Saturday, September 18, 2010

Depositing Iron in a Time of Financial Crisis

I have been waiting for the economy to turn around for the United States and the world, not because I have been suffering financially, because that is not the case. For 40 years I have not been investing in the stock market, I have been investing in iron and it has paid off.

Actually, only nine percent of my savings portfolio has anything at all to do with the stock market. The rest of my investments are in bonds, iron bonds. This is wisdom inasmuch as the fact remains that no matter what I do my vested interest in iron continues to go up.

Bonds have an interesting aspect to them. They are, for the most part, a stable commodity. They generally do not perform spectacularly; there are no wild swings in value. When I originally started my savings program, 60% of my investment went to guaranteed funds, usually the money market. Seldom did that money make more than 5% per year. 30% of my investments were in bonds, long term bonds I think. At some point because of the way DMBA makes its little course corrections, all of my money market funds became invested into short term bonds. These have done well, no matter what the economy has done. About four years ago I began receiving payouts on my savings and investments. Several thousands of dollars have been paid out, and yet today I have more money in my portfolio than when I started requesting the payouts.

This of course has its counterpart in hemochromatosis. For the past three years I have been actively drawing on my duodenal iron deposits and expending them like a drunken sailor. Actually, more like a drunken sailor that has been beat up, slashed, and left for dead. My iron deposits dropped like Wall Street on Black Tuesday every time I had a phlebotomy. My ferritin count starting at 827 plummeted to 46.8 as of six months ago, and three months ago it again dropped to 45.7 which I have attributed to completely eliminating chocolate from my diet.

A week or so I went into the University Clinic and had another ferritin test done. After six months of not having any phlebotomies and no chocolate, my ferritin count now stands at 58.1, up about 12 points in three months. Of course, I am curious about what I did to have the iron go up and I have concluded that it was the three wheat dogs and the two quarter pounders that I had for dinner the two nights before. At this rate I am going to be in serious trouble in about.... um... thirty years, probably on the very day that my kidneys fall out of my body. I will be kind of like the Wonderful One-Horse Shay.

A Logical Story

Have you heard of the wonderful one-horse shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it--ah but stay,
I'll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits,
Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five,
Georgius Secundus was then alive,
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down
And Braddock's army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weakest spot, -
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,--lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will,--
Above or below, or within or without,--
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,
That a chaise breaks down, but doesn't wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do,
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell yeou,")
He would build one shay to beat the taown
'n' the keounty 'n' all the kentry raoun';
It should be so built that it couldn' break daown,
"Fur," said the Deacon, "It's mighty plain
Thut the weakes' place mus' Stan' the strain;
'n' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
T' make that place uz strong uz the rest."

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn't be split nor bent nor broke,
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thins;
The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees.
The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the "Settler's ellum,"--

Last of its timber,--they couldn't sell 'em,
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through."
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she'll dew!"

Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren--where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day

EIGHTEEN HUNDRED; -it came and found
The Deacon's masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten;--
"Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came;--
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then come fifty, and FIFTY-FIVE.

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it.--You're welcome.--No extra charge.)

FIRST of NOVEMBER,--the Earthquake-day--
There are traces of age in the one-hoss shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn't be,--for the Deacon's art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn't a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thins,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floors
And the whipple-tree neither less nor more,
And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,
And spring and axle and hub encore.
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, 'Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
"Huddup!" said the parson.--Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday's text,--
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the--Moses--was coming next.

All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet'n'-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill,--
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half past nine by the meet'n'-house clock--
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!

What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once,
All at once, and nothing first,
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-boss shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Actually, all of the iron turned to rust, the ultimate pay out. So if I disappear thirty years from now, just watch for the last withdrawal: a little pile of red dust. In the meantime: BUY IRON. You cannot lose.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kidney Me Not, Part 2

The previous episode of “Kidney Me Not” was admittedly a cliff-hanger, but a witty one with Trillium not only getting the last words, but the best ones. Now on to the really silly stuff.

When it was confirmed that I had Chronic Kidney Disease ("CKD" for those in the know), I began to feel inordinately guilty about my life-style, certain that I have been the main agent responsible for my condition. Now you may say, “Kidneys tend to fail for everyone; the older they get, the less functionality they have.” Yes, that is true, but I had been indulging myself in a way that I consciously knew was damaging to my kidneys.

In 1960 I came in contact with the writings of Dr. John A. Widtsoe, and as part of my study, I read of his considered opinion regarding the negative effects of chocolate on the human body, particularly on the kidneys. In his view, theobromine, a caffeine-like alkaloid, had a negative effect on the kidneys. As a result of reading his book, I decided that I would forego any further consumption of chocolate. For nearly 25 years I was a confirmed rider on the non-chocolate bandwagon, only occasionally eating carob bars as a substitute.

In 1984, however, at farewell party being held for our family in West Lafayette, Indiana, our hostess produced a velvet, double-chocolate, German chocolate cake baked especially in my honor. I am not certain why she did it; I was notorious for my not eating chocolate. I thought that discretion was the better part of valor and I was persuaded to consume a rather large piece.

I had fallen off the non-chocolate bandwagon in a rather dramatic fashion, bouncing three times, and then slipping under the wheels. For the next 25 years, I allowed the bandwagon to roll over the top of me, over and over again, until I was buying huge sacks of Reisens (the best chocolate confection on the planet) to put next to my computer in the den. I enjoyed every minute of every hour, of every day of those 25 years. So when the announcement came that my kidneys were turning in to shriveled lumps of coal, I really thought that I had caused the problem.

When our local organ grinder, Dr. Wurlitzer, allowed me to ask a question or two during the June visit, I specifically asked about the effects of chocolate on my kidneys. He immediately dismissed the whole notion, suggesting that dark chocolate would be good for me. “Buy a couple of bags of Reisens and put them next to your computer. They will do you good!” I gave him a rather whithering look. I was willing enough to take his advice (my saliva glands were working overtime), but I thought to myself that just maybe he was not completely in touch with the facts. As a result, I ignored the serpent's hiss and turned my back on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Chocolate. I pursued my determination to knock out chocolate altogether. I told Trillium that just maybe this abstinence would cause my kidneys to get all fluffy and functional again. She gave me a jaded look and took another bite out of her Butterfingers bar.

Well, yesterday I received a little booklet from the American Association of Kidney Patients called “Kidney Beginnings: A Patient’s Guide to Living with Reduced Kidney Function”. I thought to myself that this was rather a quick response to my first blog on my renal problems. Everyone is reading this thing! Then I remembered that the first bills from Dr. Wurlitzer had just cleared DMBA. Those guys have probably been reading my blog and have set the AAKP on me. In any event, I want to share a few tidbits from the publication with you.

On page two the authors present “Kidneys 101”, a guide to show my kidneys are supposed to work. I quote, “Kidneys are like a 24-hour cleaning machine for your blood”. I was immediately reminded of an article that I had just read in the newspaper about a new telescopic eye implant. “Hummm! A seeing machine. At what point does a person become the Terminator? Does the telescope glow red? What next? Bionic knees, shoulders, hips, and toes? I then pictured Alice Krige’s character in "Star Trek: First Contact". Nothing left but the brain stem.

Needless to say, with all of these bizarre associations going on, I was losing focus on the text of the pamphlet. The next sentence read, “Kidneys are twin organs shaped like kidney beans.” At that point I wanted to know which came first, the kidneys or the kidney beans. Which was shaped like the other. I had a deep and abiding compulsion to go on the internet to find out who was sillier, the authors of this ridiculous pamphlet or me... I controlled myself; I kept reading. I was happy to learn at the end of the first paragraph that “People can live a near normal life with as little as 20 percent of their total kidney function.” Hooray for me, I have a 17 percent margin.

I raced ahead in the booklet to find out if there was anything I could do to help out poor Bob and Tom. The next part of the pamphlet, however, was directed at those things that I could do to help the medical profession make it through the current economic slump. Then, and only then, did the authors gave me a few hints:

1. Keep your blood pressure down, lower than 120/80. I just put on the cuff and my current blood pressure is 43/2. I guess I’m okay on that one.

2. You may need iron supplements to avoid anemia. Frankly, with hemochromatosis that does not seem to be an issue.

3. Avoid Alka Seltzer, Milk of Magnesia, and Enemas, or any combination thereof. Ew!

4. Avoid herbal medicines, folk remedies, witch doctors, and chiropractors. Well, there goes my whole health program!

5. Take it easy on protein. They suggest eating a deck of cards instead of a three ounce steak…. Or something like that… Maybe it was that a three-ounce steak is about the size of a deck of cards… Whatever…. They’re all insane.

6. Exercise appropriately. I get out of bed in the morning and I climb back in at night. That’s enough aerobic exercise for me.

7. Limit phosphorus. I have to anyway. If I don’t, I glow in the dark.

8. Watch your potassium. Bummer! I like French-fried potassium. It’s the best!

9. Be careful about fluids. Quoting the manual, “Remember fluid is found in such unexpected things as jello, watermelon, gravy, sherbet, and many other places like outdoor ponds, irrigation systems, swimming pools, and kitchen faucets.” Wow! Everywhere you turn!

Trillium tells me that I ought to avoid magnesium, too, in addition to the “Milk of” recommended in #3. How does this all affect my diet? Where would I acquire vasty amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium?

CHOCOLATE! Saith the deponents.

So… no Reisens; no velvet, double-chocolate, German chocolate cake; no licking my wife’s fingers after she eats a Butterfingers candy bar; and, horror of horrors, no tri-tip steak, double-dipped in hot fudge sauce. Life has just ground to a halt.

Oh! And by the bye. I just received the report on the ferritin check that I had a week ago. I am now at 45.7, a drop of 1.1. This is without any phlebotomies for three months. According to “”, an ounce of chocolate contains six times the amount of iron that an ounce of sirloin has. Hmmmm! Have we discovered a ….


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I am Ironman - A blood drive coordinator's story

A week ago a writer for the American Red Cross asked me if I would consent to be interviewed by him for an article to appear in their Newsletter, Vital Signs. I said that I would be happy to oblige him on Wednesday afternoon at 2:00. The fellow was prompt, pleasant, and seemingly engaged. We spoke for about an hour. He took copious notes. He took copious pictures. He subsequently wrote copious copy for his newsletter. I include the entire text of his resulting article, carefully modifying the names of everyone concerned so as to preserve the carefully crafted avatar that I have developed during the last two and half years. I also have added a little commentary to clarify some of the daft things that he said that I said. I have been interviewed by reporters many times before and I was not surprised at the innocuous misrepresentations which managed to creep into the article. The title of his piece that serves as the title of this posting was of his own devising. Not bad, but it has been used before…. by me.

As a writer and American Red Cross blood drive coordinator, Zaphod Beeblebrox’s stories about his battle with hemochromatosis goes to show that sometimes life truly is stranger than fiction.

Actually, the truth is that fiction is stranger and funnier than life. Those who are familiar with my vapid style of writing are painfully aware that all of the things that I say about my battle with hemochromatosis cannot possibly be true. It is also true that my comments about the medical professionals with whom I deal border on libel. Hence, the carefully disguised names of people and places, including my own identity and address.

After doctors told Beeblebrox in 2008 about his dangerously high iron levels, the 67-year-old decided to create a website to document his thoughts and experiences which included frequent therapeutic phlebotomies. His writings, fused with a wry sense of humor, helped him deal with the fears surrounding the seriousness of the hereditary condition.

You know, I am really an old guy, but in August of 2008 I was only 66. I realize that a year’s worth of error is not a tragedy, but come on… a year’s a year! The only time I even mentioned my current age to the interviewer, I said that I was 68. Even that was not entirely true because I do not move into that ethereal realm of ancientness until the middle of July. How he worked the math on that one I cannot imagine. If he looked at me and said, "That guy is really 67", he would have had to conclude that I was 65 when I began the blog. If he looked at me and said, “That guy isn’t 68; he doesn’t look a day over 67”, then we would have to conclude that that he was referring to my age at the time he interviewed me when he said that I was a “67-year-old”. If that is the case, we ought to send this guy down to the county fair to guess people’s weight.

Not long after the diagnosis, Beeblebrox was asked to help coordinate Red Cross blood drives at his local church. While he couldn’t give himself, he was eager to recruit others who could. He also knew the assignment would make great fodder for his website called Hemochromatosis Tales.

“Hemochromotosis Tales!!!” This guy’s better at titles than I am, and far more accurate. Still I think that the subtitle, “and the Renal Road to Happiness” constitutes some of the finest prose I have ever generated.

“During the last year before my mother’s death, she must have had at least 100 [blood] transfusions which helped extend her life. That extra year when she received blood gave her extra time to get certain things squared away and taken care of prior to her passing,” said Beeblebrox. “It’s not hard to see the value in blood donation. My wife is a nurse, my mother-in-law needed blood when she had a hip replacement, so almost everywhere I look, I see real-life examples of why it’s so important for people to give blood.”

This is mostly true. I did, however, go into great detail about how my mother probably contracted the osteomyelitis that eventually destroyed her bone marrow. It was an unabashed frontal attack on the shoddy medical treatment that she received when she was having several of her lumbar in her spine fused. I suppose that even without names and places the ARC would have been looking at serious law suits from the AMA and other groups had they been as articulate as myself in his article. As an act of verisimilitude, the writer inserted a [bracketed] word to show that he was quoting me exactly. I do not know nor do I care if I said "blood transfusions" or not. My question is, "Why would he have to clarify what I meant by 'transfusion' when his audience was a pack of blood drive coordinators?" What other kind of transfusions are there? It is certainly not going to be confused with transfusions of doughnuts, Lorna Doones, or Barq's Root Beer.

In addition to witnessing how blood helped his mother, Beeblebrox noted that his involvement with the Red Cross started at an early age in Garden Grove, CA where he learned first aid and how to swim from Red Cross-certified instructors. And when Southern California wildfires raged throughout the counties near his family’s home, he vividly recalls the local Red Cross volunteers who would help fill water tanks to assist with the firefighting efforts.

Actually, I was quite specific about Carbon Canyon as the place where the wildfires were and the fact that the ARC had been handing out doughnuts. My friends and I were the ones filling the water tanks. Maybe the truth of the matter was that the ARC never has dealt in doughnuts and so my author had to have the workers doing something that seemed more reasonable. All I know is that the ARC no longer deals in Lorna Doones and Barq’s Root Beer. I learned First Aid from an ARC manual as the result having finished all of the fifth grade requirements by December and the teacher had to set me to work on things that would keep me out of trouble. This was, of course, at Richard Gird Elementary School in Chino, California, and not Garden Grove. I learned to swim at the Brea Plunge, where all of the instructors were ARC trained. My Swimmer’s Card was an ARC card. This was not in Garden Grove either. The Garden Grove reference was to my experience as a thirty-year-old donating blood to the ARC. I told him of my phobia of needles and my need to lie on the cot for 45 minutes snarfing Lorna Doones and root bear while I recovered. Eventually the ARC asked me not to return because I was not what you would call cost effective. His eyes may have glazed over at that point.

Nowadays, Zaphod Beeblebrox’s iron levels are higher than the average person’s, but low enough that he doesn’t worry every day about the potential damage to his liver, pancreas, or heart as a result of iron overload.

“Nowadays!!!” What a quaint word. I like that word! That is a terrific word! It’s the kind of word that puts grey-hair on an aspiring writer’s head. Bravo!!!!

As Beeblebrox prepares for the next Red Cross blood drive in September, he still writes about his experiences and is proud to say that in under a one-year time period, the number of units collected at his church drive have more than doubled since he took over as the blood drive coordinator.

True! I am the darling of the ARC!

We’d like to thank Zaphod Beeblebrox for his hard work in coordinating successful blood drives as well as his tales of iron and irony. To learn more about iron or other topics related to blood donation, check out the Health and Wellness section on our website at

Go ahead. Check it out, but it is not as funny as I am…nor as strange.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kidney Me Not; Part One

I came away from my last visit with “Doc Wurlitzer” in May somewhat morose. I had hoped to find out what was up with my kidneys and what I could do about it. In my attempt to bring the good doctor up to speed, I rattled on for almost 30 minutes explaining my medical history as I understood it. I can only remember three things that he said on that occasion.

1. “That’s nice.”
2. “Give blood and other bodily fluids.”
3. “See you next month.”

The only other sound that I heard was “Ka-ching!”

I went down to the lab where a vicious little vixen nearly amputated my arm trying to get blood. I was also given rather exacting specific instruction regarding the manner in which I should donate my “other bodily fluid” (henceforth to be known as “OBF”). There was no chattiness, no humor, no faint hint of a rumor of friendliness, and not even a glimmer of a possibility of a smile. I was in the stainless steel medical version of Purgatory (or worse). All this in American Fork, Utah, the most cheerful little town in the northern hemisphere. I decided that the next time I went to visit the Grand Siete, I would get what I wanted.

Last Monday at 11:30 in the Provo office I was to meet with Doc Wurlitzer again, as requested in his third utterance above. When I arrived at the desk, I pulled out my appointment card.

“Is your address still 10345 West 20190 North in Panquitch, Utah?”

“I don’t think so,” I replied.

“Who are you again?”

“Dr. Zaphod Beeblebrox”.

“Snorquel Fortenbras?”

“No, Zaphod Beeblebrox”.

“Hortenfrax Snurflhwbbetnmomrtn?” she queried with a puzzled look.

“No. Trying using the spelling on the card,” I said.

“Oh…! Right…!” She pattered away on her computer for a while. “You aren’t in here. Are you a new patient?”

“No,” I said, “I’m rather an old one. I filled out my paperwork almost three months ago in this very office. I met last month with “Doc Wurlitzer” in the Omericon Fark office.” I hoped that my employing the Utah Valley dialect would facilitate matters.

She immediately went into some sort of confab with her fellow receptionists and for about six and a half minutes I was on tenterhooks while they attempted to find out who and what I was. Finally she came back to the counter.

“Dr. Beeblebrox?”

“I think that would be me.”

“Norgleburt Beeblebrox?”

“No, Zaphod. Norgleburt is my second cousin nine times removed. Everyone confuses us with each other. Don’t feel bad, it has been going on for decades.”

“OH! I see now. Is your address still 1842 South Felenctrum Way, Sea of Tranquility, Moon?”

“Close enough.”

“Okay. If you will just take a seat, the nurse will be with you shortly.”

A while later a sweet young thing ushered Trillium and me into an examining room where she took my blood pressure. “120 over 84. Is that about right?”

“Well, day before yesterday it was 90 over 73.”

“You’re an excitable sort when you visit the doctor’s office, huh?”

“Yes he is,” replied Trillium.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It’s a Boy!.... And Another Boy!... and a Large.. um.. Small Girl!

You will note that I have added a new subtitle to this blog; i.e. “And the Renal Road to Happiness”. Inasmuch as my ferritin level is now at 48.8 and inasmuch as I will go three months before I have it checked again, the blog contents will be even more bland and vacuous than they generally are. I won’t be tripping down to the Infusion Center (where they all hate me because I dragged a Surveyor from the parent company through one of my linguistic grist mills). I will not see “Doc Holliday” for another year (I am not the cash cow I used to be). The Lab Tick will not be drawing my blood as frequently as in the past (and we were getting on so well!). So what to do? Jabber and nonsense about kidney disease.

I decided to go with “Doc Wurlitzer”, a nephrologist who works down at the Central Utah Clinic, a place that looks something like a Swiss ski chalet. It is just west of the Infusion Services office. The Lady in Red and Chester were watching from the roof of their building as I pulled into the other parking lot. There was a lot of shouting and stamping of feet as I walked into the chalet; I believe that they miss me already.

The receptionist was pleasant and was anxious to hook me up to a siphon. “We need a quart or two to find out why you are here…. Oh! You have such lovely veins!”

“That’s what all the girls tell me. I know why I am here. I have too much creatinine, and other stuff that I can’t pronounce properly, floating around in my blood. Here is the paperwork from “Doc Holliday’s” office. The analysis is no more than a week old.”

She looked at me blankly for a moment and then said, “Oh, so it is. What a disappointment! You have such lovely veins…my, my, my…”

I asked her when I could see the doctor. She said, “Oh, not for about six weeks. He is a busy fellow with all of the degenerative kidney disease going about. But I wouldn’t worry about any of this for a while. According to this creatinine report, we could schedule you for April 17, 2040 and you would still get in under the wire.”

“So you will let me know what I am to do next.”

“Yes,” she said, with eyes fixed on the inside of my left elbow, “I will let you know what you are to do next…. You have such lovely…..” I slipped out of the side door and ran for my life.

About a week later, I received a phone call from the Imaging Department of the Clinic. “Hello, Dr. Beeblebrox? Dr. Wurlitzer’s office called us to have you come in for an ultrasound on your kidneys and your bladder. Could you drop by tomorrow sometime?”

I said that I could.

“In anticipation for the ultrasound, could you please drink 64 ounces of water a half an hour before you come in? It is easier to see your kidneys if you are bloated.”

I sloshed into the Imaging Center about 10:30 the next morning. Scylla and Charybdis were waiting for me. I have no idea why I came up with those two names (neither one of them looked like a whirlpool and they only had one head each). Scylla was an intern (or an extern; the medical students can’t seem to keep their “-terns” straight). Inasmuch as she was new to the game, she was the one who was tapped to slather the gel on my left side. “Oooooo! You have such lovely……”

“Now cut that out!” I shouted.

They fiddled around for about an hour; sounding me out here, then sounding me out there. Finally, Charybdis said, “Well, it’s official. You have twin boys. What are you going to call them?”

“Tom and Bob,” I replied.

“Oh! Thomas and Robert. How lovely!”

“No, Tom and Bob. Our relationship has been and will continue to be rather intimate and informal. How are they doing, by the way?”

“Well looky here! Do you see these blue dots? That is blood coming toward us. Do you see the red dots? That is blood going away from us. We use the latest in Doppler technology here.”

I was impressed. “What is that little white smudge right there?”

“Oh! That’s Andromeda.”

Then they pounced upon my bladder. Remember the 64 ounces of water they had me drink before the procedure? The whole gallon was inside. After a while Charybdis said, “Would you like to relieve yourself?”

Silly girl!

Then they commenced again to check out how my bladder was doing. “It’s smaller!” the two shouted. “Wow! Yippy! Wonder of Wonders! Miracle of Miracles!”

Finally, once the exuberance settled down, I said, “I have come up with a name for my bladder. I am going to call her ‘Ginger’.”

The most that Scylla and Charybdis could tell me was that my kidneys looked fine. When degeneration is in full bloom, Tom and Bob would have looked like shelled walnuts. The boys look like fluffy little tribbles. Ginger was big in the beginning and then became small after I returned from the bathroom. What could be better than that?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Beam Me Up, Scotty!

In 1936, the Queen Mary was commissioned into service as an Atlantic Ocean passenger ship. In 1967 she was decommissioned and took up residence in Long Beach, California, where my sister Judie lives. As part of the renovation as a public attraction, the three smoke stacks were removed. They were, and are 36 feet long and 23 feet wide, 62 to 70 feet high, made of one inch thick steel. During her many years of service, the smokestacks were painted at least 30 times. When the stacks were removed and placed on the dock, they crumbled into paint chips, the one inch of steel having long since rusted away. Needless to say, those responsible for replacing the stacks were somewhat dismayed.

Let’s talk about dismay. When I started this blog two or so years ago, my ferritin level (somewhat analogous to the steel lining of the Queen Mary’s smoke stacks) was at 837. With pedestrian steadiness, “Doc Holliday” and myself have cautiously reduced that level. Four or five months ago, I stood at 127; a month or so later, it went back up to 137. I then took matters into my own hands again and had a phlebotomy every month for the first three months of this year. On Friday I went into to see the good doctor and found that my ferritin was now at 48.8! How about that! Everybody who is anybody ought to be happy with that. Friday was also my annual examination and when “Doc Holliday” took off my smoke stacks to see how things were going, he discovered something else amiss. Alas! Alack! Woe is me!

Two years ago, when I had my first serious examination in many years, I noted that the laboratory had exclaimed with some enthusiasm that my Calcium, Creatinine, and Blood Urea Nitrogen were somewhat elevated, indicative of degenerating kidney function. When Trillium and I asked “Doc Holliday” about it, he said, “Well, I not particularly concerned about that now. What I am concerned about is that you are becoming a fat little bunny. You need to walk about; you need to knock off the sweets; you need to eat a bushel of broccoli a day.”

“What about Guacamole Bacon Cheese Burgers, with Emperor-sized fries and drinks (a bushel of potatoes and a 30-gallon drum of root beer)?”

The response was about what you would expect.

One of “Doc Holliday’s” charms is that he generally telegraph’s his concerns and advice by how he dresses and how he combs his hair. If He wishes to chastise me a little, he always comes into my cubicle dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, and a name tag that says “President Holliday”. If he thinks I am going to react negatively, he dresses like a home base umpire. Friday he was wearing a grass skirt, a shark tooth necklace, and had his hair woven into long shiny dreadlocks, waving a large rattle in each hand. Apparently in the confines of his bamboo hut, the good doctor had reviewed my blood work for the last three years and had observed that for each of the last three analyses, my creatinine levels had gone up steadily, one tenth of a point every year.

“At this rate, it won’t be long before you are on a dialysis machine! But I can’t figure it out. You have no indication of diabetes; all of the other blood indicators are just fine. For your creatinine to creep up like this is unnerving; and doubly so because there doesn’t seem to be an explanation for it”. He then shook his rattles a couple of times and turned back to the computer screen. “I think that I am going to send you to a nephrologist, a specialist who knows everything there is to know about the renal system. He will take a lot of blood samples and urine samples… so much so that you probably will not need a phlebotomy until next March”.

Oh! Joy!

I now have a list of local members of the nephrology clan here in Utah Valley and will have to make a decision soon about what I am going to do. I asked “Doc Holliday” when I would be ripe for my first dialysis. He said when my creatinine is at 5.0. I asked him what it was in 2008, 2009, and 2010. He said, “In 2008, it was 1.7; the following year it was at 1.8; and now it is at 1.9. This is a bad trend!” I was really dismayed, until I started doing the math. If my creatinine increases at the same rate, I will be ready for the first blood filter on my 98th birthday! In the meantime everyone is telling me that I have to stop eating chocolate, stop eating potato chips, no more French fries, no soda, no ibuprophin…. In other words, I may just have to ask Jack Kervorkian to drop by tomorrow for a little house call. The terminally ill get to have morphine; why can’t I have a potato deep fried in vegetable oil? It’s cheaper and I will feel better about it.

Monday I will do the doctor hunt. I have five on my list, three of them with names I can’t begin to pronounce. The other two have possibilities: Doctors Terry Wurlitzer and Lenny McCoy. Wurlitzer’s motto is, “There isn’t an organ I can’t fix”; McCoy has emblazoned next to his name, “Take two of these and see me in the next Millennium”.

I may just go to Dr. McCoy. I want to ask him about my liver; you know, because of all of the problems with iron-overloading. I can hear it all now, “Dagnabbit, Zaphod, I’m a physician, not a blacksmith!”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I, Contact

This week is filled with activity, but not much excitement. On Tuesday we held the first of our two semi-annual blood drives at the Church, for the which I have some guiding responsibility. I was hoping for some sort of episode on which I could train my verbal cannon and fill up another posting by regaling my readers with another series of events bordering on the macabre. No joy! It was as sedate and as sober an event as anyone could possibly want. The workers from the Red Cross were efficient and effective. Nobody fainted (as far as I could tell). There were no blood arcing contests by any of the participants. I had plenty of helpers, so much so that I had very little to do. I sat in the same chair from 1:00 until 8:30 reading and writing, making small talk from time to time; all in all, I was bored out of my mind.

I tried to make things happen, in order to have a little excitement. When I saw that the snacks were lacking, complaining bitterly that there were no Lorna Doones or bottles of root beer, the captains of industry immediately ran out to the store and supplied the unnecessary…. for me…. and no one else. What I had intended to be a joke was taken seriously, attended to by a gravity of spirit so overwhelming that I felt embarrassed that I had even mentioned the things. I did drink all of the root beer and munched the Lorna Doones…. I wasn’t all that broken up about it.

No one was interested in my Hemochromatosis Tales. I suppose that I have become a marked man. As soon as I mentioned anything about Iron Over-loading, my correspondents found other things with which to entertain themselves. For the rest of the night I received furtive glances from various parts of the room. “No-Eye-Contact-With-That-Guy” seemed to be the policy. I have been trying to figure out if the response was the result of their embarrassment in the fact that they are unable to take my blood, even though there is nothing wrong with it, or whether it is simply the fact that I have become a fatuous old man that everyone wants to avoid. Hard to tell….

I filled out my little report of the event and shipped it off to the interested parties yesterday. I am done with this for another six months. I had hoped to have three months worth of stuff to write about, but I am going to have to sink a sarcasm-well elsewhere.

Friday there is to be a related activity. The Scout Committee (of which I am the Chair) decided that the boys needed to have a fund-raiser. The last one was in July when we spent hours slaving over Coleman stoves making breakfast in the park for about 150 people. We cleared 37 cents…… Actually it was more than that, but I hurt so badly afterwards that it would have required a profit of more than $357,000.00 for me to have felt some satisfaction. Friday night we are holding a tri-tip dinner to which the same parsimonious crowd is coming. Everyone likes my tri-tip steaks, so I am certain that we will fill the cultural hall of the Church.

Now this is really an untimely event. I am on the cusp of an iron-reducing moment in my life. I had a phlebotomy in January and in February, and I am planning another one next Monday, so that by my sister’s birthday on the 2nd of April I can announce that my ferritin count is below 100 points. Between me and that goal is eighty pounds of tri-tip steak that I will be grilling on Friday. I usually do not sit down to eat at these kinds of events, in part because I want to make certain that everyone else is content before I partake. The other reason for not sitting down with everyone else is that I generally find myself sampling the cooking along the way in order to make sure that it is coming out right, and I end up being really not all that hungry. I wonder if there is iron in the smoke of grilling meat. If there is, I am in serious trouble.

As an aside… I went to Costco last week to check on the availability of the steaks. I spoke with one of the butchers. He indicated that that they should have several cases available on any given day so there wouldn’t be any problem. He said that it would get more difficult to supply tri-tips as the grilling season progressed because it was such a popular cut of meat. Then he volunteered a very interesting piece of information.

“You know, Zaphod, before 2002 we could not give tri-tip roasts and steaks away. Nobody knew anything about them. I wonder what happened?”

I smiled and replied, “I moved here from Albuquerque”.


“I moved here from Albuquerque in 2000. It took a couple of years, but my culinary counsel has caught on here in Utah Valley. Tri-tip steak is the best grilling meat on the planet and I single-handedly brought it into fashion”.



“No!” he said again, and then walked away looking over his shoulder furtively and would not make eye-contact with me thereafter.

I think I have become annoying on several topics.

Well, all of this preoccupation about my iron levels is undoubtedly going to raise my blood pressure, the blood drive and the dinner are going to wear me out, so that on Monday when I appear at the Infusion Center, I will probably end up hosing down the entire facility with my B+ personality. Once they try to tap into the mother-load, I’ll probably not be able to make eye-contact with them either.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Liver is Warm and Moist

Several of my correspondents complained bitterly that my last blog wasn’t very funny. “We read this drivel because it is generally humorous. We want more humor. Don’t blather on about numerology, or aviation, or anything like that. We want to know about your suffering, how excruciating it is, and whether or not we can join in at some point with sticks or clubs of some kind. Come on! More humor!” Humor it is, then.

Before the 18th century, illnesses and plagues were far more humorous than they are now. The Greeks and the Romans felt that every malaise was caused by an imbalance between four different kinds of humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood, closely related to four elements of earth, water, fire, and air respectively. If a person had too much of one humor, his whole personality changed. Too much blood, a person was sanguine. Too much phlegm, one was phlegmatic. If you had too much yellow bile, you were choleric. Too much black bile, and you were melancholic. If you had too much of all of these you looked like a post-apocalyptic tick with a goiter problem.

Every part of human existence was governed by these humors:

Humour: Blood, Yellow bile, Black bile, Phlegm
Season: spring, summer, autumn, winter
Element: air, fire, earth, water
Organ: liver, gall bladder, spleen, brain/lungs
Qualities: warm & moist,warm & dry, cold & dry, cold & moist
Ancient name: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic
Modern: artisan, idealist, guardian, rational
Ancient characteristics: courageous, hopeful, amorous; easily angered, bad tempered; Despondent, sleepless, irritable; calm, unemotional

If you have some blood to squander (if not, you can use some of mine), set a cup full in the shade for a while, about an hour. After a bit you will find that the stuff will separate out into the four humors. At the bottom, there will be a great blop of gunk that is, in this system, called “black bile”. Right above that is a mess of red blood cells that is called “blood” (who knew?). Above that layer will be a layer of white blood cells called “phlegm” by the ancients; a “buffy coat” by those in the know. At the top of the liquid will be a clear yellow serum layer, “yellow bile” for those who have been around for more than three hundred years.

If this blog is nothing else, it is educational, even if it is high-handed and wrong-headed. Since this is a blog that is essentially humorous as well, I think that it would be important to the readers to know how they fit into the scheme of things. What follows is an outline of each of the four personalities.

Sanguine (top left)
The Sanguine temperament personality is fairly extroverted. People of a sanguine temperament tend to enjoy social gatherings and making new friends. They tend to be creative and often day dream. However, some alone time is crucial for those of this temperament. Sanguine can also mean very sensitive, compassionate and thoughtful. Sanguine personalities generally struggle with following tasks all the way through, are chronically late, and tend to be forgetful and sometimes a little sarcastic. Often, when pursuing a new hobby, interest is lost quickly--when it ceases to be engaging or fun.

Choleric (top right)
A person who is choleric is a doer. They have a lot of ambition, energy, and passion, and try to instill it in others. They can dominate people of other temperaments, especially phlegmatic types. Many great charismatic military and political figures were cholerics.

Melancholic (bottom right)
A person who is a thoughtful ponderer has a melancholic disposition. Often very kind and considerate, melancholics can be highly creative – as in poetry and art - and can become occupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world. A melancholic is also often a perfectionist. They are often self-reliant and independent.

Phlegmatic (bottom left)
Phlegmatics tend to be self-content and kind. They can be very accepting and affectionate. They may be very receptive and shy and often prefer stability to uncertainty and change. They are very consistent, relaxed, rational, curious, and observant, making them good administrators and diplomats. Unlike the Sanguine personality, they may be more dependable.

Now if you want to change your personality, all you would have to do is remove some of the excess humor. For a bilious personality, for example, you would need to remove excess bile. In order to do that, the standard practice was to put inverted hot steel cups on your bare skin. If that doesn’t get rid of bad humor, nothing will. In order to reduce sanguinity, removing blood is a good thing. I went in for a therapeutic phlebotomy this last week and will have another in a month. I am going to get to a 47 ferritin count even if it kills me and everyone around me. Note the following personality changes that are sure to accompany this bloodletting:

The Sanguine temperament personality is fairly extroverted: (Don’t expect to see me anytime soon.)

People of a sanguine temperament tend to enjoy social gatherings and making new friends: (I have become a social pygmy and am determined to continue in that vein.)

They tend to be creative and often day dream: (I am sleeping in longer with less guilt.)

However, some alone time is crucial for those of this temperament: (I’ll be thinking of you, probably in desultory terms, however.)

Sanguine can also mean very sensitive, compassionate and thoughtful: (Don’t count on Mr. Nice Guy any time soon.)

Sanguine personalities generally struggle with following tasks all the way through, are chronically late, and tend to be forgetful and sometimes a little sarcastic: (Well, let’s not get carried away here; Chester didn’t take out that much blood!)

Often, when pursuing a new hobby, interest is lost quickly--when it ceases to be engaging or fun: (There better be some nice comments or I’m outta here!)

So, there you have it. More humor about humor than any of you could have possibly desired. As I said above, I will have another pint taken in March and then I am off to my annual visit with “Doc Holliday” where I will be poked, prodded, and punctured. No doubt I will come away with “hot cup” circles everywhere.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Five Cards Short of a Full Deck

Of late I have become intrigued by the number “47”. In some respects it reflects much of the wide expanse of my life.

When I was a little boy, I had a friend who lived up the hill from me. His father was an oilman who had spent a long time in the Philippine Islands. Some of my best stamps from those islands I originally obtained my friend’s father. I rode on the handlebars of Dick’s bike long before I had my own bicycle and we spent a lot of time in his back yard playing army with his plastic soldiers and plastic airplanes. I had none of these of my own; Dick seemed to have an endless supply. One of our favorite activities was to figure out ways to blow up the soldiers and planes in spectacular ways. Dick had several hard plastic bombers and fighters that were meant to take anything that a nine year old could inflict upon them. We tried putting firecrackers inside of the bombers; there was a lot of noise and smoke, but no destruction. They were tough toys for the most part, but they did not respond well to fire; or should I say that they responded well to fire. Only when we actually used a cigarette lighter on one of the wings of a model P-47 did we have any results. Once the wing was in flames, the plastic began to melt and drip away. Richard and I would take turns flying the plane about the yard, leaving drops of burning debris behind until the whole thing was consumed. That was my introduction to World War II.

There were other planes, the names of which were graced by the number 47. The B-47 was the Air Force’s answer to the Soviet nuclear threat against the United States during the 1950’s. It was the precursor to the B-52. What I remember of the B-47’s was etched across the sky of my Southern California home in the ubiquitous vapor trails that appeared everywhere. This was long before commercial travel was based upon jet engines, so every one of us boys knew that those planes were part of the military establishment defending us from the “commies”, as we affectionately referred to the Russians.

My up-front and personal contact with a “47” plane of any kind was the C-47, a transport plane dating from World War II. It was a useful and dependable plane, but was as ugly as a mud fence. While I was stationed in Duluth, Minnesota, during the early 1960’s I had many occasions to fly from one station to another to support our squadron of F-106 interceptors. Most of those flights were on board a C-47, or a Gooney Bird, as we liked to call them. The pilots of those planes were fighter pilot “wannabes’ and did their best to convince their passengers that they could fly their transports just as wild and wooly as our squadron officers. Thus, the takeoffs and landings were always just bearable. It usually took me the better part of an hour to recover from one of the C-47 landings.

When I left the military in 1964, the Vietnam War was just beginning to heat up. The CH-47, a version of the Chinook helicopter, was the mainstay of the US and Vietnamese artillery units trying to establish heavy fire from elevated positions. I think of the countless hours of video reports that I watched during that war, many of them at the same time my brother-in-law was serving there. The CH-47s were in most of the videos that I saw during that time. At one point there were more than 750 CH-47s in operation in combat zones in Vietnam. More than 200 of them were shot down.

These plane numbers began to capture my imagination. Believe it or not, I actually Googled the rest of the entire alphabet followed by the number 47 in order to find some more. There were other combat aircraft from other nations of varying types and serviceability. There were different sorts of submarines and guns, engines of all kinds, and other equally entertaining items. None of them commended themselves to me. At that point, I decided that I would try numbers in combination with "47".

The first attempt was “047”. This was the result at Google:

The ferritin count that Zaphod Beeblebrox is attempting to achieve by having a pint of blood sucked out of him every two months. It will never work because he is absorbing iron from his car every time he drives it.

The second attempt was “147”. This was the result at Google:

The actual ferritin count that Zaphod Beeblebrox had on the 1st of February 2010 as indicated by the letter that he received on the 6th of February 2010 from the University of Utah Medical Center. If he ever hopes to drop the third digit in his results he will either have to spend some time flying one of his favorite “47”s in a war zone or have more phlebotomies than he has currently scheduled.

I think it’s time to visit the Lady in Red again. The surprise will do her good.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I’ve Got Nothing

Yesterday I headed off to the Infusion Center for my first therapeutic phlebotomy of 2010. I was hoping for a great deal of idiocy to transpire so that I could employ my usual augmentary sarcasm to fluff up another posting. It was not to be, McGee.

I called up the place about 11:04 AM and said that I would like to come in for my usual dance with the bloodticks. The girl on the other end of the line said, “Well, Zaphod, when would you like to be here?” I told her about 11:07 AM. There was silence for a moment; it was a joke after all, but the train was a little late getting to the station. Finally she said, coldly, “How would 2:00 this afternoon be?” I told her that I would be there with bells on. There was another short pause. “Who is this Belzon character? He’s not on my list. Does he want a phlebotomy too?” I told her that Belzon was my secret friend and that he like to watch as my life-force slipped away into a plastic bag. “Alrighty, then!” she said. “We’ll look forward to seeing you both!” I thought that unlikely, both as to the “looking forward” and the “seeing”.

I arrived a little early; I didn’t have anything else to do. I saw the “Lady in Red”, “Chester”, and “Gory” and I concluded that I was, once again, doomed. “Chester” had performed the last phlebotomy and I still had the scar from her fiddling. Imagine! Two months after she poked me I can still see where the pipe went in. “Gory” was attending to a young woman across the way who looked quite stricken and concerned about what was going on. I tried to cheer her up.

“There is one thing you can say about all this,” I began. “No matter what, this is the worst thing that is going to happen to you today”.

She laughed and thereafter completely ignored me. (Actually, that is not entirely true. I kept being noisily cheerful the whole time I was there and when the angels of death were not hovering about, she actually smiled.)

I was afraid that if “Chester” showed up to work me over, I would say something churlish about the pipe-fitters union and the scar tissue at the elbow joint of my right arm. Fortunately for everyone concerned, it was the “Lady in Red” who dragged in the paraphernalia. I almost didn’t recognize her; she was dressed in blue. “Aren’t you the ‘Lady in Red’?” I asked.

“Only on Fridays. On Thursdays, I am the ‘Blue Girl’ in honor of my great ancestors Jonathan Buttall and Thomas Gainsborough. On Wednesdays, I wear some other color, as well as Tuesdays and Mondays. Sometimes I am ‘Mauve-woman’, other times I am ‘Puce-lass’, and occasionally the “Angel of Mercy’. Thursdays and Fridays are pretty well set in stone, however. The dye is cast, you might say. Hehehehehe!”

She placed a absorbent two-foot square pad under my left arm, and then draped herself with a gigantic plastic drop cloth. “Not feeling particularly optimistic today?” I queried.

“One can never be too careful with you, Zaphod. Your blood is under so much pressure that sticking you with a needle is like poking a dead cow with a stick. Do you know that you are the only person who comes in here whose blood pressure is higher after the phlebotomy than before.”

“It must be the company I keep,” I replied.

While all this chatter was going on, “Blue-girl” had prepped my arm, shot me with anesthesia, and had driven in the silver spike. All of this transpired without me feeling a thing; there was no sting of any kind. The blood flowed freely, according to my attendant. In a matter of a few moments she had extracted 575 ml of my sanguinity. “Blue-girl” had me hold the cotton swab in place after she pulled out the needle. “Do you think that I could hit the girl across the hall if I held my arm just right?”

“There is no question in my mind!”

The root beer was warm; someone had failed to fill the refrigerator. Fortunately, there was plenty of ice and not much time passed before I was munching my Lorna Doones and swilling my Barq’s. By the time I was finished, there was not a soul in the office. I wondered where the three had gone. I walked out to the parking lot and for some reason turned around to look at the building. “Blue-girl”, “Gory”, and “Chester” were on the roof watching me. I waved. Blue-girl shouted to me.

“Each time you come we have an office pool. The bet has to do with how close you will get to your car before you pass out. I won today!” She was jumping up and down like a school girl.

I wonder what sorts of gaming goes on at the University Health Care Center when I show up.