On March 12 I donated blood. Part of the reason for my blood donation was to check if my vital signs were within my normal range.

Measuring height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and hemoglobin are important measures of health, but a poor substitute for testing for COVID-19. Perhaps I am one of the 80% of the people that do not have pronounced symptoms.

I began donating blood in the mid-1970s. A colleague where I worked organized regular blood drives. My blood type is O neg.

I would donate every eight weeks. It was a time when other colleagues were getting sick and dying. AIDS was ravaging the gay community in San Francisco. AIDS was considered “God’s Curse” of the gay lifestyle by many fundamentalist and evangelical Christian churches.

Added to the blood donor application was a question “Have you ever had sex with another male?” If you answered “yes,” you were not eligible to give blood.

Blood Bank of Hawaii President CEO Kim-Anh Nguyen MD PHD holds whole blood.

A package of donated blood at the Blood Bank of Hawaii in 2018.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

As AIDS raged through Africa, another question was added. Have you ever had sex with anyone from a country south of the Sahara Desert?

My wife was born in South Africa. My “yes” answer to this question meant that I was not eligible to donate blood, even though I had given well over 40 pints before the question was added and I had been married to my wife for two decades.

‘Abundance Of Caution’

After about three years the blood bank sent notification that I was again eligible to donate. The rules had changed.
Still another question was added about time spent in Great Britain and Europe when cattle feed resulted in Mad Cow Disease (the dreaded prions). I have not been to Europe, so this concern did not apply.

My blood donation routine (every eight weeks and a call from the blood bank) was changed again. This time it was the result of my travel.

In 2013 I traveled to China to give seminars to students in Beijing and Wuhan. My hotel in Wuhan was on East Lake.
I like to walk for exercise and to reduce stress. I became bewildered and could not find the main entrance to the hotel. I walked along the empty boulevard for about two miles. Only a single, solitary bike raced along through the area.

A gentleman finally appeared and motioned me to the entrance of the hotel. (The only Chinese words I know are “ni hau” and “xie xie”). I hope I thanked the man for his kindness and proceeded to the hotel.

Upon returning to the U.S. I advised the blood bank of my travel. Wuhan was identified as high risk for malaria. I was deferred from donating blood for another year.

Zika came and went. I was not at risk, though Puerto Rico, Florida and other areas were identified in the information that you should read before donating blood.

Many of the restrictions that were placed on my blood donations were the result of an “abundance of caution.” So I was curious. Would I be able to donate blood with all the concern about transmission of COVID-19?

I was in Wuhan in October 2013. I probably went to the market where live animals were sold. I mistakenly ate partially cooked coagulated gelatin blood from a hot pot in Beijing and got Montezuma’s revenge (or was it Mao’s revenge?).

Pictures of Alexander Haig adorned the wall of a restaurant in Beijing where I was treated to a dinner of certified organically grown Peking Duck.

Who certifies livestock as organically grown in China? One of the students had the organic certification sent to her home address. I departed before it arrived.

I thought that any one of these activities might trigger a “yes” answer to a new question. But there were no new questions.

I pray that COVID-19 is not “God’s Curse” on dotards.

I admitted to using aspirin within the last 48 hours to reduce inflammation. The phlebotomist said that was an acceptable answer. There were no stickers to affix to the form indicating that my blood was safe. My vital signs were within my normal range.

My blood was taken. I pray that COVID-19 is not “God’s Curse” on dotards. The Food and Drug Administration must change donation rules and procedures.

Priority should be given to test blood donors for COVID-19 before their blood is used. The nation’s blood supply would remain safe.

People without symptoms could be tested for COVID-19 and donate much needed blood.

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About the Author

  • Robert Boesch
    Robert Boesch is a retired civil servant. He has served as a staff scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and as the manager of the Pesticide Program with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. He has donated more than 100 pints of blood in Hawaii and more than 50 pints in San Francisco.