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Tammy Swift, Published September 28 2013

Swift: Day spent as Iron Maiden like a trip to the spa

As you grow older, your body starts to turn on you.

Words that never previously entered your vocabulary now become part of your regular lexicon. “Should I buy orthotics for this plantar fasciitis?” you find yourself asking your physician. “I sure could use a chair with some lumbar support to ease my sciatica.”

In my case, I have become anemic or, as I prefer to call it, hemoglobinally challenged. In all other ways, I am healthy as a (very white) horse. But, despite iron supplements and a grudging increase in my spinach intake, my red blood cells just aren’t where they need to be.

The irony – iron-y? – is that I have looked anemic for decades before I actually become so. Even by Germanavian standards, I was always alarmingly white. While I was growing up, my mother worried constantly about my pasty pallor. She was forever plying me with green things (ack!) and liver (double ack!), all in the interest of putting a little color in my cheeks. Back then, my iron levels were fine. I just happened to look like the love child of Edgar Winter and Alice Cullen.

But nowadays, even by Tam standards, I am pale and tired. My skin is so ghostly white that it looks like skim milk is flowing through my veins. I would like to say that it gives me an ethereal, angelic quality, but the average angel would look like Snooki next to me.

And so the time has arrived for another new term, “IV iron infusion,” to enter my Glossary of Old-Lady-Health-Complaints. A couple of Fridays ago, I had to take a whole day of PTO to have iron dextran pumped into my veins. This may sound unpleasant. Oddly, I found it to be like a day at the spa – albeit a spa where you get poked with a needle, stare at four white walls for hours, eat hospital food and watch basic cable.

And because I know everyone LIVES to hear slavishly recounted details of other people’s medical procedures, here is a synopsis of my day as an Iron Maiden. Welcome to the Grand Infusion.

9:30 a.m.: My nurse is awesome. I warn her about my teensy, roll-y veins, which have caused many a phlebotomist to weep. “Seriously, they’re like dental floss,” I tell her. “The platelets have to take a number and march through single file.”

But she knows her way around an artery, and sticks me without even leaving a bruise. She also keeps offering to bring me snacks. I figure I don’t need to impress her by pretending to eat a vegan, macrobiotic diet; it’s not like we’re dating. “I’ll have the doughnut balls,” I say. “And cream and sugar with just a splash of coffee.” She brings it, with nary a look of judgeyness. This may be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

9:45 a.m.: Turns out iron looks exactly like you think it would. Kind of a rusty reddish-brown, as if someone melted down Luden’s cherry cough drops and mixed them into a vat of Coke.

The nurse warns me the infusion will be sl-o-o-o-w. That is just fine with me. They’re showing “Matchgame ’75” re-runs on the Game Show Network, all of my snacks are within easy reach, and I just discovered my giant chair reclines. All I’ve got is time, baby.

11:15 a.m.: I have already eaten three times and taken two naps. Mexico, Schmexico. This is living.

3 p.m.: I have often joked that my idea of a perfect day is to do nothing. And yet I am not feeling so much relaxed as … trapped. I am tethered to a piece of equipment that keeps me from strolling freely. I am antsy, possibly because I have been carbo-loading for a marathon, even though I’ve done nothing for hours but chew, operate the TV clicker and elevate my feet.

The only thing on TV is “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” a movie I’ve seen so many times I can recite whole scenes by memory. “Oh Clark Griswald,” I think to myself. “Can’t you see how your supporting cast, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Johnny Galecki, will someday both be bigger stars than you?”

3:30 p.m.: I appear to be in the throes of a “placebo” effect. I am quite sure the iron has turned me into a superhero. Maybe that’s why they’re called Ironman triathlons.

I feel extra alert. I’m pretty sure I could clear the nurses’ station with a single bound and bench-press a heart-lung machine. I post a status update on Facebook, asking friends if anyone planned to move that weekend. If so, I write, I would be happy to single-handedly help anyone who owned a baby grand piano or an extra-wide mahogany armoire.

3:35 p.m.: Exhausted by all the mental gymnastics, I doze off for a nap.

4 p.m.: During my last burst of energy, the nurses allowed me to do several laps around the infusion department. Apparently, during my last round, something went awry. As a result, I have been absorbing nothing but saline for the last half-hour. This explains why my contacts feel so hydrated. It also means l have extended my infusion-thon by another 35 minutes. I smile benignly and comfort myself by cherry-picking M&Ms out of the trail mix.

4:45 p.m.: I am free to leave the infusion center and again wander the Earth as a red-blooded American girl. Apparently, this infusion will last six months.

At that point, if I am still hemoglobinally challenged, I may have to enjoy another day at the spa.

I’ll call it, “Use Your Infusion, II.”


Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at tswiftsletten@gmail.com