June 11, 2015 scottcjones 13Comments

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.


  1. I, too, have put Maxi Pads in my shorts to control medical situations.

    Things have turned out all right for me, and I hope they do for you too, Scott. I very much enjoy your writing, and the work that you, Victor, and the rest of the crew have been doing for years. Here’s hoping for many more good years to come.

  2. Only Scott can talk about something so damn serious and have me laughing my ass off at the same time. Hope you’re OK!!

  3. Welcome to the low ferritin club, Scott! I’ve been in that club for years now. I’m a lady… so you can imagine why I might have trouble keeping the ferritin up. But I would guess for you it’s very likely from the medications you take that prevent ferritin absorption, while always leeching whatever iron you already take in! Also, exercise is no picnic when the body is low on iron! Seems to be more taxing on the system/fatiguing.

    Well, here is the upside… you get to eat all the burgers your body can handle! 🙂

  4. Avoid doing anything nutty like going on the Grouse Grind until your iron levels are above 90 or something like that. Don’t push it to prove a point; not worth it!

    Year ’round Xmas lights and Blades-of-Steel doesn’t sound half bad. FAYSHOFF!

  5. Being a woman I have lived with low iron ever since I became a woman. Its not fun. You feel exhausted, tired, all you want to do is sleep. Best advice; eat spinach, juice and listen to your body. Don’t push it until you feel better.
    P.S. You’re still super sexy!

  6. Your life throws lemons at you, and instead of making lemonade out of them, you stuff them in a grenade launcher and lob them right back (all while telling the world).

    You, sir, rock.

  7. Hi Scott, and Jeezum Crow re: all this health business. I’ve been dropping in on your site for a few years now just to enjoy your writing and peep in on your life post-NYC, which is where I met you. We were in a writing group together, and you were a good poet; I still remember “Lake Effect.” Really happy you got out of the city (I’m still here, and it’s an awful combination of expensive and boring), but not happy about everything you’ve been going through. Just wanted you to know that I’m rooting for you. Your writing hasn’t suffered one bit. Take care and keep enjoying your summer.

    1. Very kind, CL. Not sure WHO you are, but yes, I did try to write poetry for a very long time. Though I wasn’t very good. Anyway, drop me a line if you’d like to stay in touch. I love writers, of course, especially writers who I attended workshops with. scjones86@yahoo.com

  8. Just have to say that you’ve been a personal hero of mine, having gone through so many of life’s bitter tests and trials and still emerge accomplished through perseverance and just doing what needs to be done. And now you even brave the deplorable gameplay of so many vintage cartridges that never really seem to hold up to modern scrutiny… I’m always rooting for you, hoping that you will find continued success and contentment. Because, well, if you can have that, then maybe there is some hope for the rest of us hard-nosed realists who are maybe a bit more cantankerous than cheerful, but at least able to see the humor even in the darkest of days.

    1. Lovely words, Bryan. Thanks for the compliment. Why are you people so nice to me? Seriously, I feel like printing out CL’s and your comments and hanging them both on my fridge. Hey, wait a minute. Maybe I’ll do exactly that….

  9. Even with all the shit you have been through (no pun intended) your writing continues to both inform and entertain. I truly hope your continued medical issues come to an end soon and you can also end that ugly relationship with St. Paul’s!
    Um, and what is wrong with Christmas lights all year?

  10. Ummm…..more please? I’ve been reading your blogs for years (even the one before blogspot where you tell the story of pooping yourself lol) and have been eagerly awaiting more great stories.

    Hope all is well and that EP Daily/ROTR gets picked up for 2016.

  11. Wow, I had no idea about your medical struggles.

    I have really enjoyed watching you on TV everyday over the last few years and I really hope things turn out well for you medically and professionally.

    I have a hemorrhoid that is swelling up burned with pain all night. Shit nothing but blood this morning. Time to have a doctor look in my ass for the first time. I knew the day had to come eventually. Your story has given me courage when as I am feeling very anxious about it, so thank you for that.

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