I guess that I have been in a dream cycle lately, pestered by my mind while the rest of my body is trying to catch a wink or two. I think that my brain was reacting to the fact that I haven’t had much source material of late regarding my erstwhile affliction. In another week I will go in for another phlebotomy; two weeks after that I will go for my ferritin check, and a week later I will have my regular visit with the good “Doc Holliday”. The last month or so have been a wasteland for my gift of sarcasm. The dream cycle has taken various forms, but the one that has bearing for this blog involved a snake, or two, depending on who you talk to.
I usually come up with the title for a posting before I actually write my piece. This past week I woke up with “Iron Serpent” on the brain. “Hmmmm,” I said to myself. “What can I make of that?” I thought about how snakes shed their skin frequently, apparently in an attempt to get rid of vast amounts of unwanted iron. I suspected that the fact that a snake has no hair at all and is devoid of fingernails and toenails, must have been for them the ultimate sacrifice in their battles with hemochromatosis…. As you can tell, I was not yet fully awake. Snakes don't sweat much, which serves as counter evidence to my dream-thought.
I wondered if my little dream image came from my intimate association with the medical profession, with “Doc Holliday” and “She Who Shall Remain Nameless” at the University of Utah Medical Center, or because of “Nurse Gory” and all of his fun playmates down at the Infusion Center. I did not have an immediate answer. As you well know, when I find myself in such a predicament, I resort to the Internet for something charming. Notwithstanding my efforts, I have failed at “something charming” so you are stuck with the remainder of this posting as it is.
Googling “Iron Serpent” proved to be a bust. There is an on-line RPG game by that name which did have some appeal because of all of the virtual blood-letting. I am doubtful, however, that cyber-phlebotomies are going to impress anyone in the medical profession. There was a picture of downtown Cairo, Egypt, entitled “The Iron Serpent”, but I really could not make a direct connection between the picture and our present topic except that a great deal of pig iron has been poured out upon the Egyptian sand recently as a result of the Swine Flu pandemic that has been sweeping the world (there is no shortage of stupidity in this country, by the way, when ordinarily intelligent people begin calling a virus that has killed one-tenth of one percent of the people killed by regular flu, a “menace to billions”). Wikipedia gave me “Steel Serpent”, the arch enemy of “Iron Fist”. I can hardly wait until these Marvel comic book characters make it into a major full-length movie.
I then returned to my first notion about the medical profession and discovered some really bizarre things about the symbols for medicine. Can anyone tell me the difference between the caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius? I thought not. The latter was originally the symbol for ancient Greek medicine. The symbol features a single serpent wrapped around a staff. The staff was to be understood as the symbol of godly authority. The snake has been identified as the rat snake, "Elaphe longissima", a slithering beast which the Romans thought was beneficial to health, but never bothered to explain why they felt that way. Other scholars, in an attempt to raise the gorge of everyone on the planet, have averred that the snake of Asclepius was really a parasitic worm, “dracunulus medicinses”, which had to be extracted from beneath the skin by wrapping it slowly around a stick. This explanation certainly has convinced me as to why I get the willies every time I walk into a hospital.
The “caduceus” or the sign of two serpents wrapped around a winged pole was the device that represented the Greek god Hermes (Mercury in the Roman pantheon). Hermes was the patron lord of gamblers, thieves, tricksters, and alchemists (Hmmm… I am beginning to see a pattern here). By the end of the 16th century, alchemy and medicine had become identified with one another (to say nothing of gamblers, tricksters, and thieves) resulting in the association of the caduceus with medicine. It was not until 1902, however, that the caduceus was adopted by the US Medical Corps. A fellow named Captain Reynolds duped the newly appointed Surgeon General, W.H.Forwood, into accepting the symbol for the Corps. By the time the silliness of the caduceus was realized, too many of the newly minted pins were in use and the US Army was stuck with them forever.
In 1992 a survey of medical organizations was taken regarding their use of the Rod of Asclepius or of the caduceus. Interestingly enough 62% of all professional medical groups in the United States used the Rod, while 76% of the commercial medical organizations touted the caduceus (Hmmmm… the pattern persists). What does iron have to so with all of this? As far as I can tell, absolutely nothing…. except metaphorically.
I believe that there is a little bit of irony involved in the use of the Rod and the caduceus here in Utah Valley. “Doc Holliday” has the caduceus plastered all over his office, and yet I have never felt tricked, robbed, or gambled with during any of my visits with him. The Infusion Center has no symbol as far as I can tell, but I have been just a little fanciful of late and I have concluded that they and their patrons would prefer the Rod of Asclepius. I reported that when I had my last phlebotomy, “Nurse Gory” and his sidekick “Nickle” worked me over in the same spirit that my father and I worked the worm over on the banks of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River when I was learning to fish. I am now beginning to suspect that they were after the “dracunulus medicinses” that has taken up residence in my left elbow; the chop stick that “Nurse Gory" had stuck behind his ear really makes sense now.
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...
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