A bit of science information for us to puzzle over today: My ferritin level is low. A normal ferritin level is about a 100. Mine, right now, is a couple of ticks below 20.
So what exactly is “ferritin,” kids? And why do we care about its so-called “level”? I have no idea what the word ferritin means; I was pre-med for a tad less than 1.5 semesters in college. Chemistry is what finally drove me off. Though I do now know that ferritin has something vaguely to do with iron (thanks, WebMD). And I also know this: if your ferritin level is below 20, as mine is, congratulations, because you are now borderline anemic.
This is not something that you want to be. After all the mysteries and nonsense that I’ve been through over the past two years, after all the times that my body has backfired and threatened to explode (and implode), why do I have a unexpected iron deficiency? And why do I have it now?
The official answer from science is this: Who in the fuck knows.
I was at St. Paul’s when I received the ferritin news. Of course I was at St. Paul’s; St. Paul’s is where all terrible things happen for me. It’s like my personal Mordor. My doctor that day was a new doctor who is currently helping me level off my fluctuating INR test results, which I’ve written about before. So, to break it down for you, the doctor was doing a new series of tests because she did not like the results from another series of tests.
Welcome to the deep-end of the pool.
It was in this new tier of meta tests where the ferritin-level information cropped up. The doctor seemed genuinely surprised when she discovered this. “Huh,” she said as she stared at her computer screen. “This is strange. Your ferritin levels are bizarrely low.” This happened in real-time, because doctors never actually look at your test results until you’re physically in the room with them. Why should they?
I’ve always been a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t make more of an effort to stay in the pre-med boat. I wish that I tried a little harder. Imagine the nurses I could have dated and disappointed. Imagine the money, and the sports cars, and the pinball machines, and the expensive colognes! I even have a picture of myself as a little kid wearing a fake stethoscope. The writing was on the wall, right? But, just like all of my romantic relationships, as soon as things got a bit more challenging in pre-med I abandoned ship then regressed to full-time beer-drinking, Blades of Steel-playing, and executing my Make-My-Idiotic-Dorm-Room-Even-More-Awesome decorating campaign (Pro Tip: Christmas lights year-round).
Whenever something like this ferritin-level thing happens to me now, I’ve learned that the last thing you want to do is overreact. I simply shrug my shoulders in a resigned way (which I did). Then I expel an exhausted sigh (which I also did). Then I strike out for the London Drugs to fetch whatever pressing prescription it is that I need.
The prescription in this case was a 100-milligram iron supplement. A low ferritin level basically means either, A. that I don’t have enough iron in my body (this should not be the case, since I consume iron-rich foods almost exclusively), or, B. that my body isn’t properly absorbing the iron as it passes through my body. The iron simply glides through my system like a cruise ship packed with tourists sailing by an iron-deficient port of call.
The doctor also told me that while taking a daily dose of iron in pill form is fairly harmless, there were two potential side effects. One, it could constipate me, and two, the iron might interfere with the effect of the other medicines I take.
Also, I have to take a shit test to try to understand why I’m not absorbing iron properly. Or, in medical terms, a “fecal immunochemical test,” the gist of which involves shitting into a section of Saran Wrap, then taking a tiny bit of the shit into the lab for testing. Update: I actually did the test this morning. It wasn’t into “Saran Wrap,” as I had suspected, but onto a section of buoyant wax paper that floats on top of the water in your toilet. I put the wax paper into the toilet, then sat down to do my business. My business was unexpectedly so substantial that it utterly sank the entire piece of floating wax paper. The entire thing, all of it, sat on the bottom of the toilet like a wrecked fishing boat. A small bit of the wreckage was fortunately still above the surface of the water—a big thanks to Boston Pizza—so I collected my official sample from that.
The mere idea of doing something like this used to give me legitimate nightmares. I spent much of my life being utterly terrified by my own shit. But these days? I don’t mind. It’s just shit, folks; what can you do about it? Answer: not much.
But there are always more unexpectedly horrible things up ahead—always. I know this now as well as anyone knows it.
You think you’ve seen the worst of it? You haven’t. All the things that I once lived in mortal fear of? Most of those things, if not all of them, have already happened to me. I’ve had a camera up my ass—like way, way up—four or five times. (The colonoscopy itself isn’t so bad, but the prep you have to do the day before is very bad.) I have had a camera inserted—get ready to wince, men—into the hole of my penis. Way, way up the hole of my penis. I’ve had that done three times so far. Of course, I had a dreaded catheter installed during my open-heart surgery. I don’t remember the insertion because I was knocked out by the anesthesia, though I do remember the catheter’s removal in the recovery room. I’ve had my sternum sawn in half, presumably via some kind of electric medical saw. I’ve had a testicle removed, though that’s a story for another time. And I had not one but two operations on my butt-hole proper, both of which left me incontinent. Out of options and filled with despair (and with pants that kept unexpectedly filling with shit), I put feminine pads into my shorts to control the situation.
Because what the hell else was I going to do?
Sure, I’ve suffered plenty. But in the end, if you’re going to get through the years, you’re going to have to do your share of suffering. That’s the way it goes.
Yesterday at 6 a.m. I went up to Grouse Mountain here in Vancouver with a couple of Grouse-loving friends. We did the so-called “grind,” which, in case you don’t live here in BC, is a semi-hellish mountain trail that you can climb in about an hour. The climb was especially slow for me yesterday; I finished last in my group. My heart pounded furiously in my chest the entire way up. Later in the day I got an email from one of my Grouse friends letting me know that a 55-year-old man had actually died on the trail yesterday. He’d had a heart attack at around the three-quarter mark. The fire department couldn’t get to him fast enough. The barrier between me and oblivion felt especially thin. It’s thin for me. It’s thin for you, too.
My advice? Shit into your pieces of wax paper and fill your underwear with Maxi Pads, if that’s what you have to do. Brace yourself for whatever personal humiliation and bodily violation you have to endure. And get out there and do some serious living today.