My doctor says that I have HEMOCHROMATOSIS !  I do not quite believe him. Even though I respect him for his credentials, fellowships, reputation and gentle care, I think that he is wrong – at least in my case. And before you play the “armchair” psychologist on me and tell me that I am in denial, please hear me out. I admit to having too much iron and not being happy about it. It appears that genetics and an aging body are catching up with me. Thanks to my wife and doctor, I have agreed to treatment (amelioration).  Everyone in the know is convinced that I have the HFE gene and have hemochromatosis. I think (my young son agrees) that I’ve become a GHOUL; a slave to the vampire; one of his regulars. Not really sick, just a little weak and now enslaved to His teeth, the phlebotomy.

It all started a few years ago with my brother who fell off a roof and almost died. Throughout his recovery he maintained his lovely flushed cheeks. An observant and knowledgeable doctor (friend of the vampire) encouraged the testing for hemochromatosis. Sure enough, brother B has too much iron and has the gene. The same goes for most of the siblings. In order to achieve peace in the family, I finally got tested and the rest is recent history – ghouls and all!

The ghoul designation started out as a joke but after some creative research, has stuck and now seems quite appropriate. Remember as you consider my findings that before it became hemochromatosis it was the “iron over-load disease” or the “Irish disease” or “bronze diabetes”. Being a ghoul adds to the list, and suggests that the science about this disease is recent and may still be on the “back burner”. Consider, this most common hereditary killer in America, uses the same treatment (amelioration is more accurate) today as would have been used in 2500 BC (Egypt/1000 BC (China). As far as I can tell, the only difference is that today we have better needles and we are somewhat more selective in who (as in what is the illness) gets bled. Over stated perhaps, but it seems clear that hematology is a recent specialty. Somewhat related in terms of application, I was shocked to learn that blood transfusions only became common place after WW 2.

My brief study about hemochromatosis has resulted in learning a lot more than is necessary. Along with being delighted that kale and spinach are no longer on my plate, I am not as happy that a glass of wine is not present next to my imaginary steak dinner. I am eating more garlic, of course, to protect me from unexpected attacks from a vampire. Research must continue, if for no other reason than to restore the occasional glass of Malbec.

Research about “H”, blood, vampires and ghouls became very fascinating when looking at the origin of the disease. How did this genetic mutation occur? What do we know about the HFE gene? Wouldn’t you know it, the Irish are to blame, or at least the Celts. Apparently, at least according the American Hemochromatosis Society, some 40,000 years ago, during the Iron Age (I am not making this up!), the tragic mutation occurred. It happened during or after a prolonged famine; an Irish potato famine, no doubt. One of my ancestors, after experiencing a continuous shortage of iron, developed a “survival” genetic mutation and his body began to over-absorb iron. Today nearly 10% of people with European roots carry the HFE gene. Fortunately relatively few will get hemochromatosis.

That’s how it happened. You think? I’m not so sure. Let me suggest a more plausible story, also well researched but one that makes room for the vampires, ghouls and strange vegetables involved in all this. What really happened was that during one particular famine, in one small village, one of my long lost Irish cousins got so hungry, he did the unthinkable; he momentarily overcame his fear and ate the MANDRAKE.  This vegetable that had the nick-name, Satan’s Apple, was feared and shunned due to its grotesque appearance alone. It had the added mysterious qualities of good and evil, nutritious and poisonous, and hallucinogenic. The core of this root vegetable, although feared, was good to eat but the rest of the plant had magical and nefarious qualities. It was said to make infertile women fertile. Remember the biblical story of Rueben, Jacob and Leah.  Now there is a story that could mutate some genes! There is more! This mutation just may have happened with Adam and Eve! It may well have been the mandrake or Satan’s Apple that got Eve pregnant and also drove them out of the Garden. Blame the mandrake, not the potato, for hemochromatosis, please!

Next week, as scheduled, I will show up at the vampire’s lair (hospital) for my blood -letting.  The receptionist will greet me with a smile and say, “oh, the ghoul has arrived”. A very experienced nurse will get me settled in my bed or lounge chair.  With the near perfect combination of pleasantness, authority and proficiency, the phlebotomy will begin. As I relax to read or think, I will take for granted that I am a patient in good hands and in an excellent health system but as I doze off it occurs to me that I should consider arranging my phlebotomy schedule around the phases of the moon.

Peter Dueck, ghoul/patient

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