Somehow the youthful notion of “live fast, die young!” becomes less appealing as the days go by. Funny that, isn’t it?
I remember the day well, it all started in May 1997 with a routine (or so I thought) Doctors appointment in the morning and then the usual rounds of trying to keep clients and staff happy. It was the day of my thirty ninth birthday and so I was looking forward to the celebratory dinner engagement later that evening. I had been feeling slightly “run down”, a euphemism here for “exhausted” but had put it down to slightly busy times in the office and so had finally relented to my wife’s pleas to “go and see the Doc and get everything checked out”.
Upon my return to the office in mid afternoon, I received a message from one of my colleagues “your doctor called and you are to call him back straight away”. “Ah, get the multivitamins ready and get ready to cut back on the alcohol time” I thought but alas not so.
“How are things Doc?”
“I’m fine but you’re not. I have a hospital bed set aside (he gave me the details of the hospital in question) and you are to get there straight away. I will see you there shortly.”
OK, a little bit harsh and to the point I thought. “Is there any particular reason?” I asked rather glibly.
“Yes, you need a blood transfusion straight away and we will take it from there. I’ll explain more when I see you there”
Things were starting to get a little too serious for my liking. Feeling slightly like a child who had been playing Monopoly and had just received the “Go straight to jail. Do not pass Go and do not collect Â£200 (or whatever your currency is depending on where you are reading this article)” I put the telephone down, stared at the blank wall in front of me and tried not to go into major panic mode.
The day was definitely not going to plan. The next thing was to inform my wife of exactly what had happened (to the best of my knowledge), put the birthday celebrations on hold; cancel the restaurant reservation and trying not to drive into anyone or anything else I headed home to pack some “overnight things” for my short stay in hospital.
“Overnight things!” I had prepared myself for overnight business trips before but somehow I wasn’t too sure whether the hospital would appreciate me arriving with laptop, mobile and modem et al in tow and so things were a little different this time.
The problem as it turned out had been that I had an abnormally low haemoglobin level that had surfaced as part of a routine Blood Test that had been carried out that morning.
The haemoglobin test is normally ordered as a part of the complete blood count (CBC) (which is ordered for many different reasons, including as a general health screening. The test is also repeated in patients who have ongoing bleeding problems or chronic anaemia’s or polycythemias.
Normal values in an adult are 12 to 18 grams per decilitre (100 millilitres) of blood. Above-normal haemoglobin levels may be the result of:
- Excess production of red blood cells in the bone marrow,
- Severe lung disease, or
- Several other conditions.
- Below-normal haemoglobin levels may lead to anaemia that can be the result of:
- iron deficiency or deficiencies in essential vitamins of other elements, such as B12, foliate, B6,
- inherited haemoglobin defects, such as sickle cell anaemia or thalassemias,
- Other inherited defects affecting the red blood cells,
- Cirrhosis of the liver (during which the liver becomes scarred),
- Excessive bleeding,
- Excessive destruction of red blood cells,
- Kidney disease,
- Other chronic illnesses,
- Bone marrow failure or aplastic anaemia, or
- Cancers that affect the bone marrow.
In my case, my haemoglobin count was 5.9 which as my doctor later cheerfully commented “I’ve never seen someone with a blood count that low, still standing!” Just what I wanted to hear I thought as I lay in the hospital bed strapped to a drip getting my transfusion. “Don’t worry, you’ll feel so much better with a few more pints in you and these are the sort that won’t give you a hangover in the morning either!”
Somehow, though grateful for their concern, I found it rather difficult to share their enthusiasm. You see, dear reader, the real problem in the whole proceedings had been with my own rather stupid (it’s a “guy” thing) concept in ignoring the warning signs that had been building up over the years and signing up for a lifetimes course in the “heal thyself” school of medicine.
As a Consultant pointed out rather bluntly at a later stage I had almost killed myself with my own stupidity. I had been losing rather large amounts (at times) of blood during regular bodily functions (I won’t dwell on this too much but you get the drift) but because I had been young and fit had managed to overcome these losses without too much in the way of inconvenience. Also because of my extremely low blood count, to compensate, my blood pressure (though normal at the time) had been kept artificially low.
The moral of the story so far is don’t be stupid, don’t ignore the warning signs and if confronted with anything slightly out of the norm then get it checked out and don’t die of ignorance and shame.
So having received my “Get out of jail free card”, most normal individuals with more than a half functioning brain would have then proceeded through life with caution but sadly it appeared that I was destined to “go for broke next time”.