Saturday, January 24, 2009

National Casting of Aspersions Week

This proved to be a tough week for me and I thought that a day-by-day recounting would be useful.

You remember (or not) that I had my phlebotomy a couple of weeks ago after a two-month respite from poking or prodding of any kind. The fact that I did not have a blood-letting during December disturbed me somewhat (or not) and I was left with a lot of time on my hands when I thought very little of anything else 'ceptin' eatin', which I did a lot of. Along with consuming a vast amount of iron-bearing foods, I compounded the problem by chasing every molecule down with phenomenal amounts of sugar and vitamin C, which without question facilitated absorption of any kind of iron floating about in the air. I began to fear for my life.

I decided last week, during our stay in St. George, Utah, that I would have my ferritin check on Monday the 19th. Now before anyone accuses me of a gross insensitivity, I have to say that since my retirement everyday is a holiday. I don't keep track of these sorts of things as a rule, because as a rule these national days of pause have little or no impact on my daily life. Trillium's birthday does and our anniversary does, but most everything else is just another day in paradise. When I called to make an appointment for my 30-second mini-extraction, no one answered at the clinic. "What is with these people?" I said into the mouthpiece of the phone. "Is everybody on vacation?" It was then that I looked at the calendar. I was so chagrined at not acknowledging Civil Rights Day, as it is called here in Utah, that when Friday came I did not take the trash out to the curb, expecting that Waste Management would come on Saturday, which is their practice when a holiday falls mid-week. Thursday night, after all of the evening events were over, Trillium said, "Aren't you going to take the trash out?"

I smugly replied "They won't come tomorrow; Monday was a national holiday."

"You better take it out; my calendar says that tomorrow is the big day, and it is a two-bucket day." I did so, in the rain, grumbling all the while about the farce that recycling is in our valley. I have a sneaking suspicion that even though two separate trucks come on Friday mornings, one each for the black and blue cans, they end up taking the refuse that we have diligently segregated to the same place for burial. Trillium is never wrong, however, and the trucks rolled about on their appointed rounds at their usual hour. Horror of horrors! Waste Management does not observe Martin Luther King Day!

Tuesday Joe Biden was sworn in as the 47th Vice-President of the United States, the man who assured me that paying more taxes was patriotic. I celebrated the occasion by spending an enormous amount of Medicare dollars by having my ferritin level checked. Now I have to decide whether I am un-American or simply a tax-and-spend Republican.

Tuesday I called my doctor's office early with the usual phone routine, and set up an appointment to have my blood drawn for the ferritin check shortly before the time that we were going to visit T-ma at the Shire. About 1:20, Trillium and I made our way to the University Health Care Center on University Parkway. For those of you who don't know, UHCC is named such because of the University of Utah, of which it is a part. University Parkway is named for BYU of which I am a part (an alumnus twice over, you know). I am always in a state of confliction when I go to visit with "Doc Holiday" who went to medical school at the University of Cincinnati (another outfit in dressed in red). Anyway.... "She-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless" (SWSRN for short, pronounced "Shwooshrun") showed up at the front desk shortly after I checked in at 1:30 and waited there apparently doing nothing for over ten minutes while I cooled my heels beneath the television set carrying the broadcast of the Inauguration of the new President. I might have forgiven her if she had been watching the history-making event, but she simply stood at the far side of the desk with a blank look on her face. At 1:45 she invited me into her lab as if she had just noticed me, did her 30-second task and wished me well. She did, however, complement me on my veins. Was this sweet observation supposed to ameliorate the the fifteen minutes of heel-cooling, a rhetorical symbolism without substance? What a day!

On Wednesday, Tom Hanks, an actor whose work I have admired, declared that I was "un-American" simply because I hold political views that differ from his. This he did with a personal phone call. The phone rang. "Yes?" I replied.

"Zaphod! This is Tom. You're un-American and I wanted you to be the first to know that I am in the process of calling up all thirteen million of the rest of your people to let you know how I feel."

"Tom," I said, "How much is this going to cost you? Thirty or forty million dollars? Personal phone calls to thirteen million people world wide is going to be a little pricey. Why don't you just hold a press conference and tell us all off at once?" You all know the rest of the story.

I waited all day Thursday for "Doc Holliday" to call me with the results of my ferritin check. No joy! When the mail came yesterday there was a letter to me from the good doctor informing me that my ferritin level was at 345, some 52 points lower than the last level in November. To date I have lost almost 500 points of ferritin, this since August, about 100 points per phlebotomy. I have wondered what would have happened if I had had blood drawn in December and January. Prior to this last measurement I had dropped on average about 120 point per phlebotomy. Is is possible that I could have been as low as 160 by now if I had given it up twice instead of once? I am determined that I am going to give blood two more times, once in February and another in March, before my semi-annual visit with "Doc Holliday" in April. He will probably excoriate me for taking my life into my own hands, but I need to have good ratings on the internet, especially at "" and "".

Nothing else happened on Friday, the product of a four-day work week. Trillium and I went out to Chuck-A-Rama for dinner. Salads of all kinds, Cajun White Fish, a batch of batter-fried shrimp, and cobbler for desert. Oh, happy iron-free day!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pig Iron, Part Deux


During that last posting, the "wheatdog" was doing all of the talking.

Getting back to the iron in hotdogs, I have to say that the whole process of figuring out an appropriate amount of iron intake for a hemochromatosis patient is obfuscated by the fact that the USDA makes it almost impossible to understand their system. For example: the makers of Ballpark Hotdogs testify that one of their beef franks will provide a person with 4% of his (slightly less for her) daily requirement for iron. The United States Department of Agriculture says that a normal person needs about 10 milligrams (.010 grams) of iron to make it through a normal day. If you are an abnormal person or are having an abnormal day, you are on your own, mathematically speaking. Assuming normality, Ballpark is suggesting that if you wish to have all of your iron come from their wienies, you would have to eat 25 of them. Wow! As much as I love "wheatdogs", I can't hammer down a whole loaf bread in a day. Maybe there is more going on here than meets the eye.

Inasmuch as we hemochromatosis patients absorb three times as much iron from the food that we consume, should we conclude that one hotdog eaten by myself would provide 12% of my daily requirement for iron? That seems reasonable. Yet I have to ask myself, again, how much total iron is there in a hotdog? Resorting again to the math of the matter, if 4% represents a tenth of the total amount of iron in a hotdog (remember, 4% is the promised nutritional value, and normal people only digest 10% of the total available), then the total amount of iron that could be wrung from a Ballpark frank is 40% of the USDA's recommendation. The USDA says that 10 milligrams (.010 grams) is all that you need each day. If my mad math skills have not failed me, each Ballpark beef frank has a total of .004 grams of iron held within its plump little self. Now, hold on to your bootstraps! A Ballpark beef frank weighs 56 grams. What in the world constitutes the other 55.996 grams of material in that wienie? Don't think about this conundrum too long; "Calorie Count" gives Ballpark beef franks a nutritional grade of "F" and those guys have no clue about hemochromatosis. They also apparently have no clue about what constitutes a great tasting hotdog. The fact of the matter is, no matter what else is in a Ballpark beef frank, 53.5678 grams of it is pure "yummy". What I find interesting is that Trillium has intuitively selected the best possible venue for my personal addiction to "wheatdogs", and this long before "Doc Holliday" and I had our first set-to.

Here are Consumer Reports top six hotdogs, as of July 2007:

1. Hebrew National Kosher Beef Franks (weighs 49 grams and has 50% more iron than Ballpark; I have eaten loads of these behind Trillium's back))
2. Nathan's Famous Skinless Beef Franks (with roll, weighs 100 grams and has half of the iron of a Ballpark wienie; when is the next train to Coney Island?)
3. Boar's Head Skinless Beef Franks (weighs 45 grams and has the same iron as Ballpark; never heard of them, but can you get beef from a boar?)
4. Hebrew National Kosher Reduced-Fat Beef Franks (weighs 49 grams and has the same iron as Ballpark; non-fat sounds like you're concerned about your health. You can eat three of these in place of one Ballpark.)
5. Boar's Head Lite Skinless Beef Franks (weighs 45 grams and has the same iron as Ballpark; still suspecting the boar's head!)
6. Ball Park Beef Franks (weighs 56 grams and is the industry standard; 4% of USDA suggested iron intake)

Earlier in our married life, Trillium and I lived in Garden Grove, California. For poverty purposes we used to shop at a grocery store in Santa Ana called McCoy's. Everything was cheap! One day while shopping I cruised by the meat department and found hotdogs on sale for $.10 a pound. I had never seen them that cheap before, even at McCoy's. I began emptying the freezer case into my cart. Trillium came by with another cart and said, "Whatcha doin'?" She always uses that accent when I am doing something suspect.

"I'm a-pickin' up food!" I always use my Mortimer Snerd accent when I sense that I have been caught doing something stupid.

"Whatcha got?"

"Hottendoggies, yup, yup yup!"

"Whats inem?"

I looked at the "nutritional facts" label. "Beef lips and pork snouts," I stammered, somewhat aghast.

She gave me that look she always gives me on such occasions and said sweetly, "Too much cheap iron. Put them back. You'll thank me later".

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pig Iron

I went to the Infusion Center a couple of days ago and gave my bi-monthly pint. Prior to doing so, I called up the International Red Cross to see how their movement toward allowing hemochromatosis patients to give blood for public use. For those of you who have been following my adventures with this unexpectedly unrare disorder, I had called them once before about this matter because I thought that $107.00 per pop was just a little too much to pay in order to share my lovely B+ blood with the land fill. I called the local office; the Donor Acceptability Department. I was greeted by a somewhat familiar voice.

"Hello, Mr. Beeblebrox. What may I do for you?"

"How did you know it was me?" I asked.

"Caller I.D.. I find it is a lot more personal if I greet our patrons by their names. Is there something I can do for you."

"I was hoping that I could do something for you. I am wondering if you have changed your policy on the donation of iron-overloaded blood. I understood that the policy was supposed to change in this region after the first of the year."

"Oh! I don't know. This is just the Donor Acceptability Department. I will have to put you in touch with the Donor Acceptability Department in Boise, Idaho. Can you hold?"

Before I could ask the obvious question, I was put on hold. A few seconds later, another voice (I say another voice, but it sounded surprisingly the same as the one that I had just been speaking with, whom I thought hailed from Provo, Utah) picked up the line and sweetly said,"Hello, Mr. Beeblebrox. What may I do for you?"

I replied: "I was hoping that I could do something for you. I am wondering if you have changed your policy on the donation of iron-overloaded blood. I understood that the policy was supposed to change in this region after the first of the year." I have to do these repetitions frequently as I move up the information ladder. Someday I am doing to figure out a way to scissors-and-paste my voice.

"Hmmmm! I don't know. Let me check with my supervisor. Can you hold?"

At what point does anyone know anything about who qualifies as an acceptable donor of blood? Eventually, the girl came back on line. "Well, Zaphod (I began to wonder if I had called them more than once), it appears that the policy has not changed. You will still have to go to the Infusion Center to do your duty to yourself and your sister. Bye-bye now."

Somewhat dazed at the exchange, I found the number of the Infusion Center and asked to set up an appointment. The person at the other end of the line said, "Hello, Mr. Beeblebrox. What may I do for you?" I was certain that this was the third time I had spoken to the same person.

"I would like to come down as soon as possible and have a phlebotomy. I have a standing order from my doctor."

"Yes, yes, we know, but we are really busy this morning. There have been a goodly number of people who have fallen off the wagon over the holidays. Could you come sometime after 2:00 this afternoon?"

I said that I could and would. As it turned out, Trillium and I went up to see T-ma about 1:00 or so to see how she was getting along with the staff, and how many times she had hit any of the therapists there with it. All of this progressed, the drive to and fro, from home to The Shire, to the Infusion Center, and back home in one of the worst snow storms in Utah history. Our stay at The Shire was short, but we had time to play one game of Phase 10 before moseying off to Provo. I am a little dim about who won. I think that T-ma did; by one card. I faded fast once she began swinging her cane at me. (Now no hasty chastisement here; you all know that this scene was fabricated for artistic effect. My mother-in-law and I get along just fine.)

At the Infusion Center, I signed in once again in some detail. If one does not show up at their place more frequently than once a month, then all of the paperwork has to be done all over again. I was taken to a cubical, very similar to all of the others in which I had been previously ensconced. While I was sitting there waiting for someone to deflate me, a very large man raced by, his hand over his face, and blood streaming down his arm. I was naturally curious. While I waited there, the same man passed by the front of my cubical several more times in the same attitude and condition. When my paperwork arrived from Registration, Nurse Chappell flounced in and began preparing me for my blood-letting. I took the opportunity to ask Majel the burning question. "Who is the fellow with the bloody nose?"

"Him? Oh, just another phlebotomy guy. I'm not sure whether he asked for a second can of root beer [this she said looking at me with a knowing eye] or whether they just had trouble finding a good enough vein in his arm to draw from."

I am not vain about my veins, but I was happy that they seemed to be cooperating that afternoon. I can't help but wonder though, how long it would take to give a pint of blood through one's nose. I went went home rejoicing in the condition of my cardio-vascular system, even though the hole in my right arm was obscenely large.

Now in another vein.

I have tried to be at least a little bit conservative in my eating habits, but there appears to be one thing that I cannot seem to do without. At some point in my childhood, I happened upon a really hot hotdog and finding no other ready condiment, merely put butter on a piece of bread and wrapped the slice around the dog. It is sort of like a "corndog", but it is more like a "wheatdog" without the stick. I love these things. I can eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and sense no shame whatsoever. I just had one a few minutes ago, even though Trillium fixed a lovely (and supremely healthy) meal for dinner. It is an addiction.

How much life-threatening, liver-destroying, pancreas-eroding, brain-frying, heart-stopping iron is there in a "wheatdog"? Who cares?
(I need an attitude adjustment here!)