Monday, March 09, 2009

Apparently, I can snort cocaine now.

One of the signs of a frequent blood donor is that you recognize when they change the verbiage on the health-screening questionnaire you fill out before you donate. I've got a slight edge in that I donate platelets; you can do it every two weeks, rather than every eight, so I fill out the form more than a whole-blood donor ever would. They make little changes every few months, but near the start of this year, they reworked the entire questionnaire. They removed the question about whether I had snorted cocaine through the nose, for one thing; cocaine usage is no longer an automatic deferral. They've also become concerned in greater detail about transplants. Instead of a single question, cornea transplants, organ transplants, and bone transplants now have their own questions. They also now care if I've had an endoscopic biopsy. But they no longer care if I'm taking any medications, as long as they're not on the short deferral list they hand you with the questionnaire. And cocaine isn't on it. So, on the off chance I decide to add to my lengthy list of vices, it's good to know that snorting coke won't interfere with my regular altruistic blood-product donations.

It's been interesting seeing the questionnaire change over time. I can date fairly accurately when the blood bank became concerned about mad cow disease -- it's when they added questions about travel to the UK. A year later, the question expanded to cover all of Europe, when they first found BSE in France. And, because tattoos are so extremely common these days, they also expanded the tattoo question. It used to be one big catch-all question: "In the last twelve months, have you had a tattoo, ear or skin piercing, accidental needle stick, or come into contact with someone else's blood?" Now body piercing, needle sticks, and strange blood each have their own questions. And if you check the YES box to the tattoo question, there's a subset of questions about whether it was at a regulated tattoo parlor, or at a tattoo party (tattoo party? I feel extremely unhip, that I've never heard of this before), whether they used sterile equipment, and whether they used single-use disposable supplies. They've also fiddled with the wording of the armed forces question. They want to know if you've been in the armed forces, are a civilian military contractor, or if you're a dependent of a member of the military. I'm not sure why they need to know this; the paranoid part of my brain wonders what the blood bank knows that the rest of us don't.

Maybe the biggest change they made was a few years ago, when they started allowing us to fill out the questionnaire on our own. Previously, a staff member asked us the sensitive questions aloud; it was odd, having a grandmotherly septuagenarian ask me if I had ever given money or drugs for sex (snide answer: "does extreme begging count?"), or if I had ever accepted any sort of payment for sex (snide answer: "does dinner and a movie count?"). It was a welcome change, being able to fill out the answers on my own.

One change that still needs to be made: the consent form on the front of the page. They describe the procedure in detail ("...after which a sterile needle will be inserted into an arm and approximately 500ml of whole blood will be..."), but the procedure they describe is for a whole blood donation. Those of us who donate platelets are, technically, signing a consent form for a procedure they never perform, and are having a procedure done for which we haven't given legal consent. I'm surprised nobody's ever called them on this.

BTW, I had asked about the cocaine question -- did they care if I had smoked crack or injected cocaine, or was it only snorting coke? They told me that it's not about the drug itself, but that snorting coke radically increases the chance that you've got hepatitis. Injecting cocaine is covered by another question: "Have you ever, even once, used a needle to take drugs that were not prescribed to you by a doctor?" But smoking crack is apparently fine, as long as you've never traded it for sex....

No comments: