You’ve heard of the Ironman Triathlon, but how about Stinky Family Blood? Marcus fills us in on buying leeches off Amazon, the perils of Weetabix, and why Popeye is a liar.
They say that your body is your temple. If this is true I don’t treat my temple very well. Indeed, to be honest, ISIS treats the temples of others with more respect than I do my own.
It therefore came as little surprise that, in my mid-fifties, my temple began to show visible signs of neglect. In particular my consumption of antacid tablets had grown in frequency and their active ingredients had grown in strength. I demurred at seeing medical help on the simple principle that I was pretty sure what I would be told to stop doing, reduce doing, or start doing. Having to pay someone to tell me what I already knew, but possibly in a patronising or condescending voice, lacked appeal.
However, I was eventually persuaded to attend a surgery to see a GP I was reliably informed had a perfect bedside (desk side?) manner. I attended and he was everything he was claimed to be. Advice was given and a blood test taken, although we both knew what the results would be. They weren’t.
There is something slightly unnerving about being rung by your GP to be told your results. Normally you are contacted by their receptionist and asked to fix an appointment at some distant date. He rang me. He had a surprised note in his voice.
He broke the good news first. Apparently, against the odds, my glucose and cholesterol levels were remarkable in their normality. Furthermore, even if I live to be a hundred my kidneys will still fetch a decent price on the open market. Then came the bad. I had heard of anaemia but it had never heard of its evil opposite. It was this that the phone call was about.
It appears I have Hemachromatosis. Nope, me neither. Not a clue. Apparently it comes from the Greek. “Hema” as in “Hemoglobin” meaning blood, “Chrom” as in “Chromosome” meaning I inherited it and it is therefore my parents fault, and “Tosis” as in “Halitosis” meaning stinky. I therefore have Stinky Family Blood.
My liver stores, and therefore my blood carries, far too much iron. Not a bit too much, but way too much. Enough that I shouldn’t go out in the rain in case I rust. Enough to be nearly magnetic. Enough to set off sensitive metal detectors at airports. I have a lot of iron.
According to Google the iron doesn’t simply wander around the blood system like tiny little girders, it settles in various parts of the body. One place it finds conducive are the testes. At least that explains the clanking noise I occasionally heard when I was walking…
Although the idea of letting the matter rest and seeing if I could move metal objects from a distance appealed, the doctor was rather insistent that this was a bad idea. Lack of treatment does have some unfortunate long term consequences – death being one of them. Presumably this is as a result of eventual liver failure rather than the impotence it is also supposed to cause. So treatment it was.
There are no pills for stinky blood, the treatment is twofold: avoid iron in the diet, and regular blood donations. Yes, the medieval quacks were right, there is something bloodletting is actually good for. Donations were to be at the rate of twice a month for a few months, dropping to once a month for ever. That is a pint on each occasion. As Tony Hancock once said: “A pint! That’s very nearly an armful!”.
I enquired whether my precious blood would then be disposed of or used. I had assumed the former but it appears that my donation is the blood equivalent of super unleaded to an anaemic. Their pale faces will be replaced by a rosy glow as they bounce out of the clinic with a new found vigour. How could I deny them this?
Quite simply, I am not good a donating blood. I have tried to give blood twice in my life before and fainted on both occasions. I am not frightened by the sight of blood, but by the thought of the sight of it flowing freely into the cup or whatever else they use to collect it. Try as I might to think of something else, my brain drags my thoughts back to what is actually happening and the world goes all hazy.
As an alternative I suggested leeches instead, apparently they are not available on the GHA. Someone suggested trying Amazon, I tried, no hits. Apparently it was a different Amazon they were referring to.
Even the diet was less easy than I would have thought. Steak and liver pate were clearly off the menu, but spinach remains Ok. Popeye is a liar. Condemned to a more vegetarian-style diet I began to check what else may cause an uplift in my natural magnetism. I never like IronBru so no-lose there, but Weetabix! I thought that was safe but no, some health nut decided to fortify a wheat based breakfast cereal with 75% of your recommended daily allowance of iron. Given my RDA is a minus number, the advert “I bet you can’t eat three” is entirely correct. If I am to use up my precise ration of iron consumption, it will be on shellfish (another no-no), not bloody Weetabix.
A further visit to my GP was friendly, if not entirely reassuring. Having relaxed me by saying that the condition is not uncommon he then ruined the moment by saying mine was the highest level he had seen in years. He even gave me a letter to produce at the blood donor clinic to reassure them that my regular attendance was not as a result of some bizarre fetish. Like a kind of Münchausen syndrome by plasma.
I emailed my parents to break the news and to begin the blame process. This was, after all, inherited and therefore some warning would have been nice. I also wanted to point out that any damage to my liver was clearly their fault, not as they had repeatedly warned me, my own. “It’s the genes not the gin”, I explained.
My mother, showing her usual level of sympathy, accepted responsibility but not blame. I appear to have had a great aunt who my mother remembers suffering from “something a bit weird that sounded a bit like that”. Thanks Mum. It subsequently transpired my cousin was diagnosed five years ago. OK, he now lives in Australia but I think email does work from there. Thanks “mate”.
Meanwhile, my father, safe in the knowledge that it hadn’t come from his side of the family, resumed watching the TV at a volume that allows my mother to watch the same channel on her TV, on mute, two rooms away. I love my parents.
I was going to end this short health slot with a description of my first trip to donate and my unexpectedly brave attitude. However, having rung the hospital and been told the blood clinic opens at 8am, I duly arrived to find that time in the morning was for withdrawals from the bank, and that the paying-in only began at 12.30. Not wishing to give up so easily, I reappeared at 1pm to find a sign on the door saying the machine was broken. A charming nurse told me that the part was on order and it might be delivered next week. Next week! I could be a ferrous rod by then.
So I write, full of blood, with no leeches and a broken machine. Apparently there used to be a third option but Buffy seems to have put a stop to that. Anyway, my blood would probably have played havoc with the fillings in their teeth. I will lay off the garlic though, just in case.