“I’ve been avoiding sharing my post-COVID story over the last week or so because I’ve struggled to find the words.
I’ve found the words now. In fact, I’ve found too many of them.
Two weeks ago, I tested negative for COVID-19 at Mt. Sinai after making a full recovery. A few days later, samples of my blood they had taken tested positive for high levels of antibodies. They told me that I appear to be a prime candidate for plasma donation.
I was subsequently put through two separate (but identical) rounds of donor screening questions. I answered the questions honestly and was scheduled an appointment for me to donate my plasma.
When I showed up to my appointment, my temperature was taken and I was allowed into the waiting room. There were several other staff members and donors around as they collected our ID’s and asked if we had blood donor cards.
When they got to me, I was asked if I had one.
‘I do not,’ I responded.
Then, I was asked if I have ever donated blood before.
‘Not since I was 18. I haven’t really been able to. I’m excited, and a little nervous.’
I was then asked why I hadn’t ‘really been able to’ donate before.
Now, at this point I ‘was’ excited and genuinely nervous. And after multiple rounds of screening questions, to which I was able to respond truthfully, I assumed I was just a guy getting ready to donate my plasma.
I volunteered: ‘I’m a gay man.’
The tone. The facial expression (even with a mask on). The very temperature in the room appeared to change.
They responded in a terse manner.
‘Well, you won’t be donating today.’
Shocked, I realized I had just volunteered information they otherwise had no right to know. Then, desperate for what was about to happen, not be what was about to happen, I asked for clarification.
‘You won’t be donating today.’
I felt my blood begin to boil but I also felt it filling my face, as I began to blush. I decided to offer the one genuine piece of information I had. I hoped it might rescue me, even though I knew I was surrounded by staff members who must know the rules and regulations better than I.
‘If this is about me being gay, the FDA recently relaxed their restriction on gay and bi men donating…’
I was interrupted.
‘I don’t know what you think you know, but you will not be donating, here, today.’
They walked away to another staff member, 6 or 10 feet away. In hushed tones, they spoke closely, while gesturing in my direction. It was then that I realized/remembered this entire exchange was happening within easy earshot of 5-6 staff members and at least one or two other donors.
I wasn’t asked any additional screening questions. There was no nuance; there was no discretion. This was explicit.
Over the next 90 minutes, I was led to a small office where the Manager of Special Donor Services alternately spoke at/to/with me. I yelled, I argued, and I’ll admit that I cried.
It was made transparently clear to me that while the screening questions had been updated (they made it clear they’d reverted those questions) they had made a mistake in allowing me an appointment. That while the FDA has announced (slightly) relaxed restrictions on accepting blood/plasma donations from gay/bi/MSM, the New York Blood Center had not yet elected to observe those new criteria on an administrative level.
‘It’s not like flipping a light switch,’ they explained to me. They had computers to update and staff to retrain before they could accept me for the healthy qualified donor that I am.
They then tell me I‘ll likely be able to donate in the fall when they’ve been told to expect another wave of the virus. Exciting news for me; in just a few short months I’ll still be me, but they and their computers will deem me an acceptable person.
I’ve rarely felt as embarrassed (or angry or deflated) as I did last week. Being told that the still-too-uncommon help I can offer during a global crisis is unwelcome, simply because of who I am. In this city. In New York City. In 2020.
I’m far from the only one experiencing this and far worse right now; here and across the country. Willing to respond in a time of crisis. And yet deemed nonessential.”
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