Indefinite Deferral

I went to the law school today to donate blood. It’s been a bit more than a year since the last time I went. I had been to India recently, and there is, they tell me a chance I might have malaria. If I don’t develop signs of malaria in the next year, I’m allowed to come back.

Fast-forward to right about now (actually, about 13 hours ago). I walk in, they ask me some preliminary questions (all “no”) they stick my finger (hemoglobin test), take my blood pressure (121/80), etc etc. Then, I answer all the questions — questions which have changed since I have last given blood.

The red cross guidelines now (as of October 2001) state:

who has lived in any European country or combination of countries (including the United Kingdom) for a cumulative total of six months since 1980

The fear is that Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease will slip into the US blood supply. This is understandable. I’d feel better, though, if our blood supply was guarded by something other than some simple questions asked to donors. The nurse who took my information told me that she had turned away 5 people (including me) since they’d opened at 9AM. I arrived at 10:30. I can’t imagine how many people with viable blood they must be turning away.

So, some random person can go to europe for a month, contract CJD, and then donate blood? Which they can’t screen? What? Granted, the likelihood of this is low: According to the CDC, the annual incidence of CJD is “1 case per million persons in the United States.”

Jeez. I’m sortof mad, but I also see their point. They don’t want to infect the blood supply: hence, the restriction. At the same time, I’m not really convinced that their safety measures keep us any safer. What I can say is that they’re keeping a sizeable number of the blood-donating public from donating.

It doesn’t help that, as a country, we’re complete asshats about it. the US is refusing to introduce mandatory BSE testing of all slaughtered cows, a point of contention with the japanese:

Although Japanese consumers are saying they want to buy beef that has undergone blanket testing, the U.S. is saying that this is unnecessary and that they should buy U.S. beef that has only been checked if the cow was at least 30 months old.

A US firm (with its business interests in mind) “suggested that blanket testing only be introduced for beef for export to Japan.” the US denied the request. Ostensibly, because it would put undue burden on other firms wanting to sell to Japan. Which won’t buy our untested beef.

Is this the answer to our blood shortage? Or our (kind-of-nonexistent) CJD/BSE problem? Is this how to eradicate a disease? Especially when the mortality rate is below influenza (36,000 deaths per year), and almost any other disease I care to name. I’m not convinced.

hospital stays (or, what brown can do for you)

On Labor Day of this year (2004), I flew to Queens, NY on short notice. My father had collapsed at the US Open. He spent a good chunk of that sunday on an operating table, after which he was taken to the ICU.

My sister and I flew out the following day. My dad had a subdural hematoma that appeared more or less spontaneously.

It’s a scary thing to see a parent in the hospital. We should never see our parents helpless. We should never see our mother cry because our father hasn’t been awake in days. They’re the ones that bandage our knees, feed us medicine, and give us hot chocolate when we’ve had a bad day. We never really see them sick. I would suppose that as they older, they’ll start to get sick more. That prospect is frightening beyond belief now.

It got me thinking. We talk often enough about the things that man can do: war, rape, bombs so big you can see them from miles away. It’s the worst we’re capable of, and it’s scary. There’s something even scarier though: The worst that God is capable of. I don’t mean to say that he’s not good and he’s not merciful: I’ve seen both in my life. Still, the things we can’t explain? The ones that make us feel completely helpless? That’s all Him, too. And, maybe it’s a test: for the wife, or the son, the daughter, or even the son-in-law. Maybe –hopefully– we learn something from it. There are valuable lessons all around. Is that the way to learn them, though? I’m unconvinced.

It was strange: For someone who’s kind of grown up in hospitals, I can’t recall ever spending so much time in one. My mother would wake up in the morning, head to the hospital around 8AM. I would shower and head over at 9AM with my sister and her husband. My mother would say the rosary. We’d stay essentially the whole day. At home, we’d say the rosary. The next morning, we’d lather. We’d rinse. We’d repeat.

We made friends there. Other families in the SICU waiting room were in much the same state: waiting, visiting, making phone calls, taking naps. You can tell how someone is doing by watching their family in the waiting room. Almost to the minute.

We made other friends too. My father is Malayalee, and New York, apparently, has a number of them. One of my father’s medical school classmates lived nearby to the hospital: he dropped by when he heard. A Malayalee nurse (who goes to church with the classmate) introduced my mother to the rabbi who gave us an apartment to stay in “for as long as we needed” and cooked food for us. Another nurse next door befriended my mother. A random cardiologist who had apparently heard about my dad through the grapevine, told us that if we needed something we could call him.

It’s nice to know that an all-pervasive network like that exists — that if you’re in trouble you can get help no matter where you are. I guess, in the end, there is a lesson to be learned: we are helpless, we are useless, we are completely at a loss, but we can do a lot as long as we’re surrounded by good people. And, thank god, that’s easier to do than I might’ve guessed.

out of order

I had meant to write an entry on the week I unexpectedly spent in New York, and then another on the wedding I was at last weekend. One of them was quite excellent, the other one I could do without.

Anyway, I spoke to my father today: his speech isn’t too good – but he managed complete sentences. He still needs speech therapy, but he’s slowly getting his strength back.

It’s a strange feeling: hearing your father’s voice shouldn’t choke you up. It shouldn’t bring tears to your eyes. It’s good that he’s recovering, but bad that it happened in the first place. I should be thankful to whatever gods I believe in, but instead I’m a little heartsick. There was no rhyme or reason, just happenstance.

emergencies

I’ll be in New York for the next week. My father is ill, and in the hospital. He’s just (a few hours) out of the operating room and resting.

So, umm, if you really need to talk to me I’ll have my cellphone.

If you’re so inclined, a prayer would be nice. If not, a simple thought will do.