Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dental Damning

This afternoon I was rejected from donating blood because I had a simple, basic dental cleaning this morning. The guy with smoker's cough and yellow teeth, who was filling out his form across from me, was accepted.

This makes me wonder which of us the future blood recipient would choose? Assuming a hypothetical scenario in which that patient has access to either a menu of potential donors with their picture and vital statistics or, at the very least, a buffet where we all line up like dishes of tantalizing Chinese food during the lunch rush.

Maybe I'm crazy or simply not an educated part of the health care elite, but, after perusing all the options at that buffet, I would choose the person who looks the healthiest. The person who appears to take care of himself and, by extension, his blood (which will soon be hanging out with my blood). I would not choose the person who just coughed up a half-ounce of tobacco residue all over the crab rangoon like he was the worst Iron Chef contestant ever.

Now, I have donated blood many times in the past and have never before seen a question about recent dental care on the form. If you haven't ever donated blood, I can assure you that it's very easy to figure out the purposes of all the other questions on the donor history form. Because of that, I assumed when I checked "yes" that the technician would ask me what kind of dental care I received. I would answer "basic, routine cleaning." She would then ask if they administered Novocaine or any other injection. I would answer "no" and we would gleefully high-five at the prospect that soon a healthy pint of my blood would be milked out of me and on its way to a sick kid.

I'll call this sick kid, Ralph. I don't actually know the name of the kid who would have received my blood because of patient confidentiality or some such thing, but you don't see the name Ralph around much any more and I'd like to kick-start a naming movement. Aside from being sick, Ralph is a normal kid. His mother probably even has to beg, plead and bribe to get him to brush his teeth each night. In a few years, if he survives his transfusion of nicotine-enhanced blood, Ralph will stumble across the word "irony" and the circle will be complete.

However, that is not the way the scenario played out. Instead, she paused at the checked "yes" and asked what dental care I had received and when it had been. I confidently answered "basic, routine cleaning this morning at 8:00." She responded quickly: "You aren't eligible to donate blood today. You can't donate until Thursday morning." What? No high-five? Just an abrupt kick to the curb.

Since I had never heard of this policy before, I asked why. Her explanation was that a dental cleaning can create small openings along the gums that then have increased susceptibility to bacteria and infection. I wanted to point out that a splinter in my finger would create the same risk and there was no question (and therefore no concern) about recent splinter wounds. I wanted to laugh and ask if my mouth would be at less of a risk if I had munched on a small morsel of cow manure and not cleaned my teeth. But I didn't say anything. The implication was clear: a human mouth is dirtiest immediately after being professionally cleaned. I was simply thankfully that the same wasn't true of a restaurant's cutlery or a surgeon's hands.

One would think that dental hygiene would be viewed as a positive. In fact, I seem to remember at least one cartoon toothbrush and his companion talking toothpaste telling me that it was one of the best things I could do for myself. "Healthy teeth, healthy me" or some similar bullshit propaganda clearly distributed by the powerful anti-blood-donation and anti-sick-kid coalitions.

(While on the topic of a cartoon tube of toothpaste squirting the contents of himself on the bristled head of his toothbrush pal, one has to wonder if anyone has researched the lasting psychological effects the anthropomorphizing of everything is having on the kids who watch these things. I, for one, would not hang out with someone or something who winks at me casually before intentionally spilling the contents of his body all over me. I certainly wouldn't wink back and then, with a big smile, leap into a monstrous mouth and go all Gangnam Style on the teeth inside.)

Everything we have been told about dental care, by humans and cartoon health and beauty aids alike, has been a massive lie. Tooth and gum care is a dangerous, condemned activity. In the world of trying to do something nice for sick or injured people who need a blood transfusion to stay alive, my lack of plaque falls somewhere between sharing a needle with a Taiwanese sex slave and maximum security incarceration in a nudist prison colony.

This is, of course, followed by noticeably exiting without donating. They might as well have attached a scarlet "Y" to my shirt just to further drive home the point that I had checked "Yes" to one of the questions. Among a list of questions asking about AIDS, drug-use, prison-time, prostitution, STDs, shared needles, unprotected/careless sexual activities, and experimental medications, I dared to answer "yes" to the question "Under the past 24 hours have you been under the care of a dentist." For shame, Flosser! Damn you, Brusher!

I'm just thankful that it was a "confidential" form. God forbid that anyone had found out that I went to the dentist as opposed to any of the other possibilities. I would be shunned from normal society for years and forced to live in an isolated freak colony with others of my kind. A habitat whispered about in the dark to the young as a warning. A place devoid of halitosis and cavities. A shameful place.

Walking off a mobile blood lab after everyone knows you have been rejected for something is a special kind of humiliation. You walk on, sit down, fill out a form, go into a closet to be interviewed, then walk past all of the donation couches and exit the lab. Everyone present knows what those forms ask and what is confirmed in the interview. And not a single one of them was thinking "must be his clean teeth" when negatively judging me during my walk of shame.

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