Wednesday, April 8, 2009


To spoil the story by giving away the ending before I even start, I'll quickly say up front that I just got a clean bill of health from my doctor: I am perfectly fine (physically, anyway; my mental health might be a whole other story at this point).

I've only been back to work for three days following a badly needed break, but already I feel like I need another holiday.

I came back into the office Monday morning and started listening to last week's phone messages. One was curious because it was from somebody at the local hospital's blood services unit, where I've been a regular donor since I moved here. They've contacted a few times in the past to ask me to come in when supplies are low or they're having a slow day. But earlier this year, I started donating platelets which is very different from whole blood donations: for one, I can donate every few days up to 26 times in a year. Since I was already scheduled to donate every other week through May, I thought that it was a little strange that they would be calling me, but I didn't give it much more thought.

Later in the morning, I returned the guy's call and was surprised when he answered by giving his name as Doctor so-and-so. I was even more surprised when he explained that he was the director for the blood services unit and needed to confirm that I'd donated blood back on March 25 and was scheduled to give again on April 8.

Well, you probably see where this is going, don't you? I sure did, and my gut and sphincter reacted appropriately.

It seems that I had tested positive for Hepatitis C on that last visit. That result was from the initial reactivity test that is designed to be hyper-sensitive. At that point, they ran a second test known as RIBA, which is where the first test results are usually either confirmed or shown to be false positives. Unfortunately, or maddeningly, really, sometimes that test gives an indeterminate result, and that's exactly what happened with mine.

The doctor explained that I needed to follow up with my regular physician ASAP and that as a result of these tests, I am now deferred as a donor. It turns out that the definition of the word defer is different in that world than it is in mine. I asked how I go about becoming eligible once more, assuming that further testing with my primary care provider shows that I'm OK. Well, it turns out that it doesn't work that way. FDA regulations state that a single positive test results for Hepatitis prevents that person from ever donating again, even if that one test is followed by 1000 consecutive negative results; for that reason, I am now on the deferred donor list. Thank you very much, have a nice day, please do NOT come again.

As you'd expect, I was on the phone to my doctor immediately after that call and got scheduled for an immediate exam and new round of blood tests.

The wait since that first phone conversation has been strange. On the one hand, I've felt pretty confident that I was OK: I'm not in any of the high risk groups, my blood is being tested regularly since I'd been a loyal donor for many years, and I've been getting annual physicals since I hit 40 and the most recent one was back in January which showed no problems on any of the blood work, including on the liver panel.

On the other hand, I was already trying to rank the most likely sources for the transmission, with my mind constantly going back and forth between the new tattoos I got last fall (at a licensed, reputable shop, so that didn't seem very likely) and the many blood donations (even less likely than the tattoos). Plus, I was trying to figure out my next steps, should the results come back positive. I'd go through a couple of minutes of thinking like that before I'd remind myself that the odds were extremely high that a false positive on the hospital's test was causing a huge amount of unnecessary activity and worry. But then my mind would wander back into that whole dark territory once more and I'd have to try to refocus again. And on and on.

That is, until late this afternoon, when I got the call from my doctor that the test results came back fine: I don't have Hepatitis C and there was nothing at all indeterminate about those results.

So that just leaves me pissed off. Yes, I should be relieved, and I am, but more than that, I'm angry that I'll never be able to donate blood ever again. I can understand and appreciate erring on the side of caution, but this just seems ridiculous to me. Test my blood every other month for the next year, during which time I'm deferred as a precaution: that seems like a sensible solution. But a lifetime ban is just over the top, especially for a regular, faithful donor and especially considering that this is due to a single result that may have come from a botched test or from testing an accidentally contaminated blood specimen. Utterly ridiculous.


  1. Dude,
    That really really sucks... I am appalled that this is 'standard procedure'. Really appalled.

  2. Sheffus -
    Folks at the FDA finally agree with you on this one and reversed course. I just got my clearance: