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.
Waters Blue - This morning I was prancing through the text of the first volume of my autobiography, in preparation for its printing in a month or so. As I was reviewing...
7 years ago