I think I’ve mentioned this before: I am the hospital’s recruiter for our regular blood drives. This means I wander the hospital, clipboard in hand, and ask people if they would like to make an appointment to donate blood. Some people avoid eye contact, as though I worked for that irritating booth at the mall where a young employee chases you down with hand lotion samples. Made with real Dead Sea kelp! Some people will answer me with a shake of the head and little more, but often I will hear reasons why they cannot or will not donate.
Some people are afraid of needles. And you know what? I don’t push them. A fear is a fear, and I’m not going to get aggressive and call them sissies (well, ok, it depends how well I know them) because they have a terrible fear of needles. I sometimes take a second and reassure them that it’s not painful beyond the hemoglobin check, for which they prick your finger, and the insertion of the needle in your arm. Once it’s in, you don’t really feel any pain. But if you’re going to faint or scream when the needle comes at you, then you’ve got a good excuse to not come by. Maybe send a friend in your place, though? One who’s not a chicken? I kid, I kid…
A lot of people say they’d love to donate but they just got a piercing or a tattoo. The rules were fairly recently revamped on that front, so if you had the work done in a state where tattoo parlours and piercing shacks are regulated, you’re good to donate immediately. If unregulated, it’s a twelve-month wait before you’re allowed to donate again. The wait is because of the risk that you may have been exposed to hepatitis through used equipment, and twelve months is long enough for you to have gotten sick and found out about the exposure, or for the virus and/or antibodies to be present in your blood so they can show up when it’s tested.
Travel is another big reason for deferral. You need to wait twelve months after visiting any area where malaria is endemic (normally present), which, unfortunately, is a whole lot of fun places to visit, including a lot of Asia, Africa, and Central America. So that Caribbean cruise to Mexico will take you out of the donor pool for a year.
Note: these criteria apply to the United States, more specifically the American Red Cross eligibility criteria. I do not claim to be an expert on these rules, so please refer to the ARC website for clarification. There’s a phone number you can call if you have more specific questions.
It might happen that you study these rules carefully and decide you’re eligible, and you show up to a blood drive, and a Red Cross employee tells you that you are actually ineligible. Maybe they’re right, maybe you overlooked something. But they’re human too, and there are a lot of rules to keep straight, and it’s possible that they’re wrong. Take the example of a person with a chronic medical condition, like Crohn’s disease. The website says that well-managed chronic medical conditions, in general, are not reason for donation deferral. It’s possible that a medication you’re taking, or a medical procedure you’ve had recently, is what’s actually taking you out of the pool, but maybe the Red Cross tech has never encountered Crohn’s before and is trying to err on the side of caution.
This happened to a friend of a friend who had donated several times in the past with no problems, and I was asked what he should have done in this situation. I would have asked to speak to a supervisor and to see the eligibility criteria and I would want to know what about my condition made me ineligible. Was it out of possible risk to the recipients of my blood or was it because of apprehension about what a donation would do to me, someone with a chronic condition? Either way, I would have pressed the issue a little, because I know how valuable a blood donation is. It might make sense, if you’re encountering problems like this, to try donating at a blood center instead of a random blood drive, because you’re more likely to have access to a supervisor there.
So, go read the eligibility criteria! Get educated, and go give some blood!