Saturday, June 14, 2014

(Not) Giving Blood

Today I learned that the vast majority of British expats in Italy aren't allowed to give blood.

On Thursday I got a leaflet in the post, Avis - Italy's equivalent of the National Blood Service - would be setting up camp in a piazza about five minutes from my house on Saturday for people to give blood. Great I thought, it was something I'd wanted to do for years but never had the guts to actually go and do it.

Bright and early this morning I left the house after having a light breakfast as instructed on the leaflet, and went over to the Avis van in the piazza. I had to fill in a couple of forms with my personal details, and there was a long questionnaire which would highlight anything that could exclude me from giving blood. The usual stuff about medication, tattoos, recent visits abroad... There was one question I found a bit puzzling. Had I stayed in the UK between 1980 and 1996 for more than six months or received a blood transfusion in the UK during that time? Well, I was born in 1986 and lived in the UK until I moved to Italy in 2008, bar my Erasmus year. I tried to think about what the dates could refer to, a long-forgotten scandal involving tainted blood products? I was only 10 in 1996, so what could it have been? I'd read and read everything I could find on Avis's site, so that I had all the information I could get about the process, and there had been no mention of this at all. I put a cross in the 'Sì' box.

I completed all the forms and was taken inside the van. The doctor arrived, and after seeing my very un-Italian name on the form, asked me what nationality I was. British. When I was I born? 1986. How long had I been in Italy? Five years, I moved in 2008. So I'd obviously lived in the UK for more than six months during the period in question.

Then it all came out. Mad cow disease.

Even though I was sana come un pesce, as the doctor said - literally 'healthy as a fish', it indicates a perfect state of health - I couldn't donate blood because of the mad cow disease virus. Anybody - not just British nationals, but even Italians - who lived in Britain during that 16 year period are unable to give blood in Italy. I was so small when it affected the UK that I couldn't even remember the exact period the virus was around, how was it possible that Italy was still paranoid about it?

I felt my eyes starting to well up. I'd had such a bad week, but I wanted to turn it around by doing something good for my host country. I left the van after being thanked by the doctor for my willingess to donate feeling humiliated.

It's been The Week of Absurdities this week, even for Italy I've seen and heard things that go way above the normal level of Italian absurd. I understand the need to be careful, obviously, but who even thinks about mad cow disease anymore? And don't they screen blood products before giving them to patients? I've had a blood test in Italy, and it came back clear. No strange infections, diseases, or anything. Just a slightly high white cell count because it was winter and I had a bit of a cold.

So to Avis, if you're going to refuse perfectly healthy and willing donors, you've got no right to complain next time blood stocks are low. And even if you do change the rules in the future, you'll never have me.

9 comments: said...

How annoying! I know exactly how you feel. It took me AGES to overcome all doubts and get my ass to the donor service, only to be told that I can´t donate because of a tattoo. I was really angry back than. Meanwhile they changed the policy, obviously because in times when everybody and their mother hav a tattoo, they would get no donations at all. But I never returned after this first and bad event.

You sound a bit sad. Sometimes all crazyness comes together in a single day or a strange week. They may be knots in the fabric of space and time, or simply people just act crazy because it´s hot. Don´t let yourself be dragged down by this sillyness.

Nerys said...

So you understand exactly where I'm coming from... Yes, I'm sad, I was heartbroken this morning. It's a crazy country, and sometimes it gets too crazy and illogical to bear. said...

Yeah I can understand you, or at least I suppose I do. I fell in love with this country in 2010 and since then I think about adopting it (or getting adopted by it). I kind of love the italian way of handle some topics, but other things just drive me plain nuts. Right now, being back here for three weeks, I learned about regualtions for startups. It´s just plain crazy. There are also some day-to-day-Habits which are hard to bear... including the parking :-)

Canedolia said...

It's the same in France and I think several other countries as well. I'm not an expert, but I guess the reason is that you have to do different tests on the blood for different diseases, and as the rule probably doesn't eliminate that many people in France or Italy, it's easier for them not to take the blood than run the tests on every sample. And CJD takes decades to produce any symptoms. (I'm a few years older than you and I remember how scary it sounded when the news came out!)

I find that I go through phases in France where everything is going well, then every so often all the complicated problems happen at one time. I hope you have a better week this week!

Nerys said...

Thanks. You're the first British person who hasn't died laughing about it. Oh well, their loss, I get to keep my perfectly fine blood and they lose a donor.

Jenny P said...

Nerys, it's not just Italy. You wouldn't be able to donate blood in Australia either, for exactly the same reason.

Hope this week is better.


creepo said...

As you said...their loss. What type are you by the way? Don't tell me O- that is the weirdest type of all

Kate said...

Just chiming in to say I've had the same experience in Australia, where as Jenny P says it works the same way... Considering how many Australians live in the UK at one time or another, that must exclude quite a large proportion of Australians as well as lots of British.

Manuela said...

It's the same in the UK. I moved to London from Roma 10 years ago, but I still cannot give blood here for the same reason. :(