Blood Bank Blues

I donated blood again yesterday. Every time I go, I marvel at the battle between well-meaning (and lawsuit-avoiding) bureaucrats and the real world. For though I must pass a gauntlet of intrusive questions about my life, prying that if done to a job applicant or potential Supreme Court justice would get the ACLU screaming, there is no reason to suspect all this interrogation does anything to make the blood supply safer.

The questions ask me "In the past 12 months, have I given money or drugs to anyone for sex?" I usually reply alcohol is my preferred medium, and the questioner politely chuckles and proceeds. But really, there are innumerable answers to this question that do nothing. I could use other forms of payment. I may own a house and trade rent for sex. Or grades, if I'm a university professor. But somehow only drugs or money are ones to worry about? Or maybe I have given money or drugs (how about money and drugs?) but I'm sure not going to tell you. Or maybe I pick up such desperate men or women that they need no such enticement. Or someone else supplied the money?

How about "Has anyone you have had sex with given money or drugs for sex?" Now, though I do screen my sex partners pretty carefully with a multi-page investigation of their health and propriety, this question is not included. I ask about many things, but not how they transacted the business of their previous copulations. How the heck do I know? If I'm the kind of guy who's picking up women in bars, I'm not likely to be asking them this sort of thing. If my wife gave someone money or drugs to have sex with her, would she tell me? And if she did, I'd have problems more serious than this.

They ask a lot about the behavior of those whom I've had sex with. Again, I usually answer with a "How would I know?" and they just go on. They ask me if I've had sex with a man, even once, since 1978. I love the extra clarifier. "Even once." What does that add? "Have you had sex with a man since 1978?" "Have you had sex with a man, even once, since 1978?" Now that's like the redundant "every one" in "each and every one" but I really wonder how they decided on the wording. Did someone ask "Does having sex only once count?" I mean, even in this twisted culture with no standards of right and wrong, we know the difference between once and never, don't we?

For years, I have proposed a monogamy line at the blood bank, much like the Express Checkout line at the grocery store. "I have only had sex with one person since 1978, and she's female. I swear. If it changes, I'll let you know." I mean, that's what they do anyway, they trust me to tell the truth, but instead, ten or fifteen minutes are spent asking me about whom I've slept with every single time. Wouldn't it be nice if I could flash my monogamy/non-drug-user/heterosexual card at them, and they skip past all those questions and stick the thermometer under my tongue. If they trust me to tell the truth on fifty questions, why not trust me to tell the truth on one: "Has anything changed in regard to your drug use, sex partners, or sexual orientation since the last time you were here?"

"Even once?"

Equal time addition. A friend of mine works as a domestic violence counselor, attempting to prevent it rather than teaching how. He thought I was way too optmisitc, and replied:

Except that in my work I have learned that most people are functionally illiterate and also they never assume that what you say is what you meant. Perhaps because none of their dysfunctional, druggie, drunken, diseased and depraved friends and relatives ever mean what THEY say. So yes, one does have to add "Even Once" to a question such as "Have you ever had sex with a man?" The prospective blood donor who refuses to think of himself as gay silently will excuse the male-on-male encounter as "I was experimenting, so it does not count." Or, "I was drunk, so it does not count." Or, "I did not climax, so it does not count" Or, "I didn't plan on it happening, so it does not count." And on and on.

Our clients cannot ever answer "Yes" or "No" to potentially embarrassing questions. I have asked thousands of people "Do you drink alcohol?" Eighty percent of those who tell me "no" --- ten minutes later when we are talking about the fight that got them arrested, will say "I only had two beers." I jump in with, "But a few minutes ago you told me you don't use alcohol." Then they usually say "Well, I don't 'drink' drink, I just sometimes have one or two." AARGH! This manipulation of their alleged mother-tongue is so common that we have learned to ask the same question three times, three different ways, in three different sessions, and only when the same answer is given all three times do we dare to believe we might be hearing the truth.

ALSO: No one who comes to my office, no matter their age, has ever heard the words "moderation" or "abstinence" or "celibacy" ----When asked "Are you moderate in all your habits?" which is one of the questions on the alcoholism screening we use, EVERYONE needs the question explained. Heck, I have even asked people (page one of our standard intake data collection) if they have any children, and gotten a "no" only to find out the next week, when we start the six-page, 65-question detailed personal history, that indeed they do...but last week they thought I was asking "Do you have any children who are currently living in your house right here?" So we learn to change OUR vocabulary. I ask "Have you ever fathered any kids?"

One other nit-picking pet peeve: I found that 50 percent of our clients, when asked how old they were, would answer with how old they will be after their next birthday, not how old they are NOW. This was so bizarre and yet so common that I changed my question to "How old are you RIGHT NOW, dude?" They usually can handle that one.