Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sorry, ma'am, your blood is no good here!

Today after classes I wandered over to the blood drive in the multipurpose room in Hofstra's Student Center. What a great thing to do on Hallowe'en, eh? A good deed, but keeping with the theme of bloodsucking fiends and then getting sugared up on lots of free candy.

Well, I filled out my form and waited around with a bunch of undergrads and then it was my turn for the medical screening. She skimmed my list of questions for the boxes I'd checked "yes" that should be "no" or vice versa. My recent pneumonia was OK on the "any problems with heart or lungs?" question so that just left have I traveled outside of the U.S. and Canada in the last three years? "Where'd you go?" she asked me. Korea, with layovers in the airport in Japan. "Korea? Where?" I told her I lived in a big city, but traveled around to many places.

She had to get out The Book. The Book was a red binder with lots of laminated pages containing lists of countries and cross-references to various numbered questions and flow charts and further investigation to be done.

Now, this woman was nice and all, but very middle-aged-nurse Long-Island-accent-like. Just to try to set the scene. Anyway, it turned out she was not the sharpest tool in the geographical shed. She was noting places I'd spent the most time, and she asked me how to spell Daegu (sure) and Pusan (no problem) and then Seoul! OK, hi. Can't you at least take a stab at that one? No? Whatever. Anyway, we talked about how long I was there and when I'd come back and then she furrowed her brow and looked at The Book again and asked me, "How about, 'Korea, People's Democratic Republic of?'" Well, no I assured her. Couldn't go there. (That's what many like to call "North Korea," by the way.) Then she asked if I'd traveled to the Gangwon or Gyeonggi provinces. She was not happy pronouncing those names either, let me tell you. I told her no, that the province I lived in was (her pencil poised) Gyeong-sang-buk-do. Her face fell. I felt almost apologetic I didn't have an easier name for her. She sort of flailed for a minute, with her laminated pages, and said, "Did you go to the southern areas?" Now, wait a minute. We were doing really well with specifics, but southern areas? That's so vague. Daegu is in sort of south-central Korea, as I liked to call it, but of course I traveled in 'southern areas.' I galvanted about all the time.

It was time to call in the big guns. She ran off in pursuit of a supervisor-type and I looked sheepishly at the many undergrads waiting their turn, eager no doubt to bleed and get about the business of celebrating All Hallows' Eve. Well, the two women returned quickly and Supervisor-Type took The Book in her hands and examined my form.

"Is this a hepatitis thing?" I asked them. Lonely Planet and some others recommend that travelers to Asia including Korea be vaccinated for it, and I knew a lot of English teachers who'd had the shots before they came, although I personally did not. Turns out, no. Malaria. "Malaria?!" I said. "There's no malaria in Korea!" Ahhh, but it was in The Book. I continued to protest. The CDC...the State Department...Korea's not a malaria country...it's been eradicated...but it was in their list in The Book and that was all that mattered. Luckily, Supervisor-Type could read pretty well and she also placed The Book on the table where I could see it. Turns out the "southern areas" referred to the dangerous part of the North. Ms. Thang had just sort of blended those into one country, which is why it made no sense to me why we were talking about provinces in the north of "South Korea" and then suddenly had jumped to this "southern areas" nonsense. And then, Supervisor-Type, in all her big gun glory, hit on the pivotal question: had I traveled to the demilitarized zone?

And so, the jig was up. Also, it made sense now. It wasn't an urban/rural thing or even a north/south thing. It's that there is apparently deemed to be a malaria risk in that demilitarized wilderness and surrounding areas, both northward and southward. Which of course makes sense, too. As I learned from reading about it and when I visited, the Demilitarized Zone (or DMZ) (soon to be MZ, if Dubya has his way?) is sort of the land that progress forgot. Many travelers and thinkers have voiced concern that when the Koreas reunify (did you notice we said when, not if?) that they hope that 4-km wide swath of land can remain a protected national park or nature refuge because the wildlife that have flourished there in the last 50 years untouched by human civilization are astonishing in variety. Flora and fauna.

I really liked visiting the DMZ. I procrastinated (hello) about going on that tour until my last full weekend in Korea, but it was so amazing. Alas, even though it means I cannot give blood until 6-10-07, which will be the one-year anniversary of my return to the U.S., I would not trade that experience for anything. I'm sorry to the people of Long Island who might need my blood in the next seven or eight months. I hope everyone else who can give in the meantime gives! (That means all of you, everywhere, not just here of course.)

I also found it interesting because of course, another strange event that happened during my last month in Korea was when one of the English teachers in the expat scene had a terrible accident and they were desperately seeking a blood transfusion for him. I guess the hospital in Daegu was out of his blood type? I was at dinner with a couple English teacher friends and this girl we know was frantically texting us, did anyone have O-negative blood? I thought my blood was actually O positive, although now that I think about it, I might be O-negative; that's the universal donor, right? I feel like my mom once told me I was the universal donor. This is the same conversation I had with myself that night in the restaurant with Melissa and Rachel. I couldn't remember that day and I still haven't figured it out. I was hoping to find out today, man!

Anyway, at that time in Korea I was so sick and rundown and haggard and had my eyeball creature lesion and ear infection and antibiotics and pneumonia and god knows I was in no shape to give blood, but it was all very scary and sad for that English teacher. I didn't know him but I knew a bunch of his friends. And in my last days there, a couple weeks later, the update was that he was basically dying in the hospital, his family had come over from America or wherever, he was in a coma and it was a matter of days, etc. I never heard what happened. Wow, this has become really kind of messed up to think about. Which is sort of what my point was. I'm wondering if the Korean hospital would have asked about visiting the DMZ? (If some of our thoroughly blase medical experiences over there are any indication, I'm guessing no.)

My point is: wow. Whether or not Dracula is a knockin' at our doors, we should give blood--and eat candy!--when we can.

Have a good Halloween, everyone.


Robin B said...

Point of clarification...Malaria IS in South Korea, my dear friend Linda. Mostly in the DMZ, but it is on the move southward. Recent cases have occurred almost as far south as Seoul in the past few years. In fact, a friend of mine actually contracted malaria up near the DMZ. Interesting, this infectious medicine stuff. And YES, I doubt that the local hospitals would have worried much about all that....

Catherine_G said...

My friend traveled to Singapore and Thailand earlier this year. When she tried to donate blood some time after her visit, she was told that she had to wait a year because she went to an area hit by the tsunami, so it looks like they want anyone who went anywhere where there was a risk of exposure to malaria or the like to hold off on the donating.

I am a big supporter of donating blood (I'm O-positive, by the way), but earlier this year I donated and my iron level were borderline but they still took my blood anyway and I almost fainted at work the next day and had to go to the hospital. Ergo, I'm a little turned off of donating, at least for now.

Bocepheus said...

I used to give blood all the time. Every opportunity possible. This is back when I was young and powerful (read: late teens). Then I went once with some friends after playing all the live-long day and not eating anything all day. One guy passed out and started siezing. Another puked. I didn't puke or passout, but it was a close call on both counts. Since then, I haven't been able to donate. I get woozy and light-headed and they cut me off. Every time. I try and I try and I try, but everybody wants to put me down, they say 'he's gone crAAAzy'. My my. Sorry...a little bit of Queen took over. Anyway...I try and they always cut me off. Lame.