Gare du Palais Railway
Station, Québec City
I tried breaking with my regular schedule to do something different today--but failed.
Over the past two terms of this program I've held myself to a disciplined routine: Weekdays, I attend class from 8h30 to 15h15. Three times a week I swim laps for exactly 45 minutes at PEPS, the campus gym. Wednesdays, I attend an evening "conversation cafe" at a local community center. Fridays, I meet for lunch with a law student from Haiti for an informal one-on-one language exchange chatting in English and French at the building cafeteria. On the weekend I take care of grocery shopping and homework. I haven't had such a regular calendar of activities since... well, I don't believe I've ever scripted out my every hour of my every day as precisely I do now.
Announcements posted around campus inspired me to make a departure from routine. A blood drive was held at PEPS today. Surrendering a pint of my blood would be fair trade for allowing myself to skip swimming laps for one day. But, it's been varied whether I've been eligible to donate over recent years when in the U.S.. I hoped the requirements in Québec would be different from those that turned me away when I last tried to give blood in Seattle.
The woman on the other side of an intake table set up in one of PEPS' many gyms seemed dubious even before we got to the question that had disqualified me the last time.
"You're a first-time donor, then?", she asked me.
"Yes. No. I have donated in the past. In my home country. But... it's a long story."
"Just which country do you come from... ?" she looked at me uncertainly.
I suppose seeing features untypical for most Québecois and hearing an unfamiliar accent she could have presumed that I came from most anywhere. There are lots of regions of the planet where spending time, whether recently or not, will make you ineligible to donate blood.
After hearing I was from the U.S. she still seemed concerned--but only that I might need somebody to translate the intake questions into English. I insisted that wouldn't be neccessary--filling everything out myself would be good practice for my French. She handed me a long, technical form.
I was right. It didn't matter that it was all in French. I'd seen the same form enough times in the past that it wouldn't have mattered if it had been written in some completely different other language. I knew which question disqualified me the last time so ignored the initial ones meant to screen out people who might potentially have contracted HIV or mad-cow disease and skipped straight to question 9: Have you ever had malaria?
I indicated that I had. The woman handling my intake had no idea whether that disqualified me. She called to somebody else to ask whether I was eligible. Another woman quickly walked up and gave a firm and definitive "Non. Pour la vie."
I thought it was a myth that all strains of malaria are incurable and stay in the bloodstream forever. When getting discharged from hospital long ago the doctors told me I was cured. I thought that couldn't be right so asked them about relapses. No, they insisted those would never come as I was cured. And they never did.
The restrictions keep changing. I was allowed to donate over a period of years not all that long ago. Can my blood really still be tainted after being asymptomatic for two decades? Did whoever added that question to the intake form fall for an urban legend? A darker thought: could blood I donated in years past have passed malaria on to somebody else? I suppose donation centers know a lot more about the matter than I do. I just feel bad that I'm not allowed do something that feels like a worthy thing to do.
I put back on my coat, cap, and scarf and walked out of the gym. The young university volunteer holding a clipboard who had directed me over to the intake tables just a few minutes prior gave a puzzled look as I exited.
"What happened? Is everything okay?", she asked.
"Me, I'm fine. But I can't give blood today. Or for the rest of my life, evidently."
"It's because I had malaria 20 years ago."
I don't think her clipboard had an approrpriate stock response to potential donors who had just been turned away and told they were banned for life.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Thanks for coming. Have a nice day!"
I shuffled upstairs and into the locker room. No blood donation meant no pass on swimming laps, I decided. I changed into my swimming trunks and stuck with my regular routine in the pool.
I'll have to check to see if I become eligible again in another few years. Wait for Blacklisted III or, more hopefully, an entry that needs a totally different title.