Dan Rather told me to do it. Well, in a rather oblique, unintentional way, he did. It was early 1987. I was between jobs, just working as a temp until I could find something regular. My future husband and I were enjoying a quiet evening at home, watching the CBS evening news when Dan Rather earnestly urged anyone who had ever had blood transfusions before 1985 to be tested for AIDS. My future husband got up and left the room. I started to cry.
You see, I had had blood transfusions–about 3 or 4 of them–in 1981 when I was being treated for a traumatic injury to my right leg. The hospital was in Oakland, but it’s not like there were no people living with (dying from) AIDS there. HIV and AIDS was all that anybody talked about. “Jokes” that gay stood for “Got AIDS Yet” and screeds that AIDS was God’s wrath brought down on homosexuals proliferated. To have any kind of risk factor was not just a threat for illness but also for stigmatization. Only the innocent–children and hemophiliacs–were the exception, but often times, not even them.
My future husband never told me or asked me to arrange to be tested, but he knew I would. While he was out of the room, I picked up the phone. I called a local clinic in San Francisco, one where they were providing tests anonymously. The nice man I talked to said I probably would be all right since the hospital I went to was in Oakland, not San Francisco, and my transfusions were a few years ago. But it was still a good idea to get tested.
I had a two-month wait for my appointment. It was by far the longest two months of my life.
My future husband (really, there’s a reason why I keep calling him that) and I went to the clinic together at the appointed time. We had to watch a video detailing all the possible risk factors for contracting AIDS. I wanted to crawl under a rock.
- Blood transfusions. Check. Obviously. That’s why I’m here.
- Unprotected sex. Hmmm. Well, I was protected against getting pregnant but … Check.
- Multiple sex partners. Uh oh. I did have a brief wild period …………………….. . Check.
- Having sex with a man who had sex with another man. Damn. But I didn’t know at first ………………………………………… . Check.
- Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll. Of course. (Okay, this wasn’t on the list, but it may as well have been.)
About the only thing I didn’t do was shoot up. Suddenly my history of blood transfusions wasn’t what scared me. It was my own pathetic lifestyle before I settled down with my future husband. A lot of that went on before my accident, before the blood transfusions. Some of it after. None of it pretty.
On the way home after my blood was drawn, I asked my future husband what we would do if I tested positive. The dear, sweet man said he would marry me so I would have health insurance. I stifled a laugh. Chances were the insurance company would find me out and refused to cover me. That was a fairly common occurrence then. I appreciated his sincerity, but I also knew I could never do that to him.
Two weeks later we returned to the clinic.
My future husband was again with me. The clinical aide worker carefully opened the manila folder to read my results. His relief when he said “negative” was so palpable that I had to remark, “You don’t get to say that very often, do you?”
Then I got religion. The religion of donating blood. The AIDS epidemic complicated blood donations because, at that time, if you had any of those risk factors, your blood was not wanted. But people needed blood still. I had a precious, life-giving commodity. I didn’t have much money, but I had plenty of blood.
That year I started donating blood and I’ve been donating ever since. Granted, I’ve gone through some dry spells. And now that I’m older, I have to take an iron supplement before and after my donation, or wait 16 weeks between donations instead of 8.
But it’s something I can’t stop doing. Even though I now have enough blood drive T-shirts to open up my own shop with. Even though I hate needles and sometimes it does hurt (especially that one time when the alcohol hadn’t completely dried … talk about fire in my veins!). Even though I get faint at the sight of blood. I just keep on giving.
Those blood transfusions in 1981 weren’t the last time I needed transfusions. At the least, I’m helping myself. At best, I hope I’m helping others.
Oh, and my future husband. Yes, he became my husband. Took the whole package of bum leg, AIDS scare, sordid history, and all.