One of the reasons I hate getting ear ache, besides the pain and fever, is the need to go to see my doctor to get antibiotics.
Not that I have any problems with seeing a doctor of traditional medicine, nor have anything against antibiotics when they're used correctly. No, my problem with needing to visit the medical centre is that I know I'm going to get slugged for all the tests a person my age has been putting off for years and years.
While Dr Ken was happy to prescribe a round of antibiotics for my stupid ear, he also wanted me to have a mammogram, cervical smear, blood pressure, booked me in for blood tests, and weighed me.
Insert sigh here.
I avoid all these checks because I just know that if they find something amiss, I'm going to have to do something about it. While not knowing means I don't have to deal with anything. Very Ostrichy but considering I'm overweight and fifty, the odds of tests throwing up a high test score to indicate a potential problem is just inevitable. Dr Ken knows I'm a slippery customer, so he did the weigh-in, blood pressure test, and cervical smear in his offices and gave me appointment slips for the other tests I needed.
So right before Christmas, I decided to put my brain on hold and just take each of the tests. First the mammogram.
The clinic was gorgeous. A restored villa set in lush rose gardens in Remuera, my new Pepper White Mini looked gorgeous in the car park. It didn't take long at all with the staff all running to time and their processes very proven and efficient. At best the mammogram was uncomfortable, and for the most part it was painful, but it was mercifully quick and my appointment was ticked off my medical to-do list in under 30 minutes.
Next was blood tests. Because the testing facility is in the same building as my doctor's and I actually enjoy needles, this wasn't a hardship. As the technician relieved me of test tubes of blood, I was wondering how bad these results were going to be especially given my recent fudge binges and high intake of Lurpak butter. I banked on high sugar and cholesterol scores and knew I'd be having a discussion with Dr Ken about Type 2 Diabetes and cutting animal products from my diet including my beloved butter.
While I really wasn't expecting to hear any results until the New Year - part of the reason I got myself tested in the last week before Christmas - I got a phone call from Dr Ken in the last days of work. He actually sounded really worried and I braced myself for the diabetes lecture or the news they'd found a mass in my breast or that my cervical cells were abnormal.
- mammogram - clear, no indications of cancer
- cervical smear - clear, normal cells
- blood test: glucose - normal range
- blood test: cholesterol - normal range
- blood test: ferritin - well below normal range
Dr Ken sounded really worried about how low my iron was. He's usually all bantering and teasing, and this phonecall was him being all close to the mouth-piece and talkin ernestly and seriously to me. Very out of the character compared to what I am used to with him. He said the 'normal' range falls between 20-160 whatevers, but that I'd tested at 8 whatevers. He said I was anaemic and would need to increase my intake of iron-rich foods and take an iron supplement.
I wasn't surprised - my iron is always like this though last time I was tested I rang in at 15 whatevers so I guess it's a lot lower now. I can't remember a time when my iron has been low. He had asked me during our consultation about my diet which I answered was varied if not on the heavily portioned side. I eat read meat, chicken, vegetables, cereals. Sure my sugar intake is sky-high and I go through a couple of packs of Lurpak a week but hey, who doesn't? That stuff is heavenly on fresh bread. I actually eat quite a bit of tinned fish most weeks of my life because I love sardines on toast and tuna or salmon sandwiches.
Taking iron tablets isn't new for me, I actually used to have iron injections for a while under a different doctor in his practice. So I agreed to pick up the prescription and take the tablets for three months and to be retested in March. He reminded me that the iron tablets would turn my poo black, and cause constipation, so urged me to start eating kiwifruit after dinner.
So like I said, this isn't new to me. I remember years ago deciding I would like to give blood but was told by the people at the blood drive that if they took blood from me, I'd have to be taken out on a stretcher. They said my hemoglobin levels were far too low to be safe to give blood even though of have the awesome AB variety. Low iron has been part of my life since forever, but this is the first time I've been told I'm actually anaemic. This is the first time I've actually thought about it properly instead of just accepting it as the norm.
I started by really thinking about the food I eat, and had to admit I don't eat that many leafy green vegetables at all. Oh sure, I buy a lot but then give them to the bunnies! I might eat broccoli and sometimes silver beet, but mostly, I'm in the carrots, peas, onions, pumpkin kind of vegetable world.
Upon hearing the word anaemic a memory surfaced of how low my grandfather's iron levels were so low that the doctors thought he must've been bleeding internally. My sister and my mother also have low iron. We're all also the same shape as we all carry our excessive weight around our middles. Is this low iron a family thing? Certainly looking like it from a purely anecdotal point of view, it may well be.
Because iron helps bind oxygen to red blood cells, not having enough iron can leave us feeling weak, and sometimes experiencing dizziness. People with low iron can be especially grumpy and cranky, land look pale and experience frequent headaches. Without that vital oxygen being pumped to the brain anaemic suffers find concentration difficult and appear to have a short attention span. I started thinking about the way I see myself and compared that to the symptoms of anaemia and wondered if my low iron might go some way to explain why I see myself as lazy and why I can't focus on a task to see it all the way through? Why my mind wanders and, most importably, why it feels so easy to be so sedentary? Does low iron also explain why I have very heavy menstrual periods, or does is it the reason I'm anaemic? Does it factor in why I sometimes describe myself as depressed?
So many questions, but answers should be just around the corner if those iron levels elevate, and there is a change to be seen in behaviour! Oh yes, let's put all our eggs in one cast-iron basket, shall we?
The next few months
Luckily, the best treatments to increase iron in my blood are the same lifestyle changes that are often recommended for just living a healthy life:
- take iron supplements* (only after consulting your doctor - overloading on iron or iron poisoning is a bad thing)
- eat iron rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, red meat, shell fish
- sleeping well
- moderate exercise
- drink plenty of water
So here I am at the beginning of the year, and I'm actually taking my iron supplement every day. I take it in the morning with a large glass of water. I'm a real supplement skeptic on the whole, so instead of taking a vitamin C tablet to help my iron absorption, I've started eating an orange a day. They're much yummier than a high potentency tablet, that's for sure. I've been trying to get to bed early enough to get an eight hour sleep in, but I'm still struggling with this for various reasons (TV, humidity making it hard to sleep) and while I haven't started any regular walking that is in my near future.
Leafy green vegetables are becoming more and more a feature in my meals and also have ambitious plans for raised vegetable and herb gardens. I'd like to be able to start drinking at least three green juices per week, and having the vegetables on hand in a garden will be much more convenient and cost effective.
I put money on the fact that while trying to increase the amount of iron in my blood, I might accidentally find myself with more energy and increase my ability to focus. If that's the case, it's going to be a wonderful proof that low iron has been part of my problem and I'm not as lazy as I thought.
- Iron deficiency anaemia (Southern Cross)
- Iron deficiency anaemia (Wikipedia)
- The Challenges of Anemia: Defining It, and Living With It (The New York Times)
- Living With and Managing Iron-Deficiency Anemia (YouTube)
- Restless leg syndrome (Wikipedia)
The small print
* take iron supplements with a big glass of water. The body absorbs iron best when coupled with Vitamin C so eating an orange or taking a Vitamin C supplement at the same time is a good thing. Don't take an iron table with milk, or within a couple of hours of having a cup of tea or coffee. Don't lie down within 30 minutes of taking the iron supplement - you need to stay up and mobile for it to work its magic.