Monday, January 07, 2013

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 50

The Time Mookie Tested (False) Positive For Syphilis

Have you ever donated plasma?  I must tell you that it is easy money if you have 90 minutes to blow twice a week, and are not scared off by the thought or sight of blood and big f'n needles. The entertainment factor in a busy plasma center is easily a "10" if it is getting close to the weekend too.  The reason being is that most of the people that have 90 minutes to blow twice a week, and will subject themselves to needles for $30-$40 bucks a week are typically college kids and weird unemployed people. While I fell into neither of those categories, I found myself in the situation of needing an easy $30 a week and a bit of time on my hands to do it.

If you have never donated plasma before, let me fill you in on the process...
After your initial 2 1/2 hour appointment (where you sit around, get a very lame health assessment, and they document your personal information) you get the chance to attempt to donate plasma.  I say "attempt" because every time you go to donate plasma you have to pass a bunch of little health tests before they will take your bodily fluids for money. They take your temperature (orally), take your blood pressure, and prick your finger for blood to make sure you have enough iron. If you fail any of these tests, you can't donate AND you don't get paid. Something as simple as drinking an iced beverage right before coming into the center can screw the whole thing. This happened to me once where my mouth was still cold from the soda I had just drank, and it caused my temperature to read too low.  I protested, but to no avail.  It was pretty much bullshit.

If you pass all of this, you are cleared to donate. They send you into big room with rows and rows of contoured vinyl couch/chairs, and next to each chair is a weird looking machine.  This machine goes through a variety of cycles where it will draw the blood out of your body from a needle they stick in your arm, remove the plasma, and then push the plasma-less blood back into your body through the same needle.  It doesn't hurt (other than getting stuck by a needle), and if the needle is properly inserted you can't feel anything.  You don't know if the blood is coming or going unless you pay attention to clicks and noises the machine makes as it goes through it's cycles of drawing and pushing your blood.

The entertainment I previously mentioned comes from the possible side-effects of donating plasma.  Some people are apt to get light headed, pass out, or even go into some sort of seizure.  This is usually related to the person's diet, and what they did or did not eat prior to donating plasma.  Obviously doing this on an empty stomach is a no-no.  During the three months I donated plasma, I watched more than one person pass out, and all the "plasma techs" come running over and try to stabilize the plasma donor.  Once the donor comes around, they are more embarrassed than anything.

Then you have the plasma techs who suck at phlebotomy and venipuncture. In other words, they have difficulty in finding and/or sticking a person's veins to draw blood.  I saw this one girl get stuck 2 or 3 times in each arm while they were trying to find a vein.  They never found one, and reluctantly sent her on her way.  I'm not sure she got paid for her time, but I bet she bruised up real nice.  You learn real quick who the good and bad techs are, but sometimes you can't help who you get.  Occasionally you will see the results of an improperly placed needle, and someone will have blood all over the place.  Its pretty classy when it happens.

My own personal experiences in donating were uneventful.  They were always able to tap my big veins pretty easily, and I never had any ill-effects from the donation process.  That is of course until what turned out to be my LAST donation.  Just as I was finishing up, they took samples of my blood before they cut me loose.  It was standard procedure that they do this to everyone every three months to make sure their suppliers of plasma were clean and good.  I wasn't worried by this as I am not a drug using prostitute.

I scheduled my appointment times for the next week and headed out.

I arrived the following week, and signed into the computer to get into the queue for pre-donation testing.  The computer told me there was an issue and I would need to speak with a lab tech. WTH?  So I get a tech's attention and ask what is going on.  She looks up my chart, makes a face, and says they found an issue with my lab work.  My account is in a "holding" status, and I will be unable to donate until the hold is resolved.  The tech looks at me with this troubled - but yet sympathetic look, and hands me an official looking form.  She says I will need to call into the center with the number on the form, and speak with the nurse .  Um Ok.  So I leave disgruntled at the fact I am being screwed out of $20, but also confused at what the problem is.

When I got back to work I called the number on the form and hoped I could resolve the matter.  It rang several times until it dumped into a voice mailbox for the "head nurse" at the plasma center.  So I leave a message telling her my name, my donor id, and that I am calling about the alleged issue with my blood work.  I hang up and can't wait to hear what the deal is.  A day goes by before the head nurse finally calls me back. She asks if I can come into the center to meet and discuss the matter. I say "Sure, I'll be up after work about 5."  She tells me that's fine, and we cordially concluded.

I called Megan and told her what the nurse said, and that I had to stop at the plasma center on the way home.  It was apparent Megan was just as curious as I was as to what the hell was going on.

I arrived at the plasma center, and told a tech that I was there to see the head nurse.  The tech disappeared for a minute, and then came back and told me to take a seat.  Eventually the head nurse called my name and asked me into her office.  She starts talking to me and tries to explain what happened. She then proceeds to hand me a letter that they were going to send me.  She says that the letter "says it all," and she is going to read it to me as I read along.

It starts out explaining the need for the blood draw....blah blah blah.....standards and  Then it says, "during the initial test of your blood, our test produced a positive result for syphilis."

Wait. What? Syphilis.  Syphilis?  Seriously?

The nurse goes on to explain that they did further specific testing and those tests came back "negative" for syphilis.  Therefore the initial test produced what they called a "false-positive" result.

She and the letter explained that the initial test is very sensitive to various things, and apparently this false-positive thing was not uncommon.  This makes me feel a little better to know this, especially the fact that I don't have syphilis.  However...she tells me that it is the center's "policy" that if a test comes back with a positive (even a proven false-positive), that donor is no longer able to donate plasma at that center again.  Ever.

Well, this is bullshit.  I was just told that I tested positive for syphilis, but that I don't really have syphilis, and because this place uses a shitty and flaky test, I can no longer donate plasma.  Needless to say my emotions were on a roller coaster here.  The lady apologized and said she understood if I was embarrassed or anything, and that I shouldn't be since I definitely didn't have syphilis.  She apologized for the "unfortunate circumstance" of basically being banned from the plasma center, but that was their policy and it was not up for consideration.  Well F.

So I leave and start driving home still going through a variety of emotions.  One of my uncertainties lied in the fact I was going to have to tell my wife the reason for all of this crap, and the fact I was banned from the plasma center.  "Hey guess what honey, I tested positive for an STD!"

Seriously, who gets syphilis?  I have never heard of anyone getting syphilis in the recent decade.

So I call my wife, and she asks what the deal is.  I tell her flat-out:  "Well, I had a false-positive for syphilis."

"WHAT????" is was what I heard on the other end.

I explained the deal, and after a variety of questions regarding the fact if I am ho-bag or not, we hung up.  Thankfully my wife trusts me and did not accuse me of being an STD carrying jerk-wad.  Well, she did.... but it was in good humor.  It still comes up from time to time and she likes to make fun of me.  Yeah.  Hilarious.

Just in case there was ANY lingering suspicion or confusion about the matter, I had my doctor do a blood draw to check for syphilis at my next doctor's appointment.  My doctor and his nurse were quite  amused at my predicament, but also quite understanding and reassuring about all of it.  It of course came back "negative," and provided me some relief about the deal.  But I was not satisfied with being told I couldn't donate plasma anymore.

I decided to pen an articulate - but yet scathing - letter to the plasma center appealing their verdict identifying me as a "dirty donor."   I re-iterated the fact their own tests proved that I did not have syphilis, and how my own private test done by my physician proved that I was in fact NOT a dirty donor.  When I was done, I felt I had I made a pretty solid argument that their testing and rules were faulty in premise and practice.

However, they sent me a letter back a few weeks letter saying their decision is based on center policy, and that they have standards and safety measures to follow.  It did little to address my comments, and basically said "its our way or the highway."

Yeah screw you plasma center.

Miss a previous episode?  Click HERE!


  1. You are not alone. I had the same thing happen at Biolife in Greensboro. Went to the county health clinic and of course not positive. The doctor there said they probably get one person a week that consistently get false positives on the test they use.


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