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Do I Have Mad Cow Disease?

do i have mad cow disease - Carolyn Daughters

I tried to donate blood, and the hospital refused based on my extensive travels throughout the UK. Do I have mad cow disease? Since when?

My Failed Blood Donation Attempt

Blood donations are low. Dangerously low. The American Red Cross is experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade.

So I called several hospitals and found one that was taking blood donations. I answered a series of questions over the phone and made a donation appointment.

Anytime I donate blood, I complete all necessary paperwork and then roll up my sleeve. This time was different. I completed the paperwork, rolled up my sleeve, and waited some time. Finally, a nurse came over, not to take blood but to read me the riot act.

“There’s a blood shortage,” she told me. “Everyone’s working long hours. We don’t have time for this.”

The “this” in question was my ineligibility to donate blood.

See, I’ve spent a lot of time in the UK, including several months in the 1990s. As I learned from the nurse, it turns out that I could have Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (commonly called mad cow). And I could have been passing it on to others through blood donations.

Do I Have Mad Cow Disease?

I’ve donated blood twice a year on average for the past 30 years. Let’s conservatively say I’ve donated blood 50 times in my life. That’s a good number of times, right?

At least 50 times. That’s what I told the nurse, who shifted from shock to anger so quickly that I thought she might try to have me arrested.

“That’s impossible,” she said.

“It’s not,” I said. “Maybe the mad cow requirement is new?”

“It’s not,” she said.

As she stared me down, I thought about the 45 minutes it had taken me to drive to the hospital in morning traffic and the two client meetings I had rescheduled, all so I could learn that I had been possibly infecting large swaths of the population with mad cow disease for decades.

“We don’t have time for this,” she reminded me.

Making time for “this,” the nurse thrust a notepad at me and told me to list the place and dates where I had given blood in the past. I told her I had given blood at my undergraduate university, my graduate university, the university where I taught, the Pentagon, corporate workplaces, community drives, blood mobile buses, hospitals in at least four states, and possibly a dozen other places besides. Though I wouldn’t have believed it possible, her eyes got wider. She pointed to the notepad, handed me a pen, and stormed off.

I spent about 20 minutes writing down what information I could recall. The gaping holes in my memory (and my mobile calendar) far exceeded the useful information I recorded.

Do I have mad cow disease? Is the disease dormant in my body? Have I inadvertently caused more harm than good? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself ever since I left the hospital that morning.

My primary care physician has since told me that the answer to all three questions is “unlikely.” But unlikely means possible. I’ll tell you what. It’s a lot to swallow.

How did this happen. And why? As I mentioned in a recent post, over time “why” becomes “how do I learn how to live without ever knowing ‘why.’”

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