avoid creating) your heart rate will probably be in the mid-to-low fifties. You are no doubt used to getting a certain amount of praise for this from medical professionals. Do not expect praise from the friendly young man. He frowns. He takes your heart rate again. He grunts softly. His frown deepens.

He ceases to be a friendly young man.

“Your heart rate is too low,” he says.

“Too low?” you ask. This is a new experience for you. You have been running for years, decades, in the pursuit of, yes, task avoidance, but also so that friendly young men in lab coats will stop telling you that your heart rate is too high. And now you are getting shade about it?  

“Yeah. It can’t be this low,” the sullen young man says. “You might faint or something during donation.”

“Oh,” you say. “So, I can’t do this or…”

The sullen young man shrugs. “I can only measure it one more time. And I can’t let you move around or anything. Think exciting thoughts.”

As he measures your heart rate for the final time, you consider that if you don’t get this money, you won’t be able to pay your family’s health insurance this month. The resulting panic, though mild, (it is a thought that runs through your brain most months, you are a freelancer after all) is enough to get your heart rate into the very bottom of the acceptable range.

Celebrating, you now travel to a touchscreen booth to answer questions about the video, and, yes, fill out the same information that you’ve already volunteered twice before. It’s crucial at this phase to remember how far you’ve come and to tell yourself that surely this process must almost be over.

It is not almost over, but you must tell yourself that it is.

After you pass the test, the donation center staff moves you to a small, dim, unadorned room. Even though the walls and floors are white, it somehow seems brown to you. A staffer comes in with a clipboard. She looks at the clipboard. Looks at you. You know what is coming.  

In defiance of all logic and probably the fundamental laws that govern the universe, you are now asked to answer the same questions again. By now you’ve found a rhythm, and it catches you off guard when she hits you with a curveball.  

“Not afraid of needles, are you?”, she asks, marking down “no” before you even answer. The implication is, “Why would anyone with a needle phobia come to a plasma donation center?”

“No!” you lie with enthusiasm.

You do not tell her that you are deathly afraid of needles. You do not tell her that you once fainted in your kitchen merely imagining having your blood drawn. You do not tell her that the thought of your life’s essential fluid being sucked from your arm, filtered through a machine, and injected back into your body fills you with the kind of queasy, tingling fear normally reserved for life-or-death situations and public speaking engagements. You do not disclose that everyone from your wife to your mother to your mailman has told you that, given these things, donating plasma is very high on your “list of silly life choices”.

You do not tell the staffer this because you are a freelancer. You live on the edge of disaster.  You can do this. You must do this.

“Of course not!”, you add. The sound that escapes your mouth is meant to be a chuckle but comes out as a strangled shriek of anxiety.

“Okay!” she says, standing up. “You are all set to donate! That was easy enough, right?”

Filling out Paperwork is an Important Part of Plasma Donation
Filling out Paperwork is an Important Part of Plasma Donation

Step Four: Donate Your Plasma

The donation room is a space that manages to be both cavernous and low ceilinged. It is occupied by attendants scuttling to and fro with portable donation machines and donors reclining in donation couches. Your fellow donors are listening to music or reading books and magazines. Some of them are bored. Many of them are grim but determined looking.  You are not the only person in the donation room doing something deeply uncomfortable just to survive. The air temperature is more chilly than average.

You lay down on the donation couch and are surprised by how comfy it is. After a few moments, an attendant trots by, chats you up for a moment, and ties a rubber band around your upper arm. She runs her finger over the raised vein in the crook of your elbow to check its viability as an exit point for your life force. Even this minor needle-related action gives you the heebie-jeebies, and you rightly take this as a bad sign.

She prepares her needle. You try to avert your eyes.  Pulling out your phone and popping in your earbuds, you think that an audiobook might distract you.

Wrong. You accidentally glance at the needle and it looks like the kind of thing someone in a pith helmet would use to tranquilize a rampaging gorilla. The end of the needle is so large you can stare down into the cavernous maw of it. Your nose starts to tingle and the muscles of your face draw up into a frozen rictus.  

The attendant punctures you. It hurts exactly as much as every other time you’ve had a shot, maybe slightly more. Not that bad. You listen to your audiobook for a minute or so. You can do this. The tingling in your face begins to recede. You, freelancer, have saved the day. You have earned money with your own blood, sweat, and (possibly) tears.

Then an attendant stops by and notices that your blood isn’t actually flowing. The tube remains empty, the machine that separates plasma from platelets unengaged.

“Oh, a stubborn one, huh?”, she says.

Then she reaches down and wiggles the needle in your vein.

Step Five: Terrify the Locals

In the next moment, you feel a strange pressure in your hands, feet, and chest. Your eyes are open but all is dark, until—bang! Suddenly you can see, and what you see is that you are surrounded by attendants and an actual trained nurse. They are holding down your limbs. Someone is cradling the sides of your head.  They are all wearing clear facemasks, and those facemasks are speckled with blood—your blood, you realize with a lurch.

“Um, hi?” is all you can think to say.

“He’s back!”, someone yells, to the general relief of everyone in the room, including your formerly bored fellow donors. They are not bored now. The ones that aren’t looking directly at you are giving you side eye, pretending to read old issues of Sports Illustrated but in reality totally engaged in the medical drama that has just become your life.

“You were shaking!” says one attendant.

“Convulsing!” says another.

“Your eyes were open, but you were not responding,” says a third. All three of them sound as if you have let them down.

You are given more details as the excitement dies away and you sip on a lemon flavored sports drink. You fainted, apparently, which is something that sometimes happens at plasma donation centers. People get lightheaded, and you are not the first desperate person to lie about a needle phobia.

But then, they tell you, after fainting your eyes flew open and you started shaking, ripping the needle from your arm and dowsing all involved in a nice hearty spray of blood. You were unresponsive in every other way. They shouted at you. They pinch you. They slapped your face. Finally they held you down and the registered nurse was preparing to do something more dramatic (they never tell you what) when you abruptly returned to consciousness.

This, you gather, is something that does not sometimes happen.

You are taken back to the dim brown room and checked over by the registered nurse. On the way out the door, you notice an older attendant comforting a younger employee. The young one is weeping in relief and trembling. The older attendant shoots you an evil glare.

In the brown room, your heart rate is measured. You are told it is too high and must sit quietly and take deep breaths until it goes down. You find this slightly ironic.

You ask if you should go see a doctor. The registered nurse shrugs and says, “Probably not. Well. Maybe. Probably. I don’t know. This has really never happened before.”

Then she hands you a clipboard.

Step Six: Get Paid

On the way out of the donation center, you stop at the front desk to check out. The desk attendant hands you a Visa gift card, which is the payment of choice for institutions hoping not to encourage bad habits. You are surprised you are getting paid at all, as your blood didn’t go anywhere but all over the room.

“If you get punctured, you get paid,” says the attendant with the air of someone repeating a holy mantra. “Also, you can’t come back here. Ever.”

Given the events of the day, this seems fair to you. You take your gift card to the nearest ATM and cash it out.

Seventy bucks for four hours. Seventeen and a half dollars an hour, and you didn’t even have to badger your client for payment for weeks and weeks after completing the job.  


So that’s how to donate plasma in six easy steps. At Junto, we are a community of artists and creators dedicated to supporting other artists and creators, and we hope you find this useful.