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On the Monday after Thanksgiving I returned to sell plasma around 2 p.m. The center is busy, there are lines of people waiting to check in and to see the not-nurses/screeners who OK or deny our donation suitability. I get in the queue for the check-in kiosks. 20 minutes later I type my ID # and present my thumbprint to be scanned  into one of the three kiosk computer terminals. The screen identifies me, but instead of popping up a screen of 35 questions like “Do you currently reside in a home with an individual who has hepatitis?” the computer screen flashes “Client not appropriate for kiosk, declined. Proceed to XYZ intake.” I get in line for the not-nurses. 10 minutes later, I am sitting in a cubicle with one of the screeners.

“The computer said I wasn’t appropriate to do my questions and that I needed to come see you” I tell the somewhat big-boned not-nurse whose name-tag says “Beatrice.” * I am growing a little concerned.

Beatrice: Uh-Huh

Me: What does that mean?

Beatrice: Scan your thumb for me

Beatrice looks at her screen, grunts, scrolls down, squints, types something

Beatrice: Belinda*, come look at this

Belinda, who is also larger, walks up and looks at the screen

Beatrice: He has to see the MSF, right?

Belinda: Yep, sure does

I am studying the two women’s faces during this exchange, looking for a clue of some kind, what does that screen say about me? Am I sick? What’s wrong? What’s a MSF?

Beatrice: Mr. Jernigan, I also notice the large bruise on your arm

Me: Yeah, Shaquana did that the last time I came to donate.

Beatrice: Well I have to tell them you have it, you understand?

Beatrice: Lavon!* Come look at this bruise

Lavon floats over. He is wearing perfume of some flavor, not cologne…definitely perfume

Lavon: Girl he looks fine, he can donate…you see the bruise is all yellow colored, that means it  ain’t new

Shante Sashay Away!

Beatrice: Ok Mr. Jernigan, you have to see the MSF. Go to the back waiting room and someone will call you

I make my way to the back of the building to another waiting area, where almost all the seats are full. On this day I am wearing a short-sleeve pink Polo shirt. In 2010 or 1999 I had the confidence to wear pink without worry or concern, as pink makes a statement and draws attention when a man wears it, all good. In this nomenclature on this day, the brothers around me apparently weren’t feeling the pink. Lavon is at the counter talking all loud about the club they had went to and how fine the the men were. One of the men sitting directly across from me looks directly at me as he is listening to Lavon. He says to the man seated to my left “I ain’t got no time for this faggot bullshit. ” The man next to me agrees that he doesn’t have time for it either. I roll my eyes and tune them out.

So I’m sitting and waiting. I slowly but steadily get more and more stressed out. I know my ears are bright red. I am rehashing what just happened, my kiosk denial, Beatrice’s facial expressions when she pulled me up on her computer, Belinda’s matter-of-fact appraisal of what had to be done with me.

What if I’m sick, HIV positive? Or have Hepatitis, or Lupus, or Polio?  West Nile? Trichinosis? Cancer? Heartworms? Cat Scratch Fever? I hate ignorant cats

What would I do if this MSF person told me I was HIV-positive? (Deep down I know it’s not a possibility, I have never ever had unsafe sex, except with my ex) but I have been one notch below suicidal for months now, depressed, unhappy, no energy…shuffling along, head down, pessimistic. That’s with the understanding that I was healthy, in body if not spirit. Would I kill myself? How would I do it? Sleeping pills and a walk into the ocean…leap from a tall building…one of those two definitely. I only have a few sleeping pills though…I would have to schedule a Dr.’s visit  to have my new guy write a script, the office visit will cost money, getting the script filled will cost and I probably couldn’t get an appointment for a week or two…

What happens to my babies if I overdose in the tub? I could dump out a whole bag of dog food in the living room for them. No, Squeak would freak out once she figured out something was wrong. I could board them at a doggie daycare, putting my ex’s name & contact info down for them and send him an email to come down and get them I guess…I just don’t have the strength or willingness to persevere if I’m sick…My ears are ringing, brain is buzzing, I feel nauseous, sick…my life  is kinda flashing before my eyes.

Back to reality, I realize I have been zoned out, sitting and waiting for like 20 more minutes.  I walk up to the desk and get a worker’s attention. Kamil is tall, light-skinned and most importantly is wearing a white jacket. I assume he is a mysterious MSF.

Me: Could you please look at my info? The kiosk said I was inappropriate to donate and Beatrice sent me back here to see an MSF. I’m really stressed out and worried that something’s wrong …

Kamil looks me up in his computer.

Kamil : Ah man, no need to stress. The worker who created your donor profile didn’t put the color of your tattoos in the descriptive, that’s all

I am immediately relieved and grateful that I am Ok, I have just been put through the ringer and my ears are pulsing red, but I am not sick, I’m not faced with having to kill myself, everything’s looking up. Kamil gives me a smirk, clicks on something on the screen and sends me back to Beatrice to be screened. Shante you stay!

I’m still a nervous wreck when I sit down with Beatrice

Me: You know I was really scared and worried, this whole time I thought something was really wrong with me

Beatrice: I didn’t know it was about your tattoos, the computer didn’t tell me what, just that you had been flagged

Beatrice checks my temperature, 98.2,  and then takes my blood pressure. It’s 140/108

Beatrice: Your pressure is too high, the lower # has to be below 100

Me: My pressure is up because I kind of went through a nervous breakdown here this last hour, I can feel my heart thudding in my chest still

Beatrice: Why don’t you go sit back down and calm down, then come back to me in about 15

Me: I really don’t have the time, I’m kinda at work, I’ve been here like an hour and it takes 45 minutes to get the plasma out of me, can you recheck my pressure or something?

Beatrice: I’ll go ahead and check your blood while we wait then

Beatrice proceeds to poke my left index finger and squeeze a small vial of blood out. She then puts the vial in her little shake-it-up machine to get tested

Beatrice, looking at the results a minute later: Oh you can’t donate today anyway. Your blood says it is 9.1, it has to be between 3.8 and 9.0.

Me: Why is it high? What’s the cause?

Beatrice: Your blood is too rich today, like too thick. What you had for lunch?

Me: Pollo

Beatrice: You ate real good on Thanksgiving?

Me: A lot of fast food and ice cream mainly, all weekend

Beatrice: Yeah, that’s it. Next time eat a Subway or something before you come to donate. You can come back tomorrow, Have a Blessed Day

I am dismissed. No donation, no $50,  nerves is bad, new wrinkles have materialized in the last hour, more grey hair created as I went through this ordeal. I’m not sure if I should be happy or sad. I just wasted almost 2 hours and more troubling I had worked through and rationalized killing myself  if things went a different direction. I’m not sick though, not positive…still don’t have a positive outlook on life unfortunately.

As often happens when stressed or overloaded or mentally taxed, I am repetitively hearing and singing along with a song in my head, over and over again, won’t go away

Today it’s apropos and fitting and I’m sure my subconscious dug this song out: I’m hearing Nina Simone’s “I Got Life” which I am reminded that I still have…

* not their real names