What is Sickle Cell?
4 min read

What is Sickle Cell?

What is Sickle Cell?
Photo by Mitchell Bowser / Unsplash

Eii, so you still have that ‘thing’! This is what a friend said to me when I told her about this blog. My reaction? I laughed, laughed and laughed some more and then said, “You just confirmed why I needed to start this blog.” Sickle cell anemia does not just go away. It does not vanish after a certain age. Once you are born with it—It is here to stay—well, unless you have a bone marrow transplant (This is another whole topic to discuss).

Some of you may be asking, what at all is this sickle cell that she is talking about? Well, let me just say, I am not a medical expert, so I cannot give you all the medical terms and all that comes with it, but I am going to share what I know, so please bear with me.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disorder, and basically, what this means is that when you have the condition, your body is not able to produce enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the other parts of your body. You need the normal round shaped blood cells to carry the oxygen, but in my case, some of my red blood cells are shaped like a crescent.  We say they are shaped like a sickle. The common genotype (another very important topic for discussion) for someone who has the sickle cell condition is SS, but there is also SC (that is what I have).

For the normal person, whose genotype is AS, AA or AC, your red blood cells can last for approximately 120 days before they need to be replaced.  However, for those of us with the sickle cell condition, it usually lasts for about 10 -20 days.  This means that there is usually a shortage of red blood cells…and if there are not enough red blood cells, your body cannot get enough oxygen to feel energized, thus causing fatigue. This is the reason why people with the sickle cell condition get tired very often.  We are not lazy as some people think – we just get exhausted!

Another issue is when the round red blood cells, which move about easily, change their shape and become sickle-shaped.  The sickle shaped red blood cells cannot move around easily like the round red blood cells, so they get stuck at the joints and block small blood vessels, making it difficult for the blood to flow to its destination. When blood can't get to where it's supposed to go, it can lead to organ damage and excessive pain.

Now, let's talk about this excessive pain. We call it having a crisis. Let me tell you, that thing called a crisis is EVIL…chai. How can something be so painful! My crisis is usually felt in my arms and legs, and the pain that comes with it never seems to stop!

A crisis can come at any time, triggered by so many scenarios.  Cold or warm temperatures, an infection, malaria, or it could be that I overworked myself. Honestly, it just surprises me. I could be fine today, and in excruciating pain the next day, Unfortunately, I am yet to master when I will be getting a crisis.

It is extremely difficult to describe the pain; some have described it to be almost, if not more, painful than labor.  I read somewhere about a sickle cell patient had a broken arm, but was very calm.  When asked why he was so calm, because a broken arm is quite painful, he replied that it was not as painful as a crisis.

I can't relate to that because I have never had a broken arm, neither have I been in labor, but for me, it feels like someone is intentionally hitting you with a hammer at your joints, non-stop. This is the best way I can describe it. The pain begins slowly, and then it intensifies and on a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest) by the time I get to level 10, I am in tears, wailing like a baby; then I have to get to the hospital IMMEDIATELY. Actually wait, by level 10, I should already be at the hospital so let's say by level 6, then I know it's time to go. Sometimes when I feel the pain is bearable (level 3), I stay at home and take some painkillers, but sometimes that just does not work. That pain is not a joke...chai!!!

I pray and hope that no one goes through this pain; this is why it is important to know about sickle cell anemia and more importantly, know your genotype. If you know about it, you may be able to help someone who is going through a crisis or even look out for someone when they are not in pain.

Why else is it important to know about sickle cell? If it's not already obvious, let me just say it...because of REPRODUCTION! Duuuuhhhh!! Since it is hereditary and has no cure ... yet, it is significant to know who you are conceiving your little angels with. If your genotype does not match, there is the high possibility of having children with the sickle cell condition. It is essential to know your genotype (I will talk more about what that is in another post) so you can make informed choices before you decide to bring a child into the world who will have to live with this pain forever.

I trust that this blog, over time, will give you some useful information about sickle cell anemia.  And as you get to know more about it, I hope it will help you become a better ally, friend, sister, brother, or advocate. I encourage you to read more about it and its social, medical physical and financial implications. There is still so much more to know.

The knowledge does not end here. This fight is for all of us!