My desire to give blood didn’t stem from an altruistic urge to save lives, but rather from a morbid fascination with the idea of watching blood exit my arm through a plastic tube, getting a little dizzy in the process. If I was going to go the full hog and faint, then that would just be an extra bonus.
When I found out that the NHS were holding a blood donation day at my University, I booked an appointment straightaway. I turned up to my appointment today, fully fed and hydrated, and everything looked like it would run smoothly. The inappropriately named Great Hall on campus had been furnished with several hospital chairs, an improvised reception area, several overweight nurses and a waiting area in which we were instructed to drink water and fill out routine forms. I complied, and was ticking ‘no’ boxes to my heart’s content — I’m not HIV positive, I’ve never had malaria, I’ve never accept money or drugs for sex, I’ve never slept with anyone who has accepted money or drugs for sex (hopefully), and neither of my parents are from South America — but oh, wait, I’ve had sexual relations with a man in the past 12 months. I can’t give blood, by law.
In a rush of outrage, I lied about my sexuality, tweeted against the policy and sent my friends texts for some supportive protestation, all the while chugging the pint of water which they gave me and failing to concentrate on a book. It’s 2013; hadn’t they got the memo that gay is okay? Had the NHS, like me, just watched Angels in America and grown belatedly anxious about the risk of AIDs?
By the time a nurse with a mock-Rihanna red side fringe and blue overalls called my name, I’d been festering in anger for half an hour and my bladder was at the point of bursting. She took me into a booth walled with those portable curtains which you find in hospitals and sat me down to ask screening questions. Firstly, she asked if I had any questions about the form which I’d filled out, and with my LGBTQ crusader hat on, I asked her why there was an ‘archaic’ rule excluding sexually active gay men from blood donation. After asking me what archaic meant, she explained that, statistically, gay men are more likely to contract HIV and AIDs, and that for this reason they aren’t allowed to donate.
“A lot of gay men do riots… wait… not riots…”
“Yeah, protests, about how they have safe sex in loving relationships and aren’t promiscuous and stuff.”
Maybe I’m being dramatic of paranoid or something, but I could see in her eyes that she’d worked out my secret (which is something I hadn’t needed to keep secret for over two years, before this). I felt like I’d gone undercover for a BBC documentary exposing homophobia in the healthcare system. The nurse was kind and talented with small talk, so, as is usually the case, my fury evaporated pretty fast and I just nodded along and found myself in a conversation about the law and business degree which she’d dropped out of before becoming a nurse. Sufficiently uncomfortable already, I was then asked if I had any previously diagnosed medical conditions. I told her that I have Gilbert’s Syndrome (which most people already know, because I have a tiresome habit of bringing it into conversation wherever possible and using stories about fainting to fill awkward silences with new acquaintances). I told her that I combat the symptomatic fatigue and fainting with a careful low-carb diet, and she told me excitedly how she’s doing the same thing to lose weight. She asked me if I was fat before I changed my eating habits, and for some reason I just let out a kind of stifled laugh-cough and looked shiftily at the floor, which is the sort of behaviour that leads a lot of people to think I’m planning to rob them.
The nurse had never heard of Gilbert’s Syndrome, so she asked somebody to check whether it would prevent me from donating. I’d already been told that it would be fine, provided I wasn’t jaundiced at the time (another cheerful symptom of Gilbert’s). “Fine!” I thought, “I’ve never even been jaundiced!” The second nurse came back from her research mission and sat in front of me. She smiled and examined the corner of my eyes. Too yellow. I was jaundiced, and I couldn’t give blood anyway. “But what beautiful eyes!”