Monday, July 27, 2009

The Lyticane Placebo

Well, the economic downturn has finally hit central Utah!

This morning Trillium and I went out to go shopping. As we began our prance through Costco, we noticed that the price of gas had dropped eleven cents since the last time we bought any. Trillium said, "Well, maybe we ought to go over and top off the tank." Then she looked at the gas gauge. It was almost full. "It hardly seems to be worth the trouble." The fact that we had filled the tank six weeks ago says something about the amount of time that we have devoted to stimulating the U.S. economy. We took T-ma out to eat last week and went to Village Inn instead of Carrabas, not because we couldn't afford the latter, but we thought that it was really important to support a place that otherwise would have no customers at all. For my money, I simply bought myself about six hours of bad indigestion. The upside was that my body completely rejected all of the available iron in the onion rings, the deep fried cod, and the jumbo scrimp slathered in cocktail sauce. As my duodenum said later, "I am not going to stand for this any more! From now on, I am only going to accept the Pollo Rosa Maria." Works for me.

As part of this morning's adventures we drove up to the DFCU to see about getting our annual box of free checks. Since we have been depositors and investors in the place for more than 30 years, the credit union has a special place in their hearts for us. We are "Loyal" customers and therefore, DFCU tries to benefit us in a variety of ways. We have been in Utah for nine years now and at some point early on the credit union sent us a notice saying that they were going to shower us with gifts as an act of appreciation. They would pay all of our bills for free. They would give us checks for free. They would do notary work for us for free. They would give us a considerably higher rate of interest on our CDs than the normal dweebs received. We could eat all of the lobby candy that we wanted, which usually consisted of rootbeer barrels. Just a whole bowl full of things for us if we simply dropped in. The bill pay went away after about six months. I asked what had happened. They said that the whole thing fouled up their computer system. A couple of other benefits have gone by the boards, including, as it turns out, the free box of checks every year. When I asked about it this morning, the teller said, "I'm new here. I don't think we do that." I said, "You have been doing it for at least five years. What's happened?" The teller contacted her supervisor.

"Oh, we don't do that any more. The downturn in the economy, you know."

"Hey! I didn't become involved in risky business dealings all over the country. I didn't invest in sub-prime mortgages. I didn't spend more than what I had coming in. I stuffed all of my disposable cash into this place, figuring that I would thereby have my free box of checks every year because I was LOYAL! Now I suppose I will have to leave a ten-dollar bill in the basket just to have one of these rootbeer barrels!"

"No, Dr. Beeblebrox, those are only two dollars. The economy isn't that bad."

This afternoon I went over to the Infusion Center to have my bi-monthly phlebotomy. The girls all ranted and raved at my appearance, commenting appreciatively about my blog, how wonderfully entertaining it was, in spite of the fact that I made them out to be a pack of ghouls from time to time. One of the nurses said to the other, "You know, Majel, Zaphod thinks you are his hero."

"Why does he think that!" I love being talked about in the third person when I am in the same room.

"Because you were the first nurse to take his blood and it didn't hurt as much as he thought it would." I wondered when that happened. I thought it was the Girl in Glacier Ice Blue that had managed to cure me of my phobia, or at least part of it, when she told me that the Lyticane was what really hurt and not the needle. I decided that it was not worth my life to tell "Chester" that she had confused my nurses.

In any event, "Nurse Chappell" arranged all of the gear around me in the cubicle. I said that I was grateful that I had learned that it was not the needle but the local anesthesia that hurt me at the first. It was then that the horror began.

"Oh, Zaphod, the needle always hurts, no matter how small. It just does... It just does..." Then she began to morph into Peter Lorrie, in texture and temperament.... "Yessss... I really don't want to hurt you, but....... I just,... I just,... I just can't heeelllppp myself."

And, lo and behold, that needle did hurt, it hurt a lot! I almost jumped up out of the chair. "Wasn't that nice?" the nurse said.

"No, no, it wasn't!"

"Good!" Then she pulled out a needle the size of a broomstick and tried to jam it into my elbow. "There," she said, "Does that hurt? Does that hurt? How about over here?"

When I came to, the nurses were pouring me a glass of Barq's rootbeer, while a third one of them was stepping on my package of Lorna Doones. "Sorry about the cookies," she said sheepishly as she poured the dust into my hand.

"What is going on here?" I said weakly.

"Oh this is just part of our inservice training for the new healthcare program that the Senate and the House are getting ready to vote on. We just wanted you to know what your service is going to be like if it goes through."

"Really? Even Medicare patients?"

"Especially Medicare patients. I hope that you didn't mind too much that we used rootbeer instead of Lyticane to deaden the place where we drew your blood. We literally wanted you to get the point."

I decided afterward that I would get my haircut, so I went up to the Dollar Cuts next to Macy's on State Street and had a lady work me over. She was an old time barber, one who had been doing hair for 35 years, one that put the little tissue around my neck first before cinching down the apron. After she did my hair, she worked my eyebrows over and the tuffs of fine white hairs that collect on my ears from time to time. I think she actually put Brylcream on my hair. I felt like a new man. It was an $11.00 haircut. She managed to get so much iron off my head that I gave her a three dollar tip. As I was paying my bill she said, "The girls from the Infusion Center called to say that they were sorry and that I was to give you a really good hair cut. They said that if you tipped really well that they would take it easy on you next time, even though it is their current policy to really stick it to everyone who comes in. Actually, they are really worried about what you are going to write about them in your blog."

As I thought about it, I laughed right out loud. I laughed all the way out to the Mustang, all the way down State Street, all the way to the house, and I am laughing as I am putting the final touches on this little entry.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Ironic Superhero

I have lately been cherishing my speed reading of the Deseret News here in Orem, inasmuch as our old paper carrier quit here last week and the new paper-person (man, woman, girl, boy?) has had some difficulty finding my front porch. On a couple of days, he, she, or it has had trouble finding the neighborhood. I will not go into the trouble that I had reporting this fact to Media One, the diabolical franchise commissioned to field questions from the public about newspaper delivery, because it would sound so familiar to my regular readers that they would think that there is an echo in this blog. The whole reporting process has been computerized, with voice recognition software. My accent is so outrageous (heavy Southern Californian) that eventually the recorded voice started making typing sounds. That went on for a couple of minutes and then the woman’s voice came back on to say, “We are experiencing technical problems. I will now transfer your call to a dying chimpanzee in Outer Mongolia”. The rest of the morning passed away in a manner that you would expect, given the setting.

In any event, when the paper arrived last Monday I thought to spend a little more time with it than usual, inasmuch as I might not be able to get through to the monkey again if the paper failed to show up the next day. I was taken in by the headline on page C3: “Iron Deficiency is a Big Problem for Trees and Shrubs”. Now there was a newsflash! All sorts of “tree-hugging” thoughts came into my mind, what I might do to help the little “dears”, since I have a plethora of the very molecules that the trees and shrubs in Utah seem to need. I read Larry Sagers’ article with rapt attention. I thought that if I spent enough time with the star of KSL’s “The Greenhouse Show” that I would come up with something for my blog. What an optimist I am! He went on ad nauseum about which trees are particularly susceptible to iron chlorosis (silver maples, red maples, sugar maples, Amur maples, birches, dawn redwoods, sweetgums, pin oaks, willows, pears, bald cypresses, crabapples, white pines, cottonwoods, and aspins). Did he stop there? No! He went on to list the shrubs (boxwoods, cotoneasters, flowering dogwoods, hydrangeas, privets, pyracanthas, spireas, roses, raspberries, strawberries, peaches and Concord grapes). I asked myself, “Are there any other kinds of trees or shrubs in the whole state?" (I think not.) "Do I have any of these in my back yard?” (Without question.)

Actually, within a hundred yards of my house, every single one of these varieties is flourishing fabulously well, while the rest of state, according to Uncle Larry, is succumbing to the symptoms of iron chorosis (leaves turning light green, yellow, or white, while the veins remain green). Why is my neighborhood doing so well? Why do you think? I walk around the park, my skin flakes and graying hair flitting about, nourishing everything within wafting distance. The cynic may say, “Hey! You don’t shed enough hair and skill to fertilize ten acres of neighborhood!” That may be, but what I do shed is really, really, really, really good for the plants.

In a fit of boredom last night, I turned on the television and surfed just long enough to find Disney’s “Sky High”. I actually watched about half of it before the predictability of the storyline caused my brain to implode. All of the superheroes were stereotypes, or parodies of stereotypes, save one: Layla Williams as played by Danielle Panabaker. Layla has the power of plant manipulation; she is also a pacifist and a vegetarian. I figured that out early on when she joined her love interest, Will Stronghold, on the roof of his house by causing the apple tree in the yard to grow while she hung on to one of the branches. I said to myself, “There is a girl with hemochromatosis, a superhero with an iron-overloading problem that she has turned into a superpower asset!”

I have decided that this is to be my new calling in life. I am going to be an Ironic Superhero. I am going to drive all over Utah, up and down the I-15, the I-80, and every other major highway in the state. I am going to do that in my wonderful, 1993 Mustang convertible with the top down. I am going to single-handedly cure the woodlands and pastures, the hills and dales, the flora and fauna of the Great Basin Empire. In addition, I will simultaneously stimulate the economy by stopping at every Burger King along the way, with an occasional purchase at a Macy’s supermarket strategically placed along the Wasatch Front. With all that Whopper and maple bar consumption, I will bring peace and harmony to all living things.

Take that, Larry!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Very Super-suspicious

As it turns out, I have a monitor on my web page that can tell me at a moment’s notice just how many people have visited my website, the city and country where they live, and how much time they have wasted reading my deathless prose. Many of them have been trying to find out detailed information about hemochromatosis, Googling this way and that. With my same little monitor, I can know which words they used in their search engine that brought them to my blog. I find it really interesting that many of them have wanted to know about famous people, how many famous people suffer from my little genetic condition. Odds are, if there are more than 250 famous people in the world, one of their number would be afflicted. When a person types in “hemochromatosis famous people”, my little blog usually shows up in the top five. The searcher dutifully reads my comments which, of course, help them in no appreciable way. The only famous person mentioned in my text in the same breath with “hemochromatosis” is Joni Mitchell, who, as far as I can tell, is not a partaker of our little malaise. I can imagine how disappointed some of these folks must be. I wonder if any of them mutter less-than-salubrious commentary as they “page back” to better sources. In an effort to be a benefit to my readers, I have decided to help these erstwhile researchers out a little, I have decided to do a little research of my own.

My contribution here is not as altruistic as it might seem in the beginning. I was at a loss as to what to write during the next few weeks. “Dancing on the Edge”, my other site, is eclectic enough that I can make regular forays into the arcane on a regular basis. “Hemochromatosis” requires a catalyst of some kind. For some reason, after posting to “Dancing” this last week, I began to have a song go through my mind, one recorded by Stevie Wonder many years ago, thirty years ago in fact. I went to YouTube and listened to three or four versions of it and decided to put the song in my playlist. In an attempt to intellectually honest, however, I asked myself how I could do this without making some sort of reference to my affliction. I decided that I could not, so like any enterprising young man, I tried to make a connection between Stevie Wonder and hemochromatosis. Googling the three words sent me to an interesting website called “BC: Biocritics Sci/Tech”. There I found Stevie Wonder mentioned by name in an article about “simultaneous Arabic translation” (I bet that guy's blog gets a lot of hits too). I read the entire article trying to find “hemochromatosis”; there was nothing. I sort of felt like one of those folks that had been duped into reading my blog after a strenuous fourteen seconds of research. Then I noticed in one of the side-bars an article on hemochromatosis which actually talked about famous people who probably had the genetic condition. Okay, there is the connection between Little Stevie and hemochromatosis and my playlist makes sense. Now on to the famous people.

The article, “Even Celebrities Are Not Immune To Iron Overload -- Speculation and Proof”, is aptly titled, unlike my own little bits and pieces. There is an enormous amount of speculation and the “proof” is about 90 out of 200. The author suggests that Jackie Onassis’ father, Black Jack Bouvier, probably suffered from hemochromatosis because of his dark tan and liver problems. Of course, Black Jack may have spent a lot of time perfecting his sun tan while sipping mint juleps on the patio. In any event, BJB is someone famous, and there are not many of us famous HH types, so we probably ought to include him.

The next fellow that the author suspected as having been afflicted with iron overload was Steve (Terrance Steven) McQueen. I really like it when insiders let us know what the real names of famous people are. I have two of my own: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and Clives Staples Lewis, neither of whom had hemochromatosis. Steve thought he was dying of overexposure to asbestos. After I read his medical history I decided that the “Great Escape” artist died of multiple “injections of live cells from cows and sheep, coffee enemas, frequent shampoos and massages”. According to Wikipedia, McQueen died of cardiac arrest after undergoing surgery for several large tumors in his abdomen, tumors directly related to mesothelioma. All illnesses aside, Steve McQueen’s best movie was the “Thomas Crown Affair”. I say that it is his best because it’s the only one I have watched clear through, that and “Papillon”.

Next in the litany of hemochromatosis sufferers are the Hemmingways: Ernest, his silblings Ursula and Leicester, his father Clarence, and his granddaughter Margaux. Some sorts have suggested that his suicide and those of the afore-mentioned members of his family happened because of the iron overloading in their brains. Marguax killed herself because of all of the stress associated with the odd spelling of her name. In the case of Ernest, however, it seems reasonable to assume that the extensive electric shock treatments that he received at the Mayo clinic did not do much for his bouts with depression and memory loss, the self-professed reasons that he gave for not wanting to live. All of the Hemingways suffered from alcoholism, a problem far more injurious to the brain than iron-overloading.

Our author also claims that John Steinbeck suffered from hemochromatosis because his son died of the condition. That Steinbeck was a carrier is a given; that he suffered from the disease is not certain. He died of a heart attack caused by the complete occlusion of the main coronary arteries. That effect is caused by over-loading of another kind, not by excessive iron.

Frankly, I think that we ought to look to the real celebrities of the matter. My sister for example. She has to be one of the most famous hemochromatosis sufferers on the planet. She has appeared repeatedly, has been featured prominently, in one of the most widely read websites on the disease: mine. If you were to Google “hemochromatosis” right now, you would find more than 866,000 hits on the web. If you were type in “hemochromatosis” and just about any other word in the English language, like say “Stevie Wonder”, you would find that my blog is listed in the top five out of the 866,000. More than 2600 people world-wide can’t be wrong. That literate body constitutes .0000433 percent of the world’s population, a bevy of geniuses visiting my blog on a regular basis, and every single one of them knows Judie. Now that’s notoriety! Think of it! Without her, you would not be reading any of this stuff!

In the meantime, turn up the volume and click on Little Stevie Wonder’s funky 1972 bit “Superstition” in my playlist. It will make you feel happy (no depression), you’ll give up drinking (it’s hard to keep the rhythm with a snoot full), and you will feel less inclined to stick your finger into a lamp socket (and, as an added benefit, you’ll look less and less like Michael Richards). What could be better than that?