Sunday, September 28, 2008

Steel Crazy After All These Years

A week or so I went out to Seven-mile Pass to sing for a couple of hundred Scouts and Scouters. I had a pretty good time, but as I said then, I really had an attack of iron filings as a result of my wilderness foray. This weekend, I went with the Young Women and their leaders up to my friend and counselor's cabin at Schofield. I had a wonderful time. The weather was perfect; the sky was clear and the temperature just right. The next morning, the sun came up and gently pried my eyes open in the very best way. A short time later, I found myself on the veranda looking up at a mountainside filled with the yellowing leaves of a hundred thousand quaking aspens, mixed in with the reds and browns of hardwoods, the deep greens of the conifers and the deep crystal blue of the Utah sky at 9000 feet. I was in heaven. My main assignment at this little gathering was to play and sing love songs while the girls designed their wedding dresses and wrote what they were hoping to find in "Mr. Right". I doubt sincerely that any of them said "I hope that he plays the guitar."

There were things that transpired that reminded me that I was still conscious of my diet, even though my ferritin count has dropped considerably. On Friday night, the girls were served chicken cordon blue, baked potatoes with the interiors mashed and blended with sour cream and butter (and a bunch of other stuff), and layered with strips of cheddar cheese. There were rolls and Martinelli's, fruit salad and other trimmings. I was quite good. I took pride in the fact that I only ate one CCB and one half of a potato. I had a couple of servings of fruit salad and an inordinate amount of Martinelli's. I was feeling pretty good about my self restraint until they brought me a piece of "wedding cake". It was about five or six inches square; it was the corner piece; there was enough frosting to have made another whole cake; I ate every bit of it in spite of the fact that I knew that the sugar was going to facilitate the absorption of any and all of the iron in my dinner regardless of its source. The frosting reminded me on a regular basis during the night that I had had the temerity to stuff it all down my pie hole. I could feel my liver getting heavier and heavier.

Breakfast was interesting as well. I could smell the bacon all the way down in the basement of the cabin. I padded up the stairs and found bacon, sausage, milk, orange juice, and blintzes. I think that I had only four pieces of bacon, one sausage, a glass each of the fluids and a blintz. I said to myself, "I have been moderate here; I am on the high road to recovery here." The blintz, however, was my undoing. I am not sure what the blintz itself was made of, but the pan of blintzes had been smothered in dark brown sugar, great crusty chunks of it. The blintz smelled so good and went down so well, that I could not think about what all of that sugar was doing with the bacon and that singular piece of sausage. I suspect that they went straight to my pancreas.

As we were getting ready to go home, the young women leaders asked me if I wanted a sandwich for the ride home. I asked if Gerry were having one. He said, "No, I'll be okay." I said that there was no way that I was going to have something to eat in front of my friend and we left it at that. The girls packed up and headed out for Orem. Gerry and I stayed behind to check all the doors and windows and shut off all of the lights and such. The cabin would be formally prepared for winter-time in November.

We had a great ride home, discussing many of the same topics that had arisen during the sessions with the girls. When we arrived in Spanish Fork, I turned to Gerry and said, "Well, you didn't have any lunch, and we have been on the road an hour and a half. How would you like to stop for something to eat?" He, knowing me extremely well, having been on many long trips with me, having survived many a camp together during the past eight years, and knowing my peculiar preferences in fast food, said "Oh, I don't think that I could turn down a stop at Burger King". I managed to cross six lanes of traffic in forty feet and pulled into the home of the Whopper.

Now I know that you are thinking, "Hmmm. This does not sound much like a fellow who is really concerned about his ferritin count. A Whopper has what, eight or ten pounds of iron in it?" I have decided that a Whopper is the best of the great hamburgers because it is cooked over an open flame and not on a grill. Here is my logic. While it is true that every hamburger patty has a vast amount of heme iron, it is also true that hamburgers that are cooked over an open flame have less available iron. As everyone knows, iron mixed with carbon and heated to an appropriate temperature transmogrifies into steel. Therefore, by eating the Whopper I would not be consuming digestible iron but indigestible steel. At least that is what I told myself as I ordered a #1 combo "large" at the counter. Gerry shares my taste in BK cuisine and we soon found ourselves seated at a booth with all of the makings of a late lunch/early dinner.

It went down smooth. As I said to Gerry as I was polishing off the last of the French fries, "Well, I didn't have to grease my lips for that one." We got back into the Mustang and soon I was able to deposit my friend at his doorstep. When I walked into the house, Trillium, T-ma, and three of my daughters were about to leave for Millie's to have dinner prior to going to the Women's Broadcast at 6:00 PM. I could have complained about not having any dinner for myself, but my innards had already begun to complain about the half-baked steel slab that I had just dumped into the cauldron. I did not eat dinner. Instead I watched the last bit of the first "Rambo" movie. I found it particularly entertaining since it was being broadcast in Spanish. I watched the first part of "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" in Spanish and I decided that it had been bad enough in English. I eventually went to bed. The Whopper was having second thoughts; my tummy was having second thoughts; the gigantic raft of steel had second thoughts. The only one not having second thoughts was me. I kept trying to convince myself that I had not done anything self-injuring, that the steel was not causing the deep bowel complaint, that it was probably the frosting from the wedding cake. As the raft began to break up, the preternatural steel ingots began to rumble about and although I eventually got to sleep, I woke up on several occasions during the night with a moaning and groaning accompanied by grumbling that resembled nothing so much as the sound that would be made by a gaggle of loose cannons sliding around on the poop deck during hurricane season in the Bahamas. I did not really recover from my dance with the hamburger until Trillium stuffed me full of the most wonderful soup this afternoon for dinner.

During the day I had occasion to relate my nocturnal experiences with the BK #1 to my friends. Gerry reminded me of my argument for going to Burger King in the first place was the forge effect caused by the iron and the carbon combination. "That was the real Whopper!" he declared. I am trying to decide if the next self-deception is going cause me as much consternation. I have decided, though, that if my ferritin count goes up next month that I am going to blame it on the wedding cake.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Iron Futures

The stock market has been taking a hit lately, even the S&P 500 where I have a small percentage of my investments. Years ago I decided that I would not be completely dependant upon the vagaries of the free enterprise system. Instead I determined to diversify economically. I thought that if I put most of my savings in Guaranteed Funds, say 60%, I could count on a constant though minimal return on my money. I decided to put 30% into Mutual Funds, specifically the Bond Market. A lowly 10% went into stocks, the afore mentioned S&P 500. I have done fairly well for that 40-year period and even though the stocks are all seeming to tank, my portfolio is still generating revenue. I have friends who have invested in gold, coins and bullion, and have given me to understand that they have gone very well for themselves. I have watched that commodity rise and fall hundreds of dollars an ounce and I cannot imagine anyone being bright enough to keep a handle on the market sufficiently to make money with gold trading. I suspect that the brokers do fine. however. I mention all of this because I think that there is only one precious metal that is making anybody, anywhere, any money at all: iron.

I mentioned in a previous blog entry that there was a time when I could go to the blood bank and sell a pint of my musical blood for about $25.00. That is in 1962 dollars. I hesitate to guess what that would be in 2008 dollars. In other words, I could go to the bank every six weeks or so and make about a third of my monthly salary as an enlisted man in the Air Force just by sitting quietly with a needle rammed into one of my veins for 20 minutes or so. As I indicated earlier, my visits did not appear to be profitable for the Red Cross or any one else, given the amount of juice and cookies that I would eat during the phlebotomy. I suspect, I do not know, that the blood banks must have been making something of a profit, however, when my blood came off the shelf. Certainly blood, particularly my winsome B+ kind, would have had some value to a man who was undergoing some other kind of "-otomy". Would he not be willing to pay a premium for a commodity that he was in dire need of? Would not the blood bank suggest that the blood which they had extracted from me at such great cost to themselves ought to require a substantial compensation? This is free enterprise at work and those willing to invest in a renewable resource like "me" must have thought to do well or they would not have started the bank in the first place. I do not know what their markup was and it probably just as well that I do not know. But every indication is that if you want to make money, buy iron.

Hemochromatosis was invented in 1995, at least that is when the medical profession began turning a coin by specifically treating the disease. I have yet to discover how much my "cure" is going to cost, but you ought to know that every time I go to see "Doc Holliday" I pay five dollars to the receptionists at the front desk. I think that DMBA and Medicare have to pony up a bit more, considerably more, astonishingly more, inconceivably more.... Well, you get the idea. Maybe when I am feeling just a little more effusive, I will run up to the bill box and figure out just how much the "Doc" and his gang are banking every time I go to talk with them. I did think, however, that it would be a helpful begining if I simply told you about the lucrative business of the phlebotomy itself.

To date, I have had two phlebotomies. One in August and again in September. I have already chatted with you about those visits and how well I was treated, how cheerily each of my jokes was received, how charismatic I was made to appear. In the end, I felt that giving my pint was a delight to everyone concerned. I now know that other than sticking the needle in and taking the needle out, with the addition of a couple of mess preventatives, I did all the work. First, the nurse wrapped a piece of rubber webbing around my arm so that my veins would bulge out more than they normally do. After finding a nice plump rise near the inside of my elbow, "Nurse Chappel" (a young Majel Barrett) would slide a "teensey-weensey" needle under the skin nearby so as to deaden the immediate area so that when she put the business end of the sump pump into my arm, I would not scream bloody murder. Once the sandwich-size ziplock bag was hooked up to the needle and the clear plastic tube, I was given a rubber ball upon which to focus my anxiety. "Just squeeze this, sweety", Majel said. Of course, when I did so, all of the rippling muscles in my forearm began forcing more of my blood into the bag. I suppose that the nurse could have created the same effect by pushing all of the blood from my wrists up toward my elbow. But, noooooo... she made me do it. I thought how much this was like milking a cow and that if she had put an electric milker on each of my fingers she could have saved both of us a lot of time and effort. After the pint was taken, the nurse put a cotton ball on the gaping hole in my arm and wrapped more of the rubber webbing on it to hold it fast so I didn't scatter sunshine all over the floor.

So, what did all of this cost my insurance company? How much overhead was involved in the extraction? How much did "Nurse Chappel" and her cronies profit by the ten minutes I was in the chair? I have an itemized list.

Building, suite, and cubical of the Infusion Center for 10 minutes: ($30,000,000, amortized over 35 years, at $1.63 a minute): = $16.30
Use of Nurse Chappell for 10 minutes ($25.00 per hour; $.42 per minute): = $4.20
Use of one 14-gauge needle for 10 minutes ($20.00 reusable for a year; $.00003 per minute): = $.0003
One sandwich sized ziplock bag: = $.47, (but they probably paid a bit more because it wasn't used for any of the staff's sandwiches).
One 3-foot plastic tube: = $.67, (but they probably paid more because it wasn't used for syphoning gas from my car in the parking lot; this time)
One really nifty cotton ball: = $.02, (but only because they were able to get it with about 4 billion others)
Two feet of sticky rubber webbing: $1.03, (but only because the alien suppliers from Alpha Centuri were overstocked this month)

If I have done the resulting math problem properly, the total overhead cost for each of my phlebotomies was $22.6903. The Infusion Center charged my insurance company $107.00, making someone a tidy profit of $84.3097. Well, it would have been a tidy profit had it not been for the $87.54 worth of root beer and Lorna Doones that I consumed during the operation. This profit/loss margin is known as "leveraging". They were hoping to make money on me, possibly with the sale of my commodity in mind, but alas, all was for naught since they had to put it in the trash can, the expense of which they also failed to consider.

As I said earlier, I went to the University Health Care Center last Monday in order to have a ferritin check done. Since I did not get any cookies at all during that five minute exercise, I suppose they are on a better foundation financially. "Doc Holliday" called me this morning with the results of my test. "Well, said he, "I have good news and bad news"


"Yes. First of all your ferritin count is down to 591. Another 150 points and you will be down to high normal". I was pleased with that. I started out at 827 and after one phlebotomy dropped to 684, and now I am at 591 after the second one. Another couple of months and I will be completely under control, insofar as the hemochromatosis is concerned.

"That is really good to hear. What's the bad news?"

"You don't have to come to your appointment tomorrow."

"What's so bad about that?"

"Well, I was really hoping to take my wife to the Bahamas this weekend, but I think that I am going to have to put that off for another time."

"I'm sorry things didn't work out for you."

"Oh,that's okay", he said. "The New England Journal of Medicine just identified another genetic disease that I think that you just might have, and it has 'Paris' written all over it. Something about 'root beer and cookie' overloading."

Buy "Barq's" everybody. "Lorna Doones" are going through the roof.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Needle Song

There is only one song about needles that I like. Needless to say, it is a James Taylor ditty. I tried to find a version of it for my player, but it wasn't available. JT spent a little time recovering from one sort of thing or another and this, supposedly, is his take on being tranquilized. I realize that this is not quite the same thing that I do in conjunction with needles, but slightly oblique content hasn't stopped me in the past. Frankly, I'm just waiting for Friday to get here and I wanted to hear the song again; it makes me feel that I am not quite alone in all of this.

Just knocking around the zoo on a Thursday afternoon
There's bars on all the windows and they're counting up the spoons
And if I'm feeling edgy there's a chick who's paid to be my slave
But she'll hit me with a needle if she thinks I'm trying to misbehave
Now the keeper's trying to cool me says I'm bound to be alright
But I know that he can't fool me 'cause I'm putting him uptight
And I can feel him getting edgy every time I make a sudden move
And I can hear them celebrating every time I up and leave the room
Now my friends all came to see me they point at me and stare
Said he's just like the rest of us so what's he doing in there
They hide in their movie theaters drinking juice-keeping tight
'Cause they're certain about one thing that zoo's no place to spend the night
Just knocking around the zoo on a Thursday afternoon
There's bars on all the windows and they're counting up the spoons
And if I'm feeling edgy there's a chick who's paid to be my slave
But she'll hit me with a needle if she thinks I'm trying to misbehave
These are my sentiments just about every time I go to the Infusion Center. I suppose that one of the reasons that I misbehave there, is that I know that I am going to be hit with the needle regardless of whether I behave or not.

Well, after all that, there is another needle song, but it involves Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette. For some of you, that little tune will seem like the Infusion Center writ large.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Iron Music and Diamond Needles

"Olive Oil", a non-family member who now follows my blog, made a comment about the music in my playlist, that she thought it was "great". I was somewhat flattered at first, but then I realized that while I had been choosing my shuffled music for myself, I now had an independent audience to somehow please. Several of my children have been driven crazy by some of the pieces (Burger-Dance" for example). Others have been partially scandalized by my selection of anything by Britney Spears (all part of a first-timer's joke). Other have been so taken with the music that they had to turn it off in order to be able to read what I had written (At least that what they have said.).

Trillium has wonderful music on her blog, mostly classical with a few delightfully orchestrated modern pieces thrown in. Davola really surprised me with his selection. Once, when we were headed north for some sort of activity in New Mexico, he regaled me with a concert of heavy metal music that undoubtedly got my blood and other iron-overloaded organs feeling envious. Nothing in his blog now even comes close. I'm impressed. All of the other family bloggers have music unique to themselves and it gives me great pleasure to visit and listen to their choices.

Each of the pieces I have selected are in order of their selection (even though they do not play in order) and fit with each of the entries I have made. I realized this afternoon that I had not selected one for the "Iron Horse" blog; it was about the same time I was contemplating saying something about the visit that I had with the blood factory today. I searched in vain for a good one. There was a sappy song about an "Iron Horse" by some plaintive crooner who clearly didn't have a handle on his subject matter. By the time you read this I will have deleted it and replaced it with another, less appropriate song by America (if I can find it). (Actually, on second thought, I have left the sappy one in.)

This morning I went into the University of Utah medical center to have blood drawn for another ferritin test. Friday I will meet with "Doc Holliday" again to see how the phlebotomy from two weeks ago has improved my frame of mind and body. Just as an aside, doesn't "phlebotomy" sound like some sort medical procedure gone bad; you know like "flub-otomy". I thought of that after I came home from the "Infusion Center" this last time. The first experience there went well, considering my condition. Two weeks ago, however, the withdrawal went somewhat amiss. That evening I noticed that I had a little red spot on the inside of my left elbow where the needle had been inserted. I didn't think much of it until a day or so later when that whole area was one gigantic bruise. It didn't hurt, but it looked terrible. I asked Trillium about it and she said, "Well, you will be okay, but that is an example of bad needle technique". Of course, that was just what I wanted to hear, "Bad Needle Technique", hereafter "BNT". I think that I must have been the victim of BNT (pronounced "bent") when I was a child. It was all of those BNT needles that gave me the willies. When your doctor uses a needle that looks like it has been designed for hooking a tuna, you know that you are in for a bad time.

Anyhow, I went in for my ferritin check and while I was waiting I thought about how I might wring a blog entry out of the experience. The appointment lasted only five minutes and that included the walk in and back, to and from the car. The only thing I could think of, however, was the First Edition's first hit, "I Just Dropped in to See What Kind of Condition My Condition was In". I considered that if this entry were going to be another "Looking for Space" experience then at least I could bring in a decent song. I finally located it this afternoon and before I loaded it up, I listened to it. I had not remembered it being so "edgy". It was like being with Davola all over again. It could have been a Queen hit for all I could tell. I finally selected a bluesy version by Sharon Jones in hopes that nobody listening could actually understand the lyrics. Kenny Rogers articulates his words; Sharon does not. However, it is possible to hear the tag, and that was all I was after anyway. Enjoy!

I read today about a new technology, a replacement for the CD. It is an "SD", a chip that you can insert into your iPod, if you have one. What a world! I grew up listening to Vaughn Monroe recordings by playing ten-inch ceramic disks on an old Victrola. They were played at 78 rmps (revolutions per minute) and eventually would be called "78s". I have a bunch of these left to me by my mother. The first recording I ever bought, however, was a "45", a vinyl recording that had one song on each side, playing at 45 rpms. I think it was a Richie Valens piece, "La Bamba" or something. I have a hundred or so of these, representing the most popular music of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Between the "78s" and the "45s" were the LPs (Long-Playing) albums, sometimes now called "33 and 1/3s". I have a couple a hundred of these, with folk music and classical music making up most of the titles.

Why have I ruminated about all of these old records? Because the way they are played is by using a "turn-table" with an arm equipped with... (you guessed it!)... a "NEEDLE". The first record player I bought had a sapphire needle; when I really came into my own financially, I bought one with a diamond needle. When the needle sets down on the grooves of the record, the record player then sucks out all of the music. Enough of those "note-otomies" and the record just withers away, unable to provide any more.

I have wondered if my blood is musical, if when they are carting away the trash at the Infusion Center, the custodians can hear my dulcet tones making their way through a rendition of one of James Taylor's songs. When the technicians are analyzing my ferritin count up at the University of Utah can they faintly hear my version of a really good Nanci Griffith or Joni Mitchell melody? I would like to think so. I do not fear for withering, though; the music is in my bones and there is more where that last pint came from.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Romancing the Iron-Horse

In a fit of passion last night, I invited Trillium out to dinner. Both of us were suffering from cabin-fever again and alien food seems to cure us for a while. Trillium's mother was invited as well and we headed out to our favorite "hot-spot", Sizzler. I say "favorite" hot-spot because that is the one place we can all sort of agree on. Sometimes we head off to Appleby's or Magelby's or somebody's other "-by's", but we come back to Sizzleby's because it seems to be safe. We get good parking thanks to T-ma and the menu hardly ever changes as much as the management does. We arrived at 4:45, just in time for the geriatric crowd. (Notice that night-time comes pretty early for the Beeblebrox household.)

T-ma moves kind of slow, so I generally lead the way to the counter; besides the path has a little bit of a labyrinth aspect to it (I fully expect to run into David Bowie at some point). Last night (or yesterday afternoon, for you of more tender years) I held back, contemplating what I should do.

There is only one reason for going to Sizzler to eat: the steaks (I take that back, there are only two reasons for going to Sizzler: the steaks and the salad bar. I go to Sizzler for the HEME-IRON and, as it turns out, for the NON-HEME IRON.) Should it surprise anyone that the signature Sizzler Steak is served on a hot iron plate? It is a tacit, though significant warning label.

Every once in a while I have the "all-you-can-eat shrimp", but I usually remember too late that the menu item should read "all-you -can-eat of the deep-fried wallpaper paste". I became addicted to shrimp while I was in southern Mexico. I have never had better shrimp in so many ways as I did at the ferry station near Isla del Carmen in 1966. I have never had its equal since. I seldom have the fish at Sizzler; if I want bad fish I go to McGrath's or the Red Lobster. If I want good fish, I go up Hobble Creek Canyon and catch my limit of Utah Brownies.

As I was saying, I held back last night because this was the first time that I had been to a restaurant since my first phlebotomy and I wanted to be responsible. At fast-food places you can be a little less responsible because you have less time to think about what you are doing. At Carl's Jr., for example, I can usually hammer down the $6.00 Guacamole Bacon Burger and the accompanying french fries and root beer in less time than it takes for two synapses to fire in my brain. At Sizzler, there is a rather pedestrian approach to ordering and service that gives one a rather lengthy opportunity to contemplate the eternities and how soon one may be entering into said place if one continues to eat IRON with impunity. T-ma ordered the salmon, a good choice at 1.2 mg of iron for her 7 ounce serving. Trillium ordered the senior steak, a genteel serving of about 3.5 ounces. The cashier said "Would you like to upgrade that to a 48-ounce side of beef for a buck?" I will not repeat Trillium's response because it was funnier than mine. "Well, then," continued the cashier, "would you like to have the salad bar for a buck?" Trillium agreed, but I could tell that she was eying the cutlery and the various pots and pans in which the salad bar was served. I whispered, "I don't think that we get to take those home." If looks could kill.....

I bellied up to the bar ready to place my order. "I'll have the senior steak, medium, with the baked potato and the salad bar." The cashier said, "Hey, you're a big fella; I bet you would like the upgrade." I muttered something about hemochromatosis under my breath; you know how it is when you are uneasy about a medical condition being discussed in public. She leaned toward me and sweetly whispered, "Don't be shy. If you floss afterwards and brush real good, you won't have that problem any more." I paid $31.00 for that piece of advice.

So what happened to my body as a result of our little extravaganza at Sizzler. I will tell you because I know you can hardly wait.

I had the following:

One 8 ounce steak: According to the powers that be, I consumed 8 mg of iron, about half of it heme-iron. I could have done worse. If I had consumed a half-pound of Bambi's mother, I would have introduced about 16 mg of iron into my system. But, I could have eaten Thumper whole and had less than either of the other two, according to Ernst Lucker's article entitled "Content and Distribution of Iron in Rabbit Meat: A Model Study on Nutritional Values and Bio-Analytical Variance" that appeared in "Libensmittel-Wissenschaft und-Technologie" in 1998. (Never say that my readers come away from my blogs uninformed; I am a Google-Blogger.)

One baked potato with butter and sour cream: This apparently would have amounted to about 2 mg of non-heme iron had I not added 3.5 ounces of chicken liver gravy (another 9 mg)

One piece of fried cheese toast: Cold, fried cheese toast is the most vile substance known to man. I took one bite and laid the rest down, probably saving myself the ingestion of .000007 mg of iron.

One plate full of green salad: Lots of non-heme iron here. I had the iceberg lettuce, cucumbers,(mostly peeled), cherry tomatoes, red onions, red and green peppers (a fetish I picked up in New Mexico), a whole egg, a couple of Italian green peppers (the only reason to go the the Olive Garden), and the whole mess slathered in blue cheese dressing. The egg was the killer: 1 mg of iron.

One-third plate of Waldorf salad: It looked good, and tasted okay, but I think that Trillium's is better. I think she puts non-ferrous marshmallows in the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. (Do you know that somebody has actually figured out that one cup of miniature marshmallows has 1 mg of iron in it? When I "googled" for iron content in marshmallows I got 72,000 hits! What a world!)

One-third plate of Macaroni salad: As counter-intuitive as this sounds, macaroni salad (a five ounce serving) as 8 mg of iron. A third of a plate seems like would have slightly more.

One-third plate of Crab salad: I didn't eat much of this. All I could think of was Sponge Bob Square Pants and Patrick softly weeping in the corner, particularly in light of the Bambi allusions above. As its turns out, Crabby Patties have a lot of iron in them, about the same as beef.

One gallon of Strawberry Lemonade: Trillium pointed out to me that all of the vitamin C in this outrageously large amount of juice undoubtedly caused me to absorb all of the iron, heme and non-heme, that I consumed last night. It troubled me all night thinking about it; every two hours or so it troubled me.

In other words, I fell off the wagon last night and under the wheels of the iron horse. Hopefully when I go to see "Doc Holliday" next week he won't notice the tread marks.

(Yes, I know, trains don't have rubber tires on them, but I have been at this a long time and that was the best I could come up with...... Sheeesh!)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trekking for Iron

Last night was a fireside in our stake for the youth who went on the Handcart Trek during the summer. It began at 6:30 and ended at 9:00 or so. Included was a 45 minute Photostory 3 presentation made from 3000 pictures and videos taken during the three days we walked the dusty byways west of Utah Lake (I am not kidding; 3000+++++++++). I liked the scenes that I was in, for the most part. I did not recognize hardly any of the faces in the presentation. It is not that I am not social, it just that most of the time I was the last person in the line of 200 people strung out along the trail. I can recognize the backs of their heads anywhere.

My mantra on the Trek became "I'm the last dog into the kennel, the last bee into the hive, and the last cricket out of the seagull". I endeared myself to all. We all ate well on that trip; I gained twelve pounds in three days, almost all of it in iron. Inasmuch as one can lose iron from fingernail clippings, hair, and skin, I managed to hold excessive weight gain at bay. I lost considerable iron out of my feet, as the blisters came and went, and as my bronzing technique utterly failed into the first stages of leprosy. I had a few broken nails while pushing handcarts and setting up tents, and there were the hurricane winds that whipped my feathery-soft hair from off my head into the Great American Desert. It is hard to measure iron loss in this fashion; that is, with body parts just falling off into the blue, or brown, or green, or some sort of natural pastel.

After the video presentation there were the obligatory sentimental expressions about how wonderful the whole thing was. Being three months after the fact gives a sort of mystical glow to all of the whining, pain, and filth that we all had to endure at the time. I thought the experience educational. I learned for myself, first hand, that I am getting a little too old for this sort of thing. As I said earlier, I am not certain how much iron I lost on the trail, but my guess is that it is easier to go to the Infusion Center once a month in order to get the desired medical effect, notwithstanding the feral smiles and the eager eyes.

When I arrived home from the fireside, I finished watching "Warning From Space" a Japanese movie about giant star-fish who come to earth to warn us about Planet R, a fiery body on a collision course with our planet (a rot of iron ross, I terr you). I also watched the outtakes from the Trek DVD (How can you have out-takes in a documentary?) I also watched a special feature called "Bandits" with which I had something to do. The "Bandit Dancers" were a mostly anonymous group (wearing bandannas you see) who preferred swaying to the square-dance music rather than enticing iron-loss through the soles of their feet on the dusty dance floor.

After preparing for sleep, I went into my den to turn off the lights and the computer. But what to my wondering eyes should appear, but two bags of candy that Trillium had bought for me at Wal-Mart: a bag of Riesens (chewy chocolate caramel covered in rich European chocolate) and a bag of snack size Almond Joys. Yippy! Skippy!

(Now just a little aside regarding motive and technique in blog writing, from my point of view. All I really wanted to talk about was the candy, but I did not want anyone to think that I am obsessed with candy of any kind. I thought that if I led everyone into the wilds of central Utah for a paragraph or two, and then discuss my somnolent reaction to the products of that experience, that discussing the merits of chocolate would seem normal, perhaps even understandable. Now that I am at this point, I think that the methodology is somewhat flawed. Live and learn.)

I used to look at the pricing labels on products that I was prepared to buy (Ooooo! Ten pounds of hot dogs for a dollar! Ooooo! Ten pounds of margarine for a dollar!) I then began to look at the ingredients (Yeow! Beef lips and pork snouts! Yeow! Hydrogenated lard!) As I grew older and stouter, I began to look at the total calories in the item as compared with the fat from calories. Some were somewhat reasonable (Hmmmmm..... one serving 200 calories; calories from fat 12. Goody! Ten pounds of broccoli for a dollar!) Some, Trillium confided in me, are a little suspect (Hmmmmm.... one serving 200 calories; calories from fat 6,089,867. Yes, but everyone needs to have ten pounds of Polish sausage on hand for emergencies!) Now, as of the past couple of months, iron has risen into my culinary consciousness.

Do you know that Riesens, the finest manufactured chocolate on the planet, has iron in it? It does; seven percent of the daily requirement according to the FDA. You have to eat four pieces of candy to get that, however. The added benefit is that you also take in 170 calories, only 50 of them from fat These calories can be used to propel yourself that last half-mile into camp on iron depleted feet. Your mouth feels so good that you have no energy left to think about what your blisters are saying to you.

On the other hand, snack sized Almond Joys have absolutely no iron whatsoever, nor does it have vitamins A or C, and has no calcium at all. One bar (a serving) has 80 calories, forty of them from fat. The down side is that you have to eat 9 of them to get any satisfaction at all. The up side is that you have to eat 9 of them to get any satisfaction at all.

So what? Well I don't know, except to say that I am reading more than I have in the past. Sometimes I feel informed; sometimes I feel deformed. Most of the time I wish that stuff that really tasted good, actually had some nutritional value. I am discovering that when Trillium's hands have touched what I eat, however, nothing seems to matter. Her company is more important and tastes better and is better for me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Roots of the Mountain

I have a close friend with whom I have done a lot of camping and other Scouting activities. He is a geologist by training and disposition, and is about to dive into the academic aspects of the same. For the past eight and a half years I could not be with Wes when he was not pointing out some aspect of the landscape which would certainly produce semi-precious gems, geodes, or other rock-hound wonders. I went with him once to a remote part of central Utah, to Topaz Mountain in fact, where we were to look for raw gems of the same name. I have to say that we found some; I was quite pleased with myself at some of the particularly nice rough stones that I collected. We also found some particularly beautiful large stones which, when cut and polished, are supposed to be quite valuable. In order to get to these quarries, however, one has to go to the middle of nowhere. Topaz Mountain is in the middle of nowhere. We drove through some of the most desolate landscape I have ever seen in order to pop out a few really fine pieces. Even in 2004 dollars, we burned a lot of gas to get there and back. He did not, however, point out the vast amounts of iron filings through which we were driving.

All of this came back to my mind because of what happened to me last Friday. I was invited to go out to Seven-mile Pass to sing for about a hundred Boy Scouts. In order to get to Seven-mile Pass, you have to get to Five-mile Pass, which understandably is about two miles from Seven-mile Pass. In order to get to Five-mile pass you have to go through Lehi, Eagle Mountain, Fairfield, and "almost-Vernon". I say "almost-Vernon" because it was supposed to be there somewhere, but I never saw it myself. At Five-mile Pass there is a north-south road that runs straight as an arrow across an open desert of sagebrush, tumbleweed, and ironwood. At some point, one of the Scout executives had placed a sign pointing me toward a long wide valley running east and west. The road to the camp was winding and in extreme disrepair. I was in the Mustang and therefore made it okay, but had I been in any other kind of car, I undoubtedly would have left parts of my engine pan and several quarts of oil along the way. I arrived, however, without incident.

I arrived fairly early. I think that I was preceded to the camp by only one or two other people. They had a shelter set up, a shade from the sun, and I sat there in anticipation of my performance. Quite a few big trucks passed through the camp in order to drop off their equipment. Young people were running around all over camp trying to get various venues set up, including their own camp sites. It was somewhat like an anthill. The sun began to sink into the west, dinner was served (a potato bar with all of the trimmings, together with home-made root beer, ginger ale, sarsaparilla, and black cherry soda. Not bad.) Everyone seemed to have some difficulty finding the place simply because the campsite was more in the middle of nowhere than Topaz Mountain, which thing I could not suppose to be so. So the schedule got set back more and more. My performance with the Scouts did not take place until well after dark, which thing I had not anticipated. The trick for me was finding my way back to Orem from Seven-mile Pass in the dark. I was surprised at the facility I had in making my way back down down the canyon westward until I found the north-south road back to Five-mile Pass. I arrived home forty-five minutes after I left the campsite.

I have decided that my quick retreat from S-mP was possible because of my inner compass. Some people have an internal clock; they can tell you at any given moment what the exact time is. I have an internal compass, one that will point me, without fail, to due north. This is a side-effect of hemochromatosis. All of the iron in my body aligns itself with the magnetic flux of the earth's core. If I were to put on a pair of roller skates with my arms extended and just let the "force" work upon me, in about 14 seconds my right arm would swing around until it pointed to the magnetic north pole. Needless to say my left arm would be pointing south. Some might quibble about the arm orientation (why not the left arm pointing north?), but I have resolved all issues of this nature by pointing out that I was born in California, raised on the beach, facing westward for most of my life. Hence, all of the iron molecules in my body are lined up as they are because of my childhood experiences.

I enjoyed my little visit to Seven-mile Pass because I was able to get back to my roots. The campsite was loaded with iron, free iron, iron in the rough, as it were. My magnetic disposition was working admirably well, and I attracted an enormous amount of iron filings as I sat in the shade next to the road. When a truck would pass by, I would find myself covered in more iron. The youths and adults, running from one place to another, were able to provide me with more quantities of perfectly aligned iron filings that then gravitated toward me, eventually adding to the growing layer of iron-sheeting which I was accumulating. At the campfire, I experienced more of this interesting wilderness phenomenon. It was clear that the boys had found a large store of ironwood in the canyon and were burning it in the fire pit. No matter where I stood around the campfire, the smoke enveloped me, creating a secondary layer of non-heme iron in addition to the raw materials that I had been collecting all afternoon. When I finally was leaving, all of the iron filings on my uniform and that which covered the Mustang immediately arranged themselves north-south. It was all that I could do to keep the car from climbing the ridge on my right as I was leaving. When I arrived at the north-south road, I simply let go of the steering wheel and stepped on the gas; the car just guided itself straight north until I arrived at Highway 73. By that time, much of the iron dust had blown off of the car and I was able to travel east and then south as I went home, without having to wrestle with the steering wheel any more.

I am not certain how much free-radical iron I ingested or breathed in on my little foray to the desert. I will know that fact when I finally have my next ferritin blood test. I suspect, however, that I will be accused of having eaten another two-pound piece of tri-tip, plus four or five six-dollar burgers. What a life! I did have a little fun out there; I taught all of the boys and men DJ Otzi's the "Burger -dance Song":

The Pizza Hut, the Pizza Hut
Kentucky fried chicken and the Pizza Hut
(sing twice)
McDonald's, McDonald's
Kentucky fried chicken and the Pizza Hut
(sing twice more)
(sing both verses until your brains fall out)

I knew that every one of them would wake up at four in the morning, align themselves with the magnetic poles, and uncontrollably sing that song at the top of their lungs. What a day!

Friday, September 12, 2008


Inasmuch as I regaled cyberspace with my take on The Odyssey, and, inasmuch as not a whole lot is going in Hemospace, I thought that I might reflect upon my next project, Virgil's Aeneid. I have the Harvard Classics series because of Richard Baker, one of our close friends in Simi Valley when we lived there. When he and his wife moved to Idaho, he decided to unload a few books on someone who would take care of them. I had always wanted the Harvard Classics, so I took them in. Nearly twenty years have passed since I put them on my shelves and I am finally getting to them. I have now read six in the series, and more if the text of the rest may be counted as having been read in other editions. The Aeneid is the verse translation made by John Dryden. The first seventy-five pages of the volume, however, is Dryden's explanation of the genre and his take on it, addressed to the "Most Honorable John, Lord Marquis of Normanby, Earl of Mulgrave, etc. and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter". I am thirteen pages into this diatribe and fear that I will not make it to the poem itself.

The most salient point that Dryden makes in those pages that I have read, is that epic poetry differs from tragedy, in that one is longer than the other. Wherever Normanby and Mulgrave are, it is clear that John was wearing his garter around his neck if he wasn't aware of that distinction before the poet penned those words to him. Be that as it may, I have since tried to imagine whether I am producing an "epic blog", a massive, ponderous ironic monster wending its way to nowhere, or simply recounting a "tragic blog", a little story playing out on "" with its several acts and scenes. Of course, "tragic blog" implies that at the end of the play things go badly for the hero. What I want here is a "comedic blog", one that is in favor of the writer's successful recovery from his affliction.

Those of you who have actually read all of the previous entries will remember that after all of the preliminary fuss, "Doc Holliday" determined that I should have a pint of blood drawn, wait three weeks or so, and then have blood samples taken to see how the phlebotomy technique was affecting my condition. You will recall the debaucheries of the "tri-tip" and the "$6.00 burger" incidents that followed immediately on the heels of that first "blood-letting". Notwithstanding falling off the wagon twice in one week, my ferritin count still dropped by 140 points. Now, at this point we need to decide whether this was the conduct of an epic hero (a warrior shouting down the gods of Olympus, spurring their opposition) or whether this was just an isolated minor scene of Act I, meant solely for comic relief, so that the tragedy of the pancreas running away with the liver at the end of the play would have more substance. Who knows? Nobody; not even John Dryden.

On Monday I returned, by assignment and appointment, to the Fusion Center (you may use any of the following prefixes: "In-", "De-", or "Con-", in order to provide the appropriate tension for this part of the play; all of them work). Trillium was with me, of course, so that I would not have to drive home by myself in a state of euphoria from having had another hole the size of the Holland Tunnel bored into one of my veins. The nurse was not the same as had operated on me a month ago. Apparently, the original girl had not quite recovered from her little encounter with me. Monday's nurse, however, was a little more game. She bought into all of my jokes, laughing with good humor at my witticisms. This, of course, was all dramatic technique, designed to lull me into a state of unconcern, just before inserting a needle into my vein that went from my elbow to my shoulder blade. This technique is known as "deep blood retrieval". As the humors were going our of me, the humor was going out of me. "Would you like something to drink?" she cooed. "Yeth. Waff hab eu goth?" She rattle off a number of drinks and soda. "Barfs. I'll haf da Barfs". Just as I was starting to pass out, she brought me the entire can of Barqs Root Beer together with an ice-filled cup. "Wa?" I garbled, "Sno gookies?" She brought a package of Lorna Doones back a few minutes later. All I could think of at that point was a story by my daughter, Dara, about two lands situated next to each other; the one where it rained milk and the other where Lorna Doones fell like manna from heaven. Living on the border seemed to be the only reasonable thing to do, until the sour milk and the soggy Doones backed up the sewer system. I think that that point, the hero stands up on the milk-rain side, opens up his mouth, and drowns in moo-juice (No, that's Ray Bradbury and an episode from "The Illustrated Man"). This, naturally, represents another dramatic technique known as the "framed story" or the "play within a play".

Speaking of a "play within a play" (this writing technique is known as an oblique sequitur, a way of bringing in another event without producing a separate blog), Trillium and I went to a "musical comedy" last night written by Marvin Payne (yes, the Marvin Payne) and Steven Kapp Perry (ye..., no, there is only one of those, he has to be the the). It was called "Wedlocked". It was "musical" because it had music and it was a "comedy" because it had a happy ending. The actors could sing (nothing off-key) and the singers could act (nothing off-character). The first hour of the play was an exercise in angst, taking the audience where it did not want to go. Trillium had hoped for a light-hearted comedy like the one we had seen with Marvin and his friend in downtown Provo, "Eripmav", I think it was; something like "vampire" spelled backwards. The first hour of last night's performance was more like "The Dark Knight" or "X-Men"; I felt like Magneto was in the room and all of my serum iron was being forcibly converted into ball-bearings and extracted through my pores. The denouement, however, was quite satisfying; two square roots of 3 becoming an integer (thanks Chris for the delightful metaphor). I suppose that this was the effect caused by sustained dramatic tension, followed by catharsis.

Well, epic or drama, that is the question. Is this thing going to go on interminably, the hero suffering and rejoicing in book after book of Pindaric lines; or will there just be five Acts of dubious unity, the audience vainly hoping to somehow get their time and money back? Once you have invested more than three hours in this place, however, you might as well relax and enjoy the ride. Its going to take a while to get home.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bronzing in an Iron Age

In my attempt to catch up with the rest of the world, I just finished Homer's "Odyssey". The Harvard Classics edition changes the poetry into paragraph prose which facilitates the reading considerably. The translation was made S.H. Butcher and A. Lang. I assume that "A. Lang" is Andrew Lang whom I have encountered in other venues. The translation was adequate and I learned where the phrase "rosy-fingered dawn" came from; it appeared just about every time the sun comes up in the narrative. Given that the story covers twenty years, the phrase shows up 7300 times. My guess is that if Odysseus got up every morning to check out the "rosy-fingered dawn" that the rosy fingers would have made him as brown as a berry. Unfortunately for him, Penelope his wife was back home in Ithaca unable to raise the cuff on his short-sleeved shirt to see if he were suffering from the effects of iron-overloading. No clip board, no perfunctory check mark, and no "No worries then".

But Odysseus had plenty of worries. He spent seven of the twenty years fighting a battle against Troy in an attempt to recover the famous Helen thereof for her husband. This is all recounted in the Iliad, if you are a reader, or "Troy" if you are a Brad Pitt fan. I do not wish to dwell on the Iliad inasmuch as it has little or nothing to do with my current situation, save that there were a lot of involuntary phlebotomies performed on a daily basis. After the war against Troy, Odysseus and his army set off for home in their "black ships". They have all sorts of adventures which usually resulted in someone, or several someones, being eaten. By the time the twenty years are up, no one but Odysseus is worrying about iron-overloading. All of his friends are in the Underworld lamenting the fact that they are iron under-loaded.

Penelope has been the faithful wife, hoping against hope that Odysseus would soon return home from the wars, but reports are not encouraging. P and O's son, Telemachus, goes out to find more reliable news. The networks were still obsessing about whether Helen looked frumpy or not. The story of Telemachus' travel seems a bit out of place. It does little to advance the story line and everyone he talks to seems as dumb as a brick. Meanwhile, Odysseus is moping about Calypso's island, eating apples, trying to figure out how to get Jack Sparrow back from the end of the world (actually, Jack Sparrow does not figure into the story, but Calypso does send Odysseus on an adventure where the hero does try to bring someone back from the end of something).

Eventually, after 330 pages of really small print, Odysseus finally returns to Ithaca where he finds that for many years the men of his generation, ALL of the men of his generation, have become wooers for the hand of the lovely Penelope. That's what they are called... "wooers". They were petitioning Penelope to choose one of them so that the lucky gent could be the "woo-hoo-er". She was reputedly a handsome woman. Penelope had put them all off for almost a score of years, tending to her knitting and weaving rather than succumb to the entreaties of the gaggle of courtiers. Odysseus is irritated at the conduct of the wooers and summarily dismisses them with a series of flicks from his great bow that no one other than himself can bend. More phlebotomies. some brought about by 14-gauge black-fletched arrows, others by instruments of various sizes, most all of which had a tendency to remove large portions of personal iron from the wooers, who by this time had become "boo-hoo-ers" (sorry, I couldn't resist). P, O, and T apparently live happily every after, having been given a clean bill of health by Athene (a goddess who serves as the "Doc Holliday" component of the story).

So, what is this all about? Why does this story have any resonance with me? It has to do with the thing that really ticked off Telemachus during the twenty years that Odysseus was gone: the eating habits of the wooers. These guys have at least three meals a day, which according to Homer, consisted of a herd of goats, five pigs, three oxen, eight sheep, and a small dog for breakfast. Lunch was about the same except that they added 87 chickens and several koi from the ornamental pond in the patio. For dinner, anything that moved was fair game, including some rather exotic animals from Brazil. The fact that the Ithacans actually survived for more than ten years on this diet is astounding; that Odysseus and Telemachus could kill any of them is stunning; that father and son survived their revenge upon the wooers is incredible.

Imagine some Ithacan with a ferritin level of 14752, suffering from high blood pressure (396/275), being hit by a pointy anything. The effect would be like standing in front of a cannon filled with ball bearings. If you hit the guy's liver, your trusty blade shatters. Smack his pancreas and everyone starts running around, holding their heads screaming "The Bells! The Bells!". The only saving grace in all of this is the gratitude of the townspeople in Ithaca who had been compelled to listen to an endless cacophony of "clinks", "clanks", "clunks", "squeaks", and occasional "pings" for thirteen years (flax seed oil had not as yet been perpetrated upon a credulous public).

Well, there you have it: another non-report on my medical condition; another title that apparently has little to do with the non-report, except that Odysseus lived during the Iron Age and was tan.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Iron Filing that Broke the Bloggle's Back

In all of my excitement to share my medicines with my readers, I failed to mention one other tidbit:

Flax Seed Oil: I take two Gel-caps worth of this stuff every day at Trillium's request. They are scary-looking. They are cylindrical, black, and look eversomuch like two dead cockroaches with their legs pulled off. I woke up this morning at 5:30, remembering that I had not included this stuff in my list and tried to remember why I was doing it. I couldn't think of what I had been told. So, in the spirit of entertainment, I began conjuring up the most ridiculous reasons why I should. As it turns out, the most ridiculous of my ideas were true. Flax seed oil is a heart lubricant; it keeps all of the valves operating without excessive "squeaking", "clanking", "clunking", or even the occasional "ping". It softens the tissues of the vascular system. Apparently whenever I move in my sleep, the crunching of my veins wakes Trillium up. She said it was like someone jumping on a very large bag of angel hair pasta. Along with eliminating the breakfast cereal aspect of my cardio-vascular system, flax seed oil also makes the inside of my arteries slick, so that when my chunky, iron-encrusted blood passes by, it does not get hung up, thereby reducing the pressure necessary to shove the little ingots through the tubes.

Now you know all there is to know about what I am going to do in about three minutes. I will pop all of these pills at once with a large slug of "green drink" which is currently under construction even as I type. If I am lucky, Trillum will bring it to me..... BOY AM I LUCKY!!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Filling Space with Iron Filings

"Doc Holliday" has me on my final regimen. I am to have a pint of blood taken every month, sometime after which he will extract some more blood to test, after which I will meet with him for another consultation. The practical effect of all of this is that I won't have anything to say on my blog for three or four weeks in a row except to repeat my rather thinly-worn complaint about needles and answering services. So what to do. I could petition my readers for things they would like to know about my condition, but I am convinced that they would rather just read this thing once and then move on less crimson subjects. I have thought of having another blog about other ailments that occur more frequently like torn finger nails, gastritis, stiff joints, and paper cuts, but I am certain that my readership would plummet to 1 (me; I like reading my own stuff). I think, however, that it has pretty much plummeted to 1 anyway since I have not written anything for about a week. So, again, what to do?

I mentioned a while back about how I was cautioned about taking over the counter vitamin C now that I am a confirmed afflictee of hemochromatosis. Vitamin C facilitates the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron. Perhaps it would be useful to talk about things that I do take that apparently are not on the "do not consume" list and why I swallow them down every morning.

Lyprinisil: This is my blood pressure medicine. I did not have high blood pressure until I moved to New Mexico. My pressure was always 120/80 my whole life until them. I think that it went up in conjunction with the expansion of the Institute of Religion at the University of New Mexico. By the time I saw the doctor there, my pressure was 165/135. Why blood was not squirting out my eyes I do not know. My doctor put me on this blood pressure medicine, large quantities thereof, and it short order I seemed to be back to normal. Since that time I have tried to get off of it completely; at one point I was down to 2.5 mg a day and I seemed to be doing fine. Since the suspicion that I had this genetic disorder began to settle in, my blood pressure has been going up. About the time that everything was being evaluated, "Doc" increased my dose to 20 mg daily. I am now at 123/84 most of the time (139/93 just now, but I was thinking about it).

Bee Pollen: I take this for my allergies. It keeps me from having the symptoms and the obligatory sinus infections that inevitably follow. I did not have any allergies until I moved to New Mexico (hmmm... a developing pattern). High pollen count is 50 ppm (parts per million). Above that and there are serious problems in the air. The juniper pollen count in Albuquerque in the spring is generally in excess of 1500 ppm for about six weeks. For the first couple of years I was almost worthless from the middle of March until late April. Trillium taught me about bee pollen and I have been fine ever since.

Vitamin D3: Trillium says that this is the immune vitamin. I always thought that was what vitamin C was for. I am happy to know that I will not be suffering random diseases as a result of knocking vitamin C out of my ancillary diet. I have taken this for about six months or so and I have not had even the whisper of a cold.

Saw palmetto: Men have a condition later in life that causes them to get up during the night more often than they did when they were younger. A year ago, I was getting up every two hours during the night. I had chronic fatigue as a result. I take one pill a day and I now only get up once during the night, usually after six hours of good sleep. The prostate gland can be shrunk by saw palmetto. Do not, however, think that more is better. More means.... no I am not going to tell you what it means. Just don't over-do it; girls don't do it at all.

Chondroitin and glucosamine: These are for putting a little substance back into the joints, for replacement cartilage and such. I take two a day and have not felt any worse for wear. It is probably no more than modern snake oil, but it keeps me from worrying about shrinking to a height less than Becky's and thus my blood pressure is better.

Calcium-Magnesium: I have no idea why I am taking this. Trillium said that if I didn't do it I would become a bitter old man (or was it a brittle old man?). In any event I don't want to be an old man so I take it.

There you have it. A non-hemochromatosis blog entry that is just taking up space. Not very interesting, but so it goes. Just for the record, my sister Judie tells me that her hematologist is interested in my blog. If you are reading this, "Judie-doc", welcome to my world.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Iron Pen on a Tablet of Stone

Job was a nice guy, according to the book in the Bible bearing his name. For his goodness he was given the opportunity to lose everything that he owned to the Sabeans, fire from heaven, the Chaldeans, and a tornado, in that order. Job managed to stay cheerful in the midst of affliction and for his pains, his cake of trials and tribulations was given a frosting of boils from head to toe. His wife told him to curse God and die; his friends wanted him to confess his obvious sins in lurid detail. Job knew that he was a nice guy and would not curse God or anyone else because of his lot in life. He could not confess his sins in lurid detail to his four friends for two reasons: one, he had committed no sins that would have justified the rather rough treatment he had received; and, two, he didn't know what a "lurid detail" was. After all was said and done, forty-two poetic chapters later, Job had all that he lost restored to him and then some. In the middle of this winsome story, Job declaims "Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a blog (... er ...) book. That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever". He then goes on to explain why he felt as good as he did under the circumstances that he was forced to endure. You may read them for yourself in Job 19:23-27. As it turns out, I feel the same way, even though I am not afflicted in the same draconian manner as Job was. However, I do have a word or two to say about trying to get messages through to the medical industry which I hope could be as effective as iron pens on stone.

Trying to get through to my health provider is a nightmare, one like unto that caused by a pastrami and sour kraut sandwich on a pumpernickel bun. I dial the number 234-8600 (that's the real number, by the way, and I don't care if you call it) and immediately I am confronted with a recording that sounds inviting enough, but soon turns into a stone wall. About the first thing on the agenda is language preference, the instructions given in every possible language that might be spoken by a patient: "If you speak Spanish press '8'; if you speak Korean, press '9'; if you speak Finnish press '39'; if you speak Athabaskan, press '65'; if you speak American Sign Language, press '45893'; if you speak English stay on the line for one hour and forty-five minutes and we will get right to you."

The next thing that happens (not immediately, but eventually), the same recorded voice says, "Now that we are certain that you speak English, if you would like to talk with the Moran Eye Center, press '1'; if you would like to speak to the Pharmacy, press '2'; if you want to speak to your health care provider just stay on the line for one hour and forty-five minutes and we will get right to you." The irony of all of this is that the Moran Eye Center (234-8530) and the Pharmacy (234-8510) have their own phone numbers; in fact they are listed right below the UHCPHC number (234-8600) in the telephone book. Why is my path to the doctor strewn with stumbling blocks like this? Who in their right mind would go through all of the mysteries of the language selection if they could go directly to the Moran Eye Center or the Pharmacy? I think that there is a conspiracy here.

The next hurdle has to do with a variety of selections that I cannot at present remember, even though I just went through the routine less than an hour ago. What I do know is if you push any button other than "3" you will have a longer wait than the traditional one hour and forty-five minutes. The "push 3" option sends you off to the bowels of some answering service which arranges all of the appointments with the doctors and also will deliver messages to the main office in American Sign Language for you. While you are waiting for a human being to answer the phone (or a facsimile thereof) you are assailed by a tinny recording of some masterpiece orchestrated by Attila the Hun and his band of merry men. I have now heard every recording made by AtH and HBoMM six times and I have only tried to get through to my doctor twice. About a half an hour into their rendition of the "I Can't Get No Satisfaction/In Da Gadda Vida" medley, the same voice sweetly interrupts with "If you are bound and determined to speak with semi-sentient being, please stay on the line; if you wish, however, you can leave a message for the next available Mongoloid Idiot at our Call Center by pressing '1'." Never, ever, under any circumstances, take this option. There is no act of futility more intense than this one.

Eventually, someone does pick up the line and says, "Hello, my name is Djhjklfdnsbnethny, how may I help you?" This rather esoteric proper name approach by the Call Center is designed so that no one who answers the phone will ever get into trouble for the way that they insult and demean the patients who call in. I once tried to report Djhjklfdnsbnethny, but the supervisor with whom I was speaking said, "We have no one by that name here. We have a Djmjklfdnsbnethny, but she not the one you are after." (I could have made this last bit a whole lot funnier, but there is no copy-paste function in the compose mode of this blog). After Djhjklfdnsbnethny introduces herself, I say, "I would like to talk to my doctor" "Your name please" "Zaphod Beeblebrox" "Is 'Beeblebrox' spelled with three 'B's or nine." "Three," I reply. "Your date of birth?" "Somewhere in the twilight of pre-history." "Really, sir, we don't have time for that sort of humor; this is a medical facility." I sigh, "16 July 1942" "Is that with one '6' or three, Mwhahahahaha!" "One". "Well, now Zaffy, what can I do for you?" "I would like to talk to my doctor." "What is his name?" "Doc Holliday". "He's not in right now." "How can that be? He just tried to call me ten minutes ago and left a message on my answering machine, asking me to call him right back at this number". "Well, that's all fine and dandy for him, but we have no way to connect you directly with your doctor. We can pass a message along to him if it seems important enough or we can set up a really expensive appointment for you. We prefer the latter because we then get a piece of the action, if you know what I mean". I leave a message laced with mild allusions to mal-practice suits and hang up the phone.

About an hour later, "Doc" calls and says, "Hi, there. I hear that you have been stirring the kettle at the Call Center. Good for you! They never let me call out; I have to use my own cell phone." He then gives me the latest report on my health.

You will remember that when my ferritin level was first checked about a month ago, that I was at 827 and that with the addition of another 173 points I would permanently disturb the core of the planet, hopefully in a catastrophic way. "Doc" cheerfully announced that my ferritin level had dropped to 684, a loss of about 140 points. I had expected no more than 40 points, especially after the half pound of tri-tip steak and the Guacamole Bacon Burger. I confessed all. He said, "Well, don't be extreme about this. If you have a hamburger or a steak once a month that will not be a bad thing. It might mean an extra $200.00 phlebotomy and a couple of $85.00 visits, but whose counting?" After assuring me that everything was coming along as it should, he said, "I'll have my nurse set up another visit for you at the Infusion Center and in a month you come back for another blood test. And when you do, make an appointment to see me a couple of days later so we won't have to use the the Call Center." I told him that I would figure something out.

There used to be a commercial on television, for Big O Tires, I think, where the voice-over guy says, "If you are not satisfied with our tires, just bring them on back to us". The video shows a little old lady with a tire that she then heaves through the plate glass window of the store. I am thinking along the same lines, about making myself known to the University Health Call Center in Jobian terms. I figure that if I incise my message with an iron pen on a large stone and toss that through one of the big windows, they will begin to pay attention to me when I call.

As an addendum: Amber just called from "Doc Holliday's" office to let me know that I now have a standing order at the Infusion Center for a monthly phlebotomy. Without thinking I said, "Does that mean that I am not going to be able to lie down? ('standing order', tee-hee)" There was a momentary silence and then Amber said, "Zaphod, what did I tell you about humor in the workplace?" Then it hit me: "Djhjklfdnsbnethny? Is that you, Djhjklfdnsbnethny" "(click)"