Iron Man

Trigger Warning: Boring medical stuff.

Good news, my heart looks beautiful. Can you believe it? I’m still trying to figure out why I get dizzy all the time. I’ve hit the end of the road, there’s nothing left to check. The MRI showed nothing. The electroencephalogram (EEG), normal. My stress test, perfect. The echocardiogram, essentially an ultrasound, not of a baby, but my heart, looked beautiful. That’s the word my doctor used, beautiful.

My eye exam, showed minor changes. Hearing test, ditto. The ear-nose-throat doctor shrugged his shoulders. Twelve months of dizziness, no conclusive results, until Friday. A blood test. A blood test. It only cost me twenty dollars. Do you have any idea what all that other crap cost me? I don’t. They’re still calculating the final bill.

In truth, I had my bloodwork run three time, so sixty dollars. Once by my old doctor, right as I was switching to a new practice. New doc looking over my labs: “Well these are pretty useless. He didn’t order anything I want to see.” Right from the start, she honed in on my diet. In that first appointment, I told my story: “Funny thing,” I told her, “I quit eating meat last February.”

“When did you start getting dizzy?”

“Last February.”

She ordered new bloodwork, checking various vitamin levels. That all looked perfect too. When the stress test came back normal, she decided to check my iron. Before the pandemic, the local hospital system ran these cattle-call blood screenings. They would set up in the gym at the YWCA. Stations to register, stations to pay, a place to get poked, and a coffee bar on the way out. An endless parade of people trudged through from six a.m. until nine-thirty, each person getting a blood test. I did this for four years in a row. The results of those tests (measured in mcg/dl—whatever that means): 203, 184, 163, 177. And last week: 60. Here’s the chart from my patient portal.

I love my new doctor. First off, she wants me to call her by her name, Tracey. I’m twenty years older than her, calling her Dr. ______ seems unnecessarily formal. On Friday night, seven-ish, as Eli and I picked up a pizza, I got a voice mail. “Hi Jeff, it’s Tracey, can you give me a call tonight? I want to discuss something before the weekend.” Hmm, slightly disconcerting. But really cool she would call me so late into a Friday evening; I gave her a call. “Your iron dropped by two thirds over the past year. I’d seriously consider adding meat back into your diet.” Tracey told me that a common symptom of low iron is dizziness.

When I first started dating Susan, a work-friend did a twenty-four-hour juice fast every week. He swore by them. “They sharpen me up. I feel fresh and refreshed.” I gave it a try. Starting on a Sunday morning, I ate and drank nothing but cranberry juice for the whole day. The hungrier I got, the more juice I drank. When my alarm went off on Monday morning, I was incapacitated. My head pounded as hard as my worst hangover. I couldn’t get out of bed. I missed the whole day of work.

Just like my juice fast, I gave up meat in an effort to feel healthier. To purge all that poison from my system. I wanted to feel fresh and refreshed, again. And with the exception of being dizzy all the time, it worked pretty well.

Shortly after my second iron dose last weekend, I headed out for a run. With my iron-rich blood, I planned on killing my favorite seven-mile loop. Apparently, the effects of iron on my body will take about six-weeks to come to fruition. The run was miserable, just like all my runs. Just as dizzy, just as fatigued, sucking wind.

On Sunday night, Eli and I shared a New York Strip steak. During my hiatus from meat, he developed a passion for steak. He buys it from a local butcher and griddles it up in a cast iron pan. I’ve watched him jealously for the past twelve months as he perfected his technique. Sunday night, on doctor’s orders, I joined Eli in his feast. I didn’t miss being a vegetarian one bit.

23 thoughts on “Iron Man

  1. I’m glad the mystery was solved and in such a satisfying way! I don’t eat a lot of meat, but sometimes it’s exactly what I want.

    Those heart ultrasounds are pretty cool, huh? I had one done years ago when they were trying to figure out why my blood pressure was so high.
    The cardiologist’s answer was a shrug 🤷🏼‍♀️😂😂 all my tests were good, I just had high blood pressure.

    You get steak, I get a shrug🤣🤣

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    • Hopefully this is really solved and not just sniffing up the wrong tree again. One benefit of all this is that all my major systems have been checked out and seem to be in working order. A nice sense of security for a guy pushing sixty.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Omg! That was all it was?! What a huge relief! Steak is the answer! Apologies for excess exclamation marks, but I’m stoked for you! This needs to be turned into a case study for med students on the importance of careful history taking. Also, bonus that you are enjoying the fruits of Eli’s perfected technique 😊

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    • Well, we won’t really know if that’s the answer until my levels get up and can see how I feel going forward. It’s nice to have your doctor tell you you need to start doing something you already want to do. Too bad she didn’t tell me to start drinking red wine again.

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  3. I’m happy for you that the mystery is finally resolved! I was diagnosed with very mild anaemia two years ago and the difference a few weeks of iron supplements made was incredible. Isn’t it amazing how just one thing out of balance can have such a big impact? I hope the supplements (and Eli’s beautifully grilled steaks) will work quickly to make you feel better. 😊

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  4. Ohhhh I’m so happy that all your internal organs are perfect! (Hahaha that sentence sounds weird out of context.) But seriously, it must be such a relief. And I have high hopes that getting your iron up fixes the whole shebang. I started feeling quite weak and shaky a month ago (not exactly dizzy just shaky), have added started making sure I get red meat once or twice a week and I think it has helped. Anyway congrats and enjoy the steak!

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  5. I really hope adding meat back into your diet helps the dizziness go away! Those iron levels are insane. Woah, what a drop! I was a vegetarian for years. I added meat back in after I was feeling tired all the time and I was gaining weight, which was the exact opposite reason why I became a vegetarian. And I found myself craving meat. Weird. Anyway, my fingers are crossed this is the missing piece to the puzzle for you!

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    • I’m actually hoping this works a little bit like blood doping. If I’ve been exercising hard with limited iron for a year, maybe when my iron levels increase (and therefore red blood cells) I’ll be a monster. Little bit frustrated. I’ve literally been talking with doctors about this for a year. Reminiscent of when I went to a dozen eye doctor appointments to figure out “what was wrong with my eyes” and it turned out to be Tourette Syndrome.

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      • That is frustrating. I feel like I am dealing with something and I am getting the brush off. My plan is next year for my physical to ask to see a different doctor and hopefully get a different perspective. About the blood doping – I still go to my gym class every day and a lot of the kettle bell workouts are intense cardio workouts. And I have to do them with a mask on. I was thinking by the time I can workout or run without a mask I should be a monster as hopefully I helped my VO2max with all of this training with masks on. It’s worth hoping for, at least.

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      • Once on a run, I did a test where I monitored my heart rate repeatedly with the mask off and then on. My heart rate obviously escalated when the mask was on. I think you’ll definitely see some benefit.

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  6. There is a farm near us that raises grass-fed beef. You can buy it right there at a little stand in their barn. It is flash frozen and they only raise 4 or 5 steers at a time. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but when I get the urge, I go there and buy a steak. Or burgers. Or a really nice soup bone. I am so glad your new doc found out what is causing the dizziness. She sounds wonderful. A nice spinach salad topped with steak sounds like a good iron-rich dinner. Raisins have a lot of iron ounce for ounce too.

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    • Raisins really don’t do it for me. Eating them would be like taking a pill. Something I’m only doing for health benefits. With this new nugget of information, I analyzed my diet (which is extremely varied) and I found that I eat a good amount of iron. I read that some people don’t uptake plant based iron as easily as meat based. Maybe I’m one of those people. The beef from the farm near our house doesn’t really taste any better or worse than store bought, but there are also some farmers’ market vendors to try out. Of course the butcher meat is probably local, grass raised beef as well. Fingers crossed for a clean break from dizziness.

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  7. I’m so glad that you MIGHT have found the answer to your dizziness. I eat steak about three times a year typically, but I’ve found that during the last six months or so I have been craving it. Maybe my body was telling me something. I listened, and I’ve started eating a good rib eye about once a month. I’ve actually been sleeping better. Coincidence? Sounds like you’ve found a really good new doc no matter what.

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      • I love lamb. My son-in-law makes it for every holiday. I grew up eating leg of lamb for Sunday dinner. I allow myself to eat it on those special family times. Burgers to me are always meh!

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  8. Good on Tracey for paying attention, listening, and seeing what others missed. I hope low iron is the cause of your dizziness, as it’s relatively easy to fix once you hit on the right foods/supplements to add to your diet.

    Back when I was an extreme endurance athlete and still menstruating, I would get these odd cravings for steak every few months. I learned that was my body telling me I needed the sort of iron only red meat provided. Blood work confirmed I was borderline anemic, so I added more red meat into my diet.

    I understand the desire to be vegetarian. I really do. But I also understand our inherited physiological dependence on certain types of proteins – and iron – to function at maximum levels. It’s a conundrum. I have friends who run a rescue for disabled animals. The husband adopted vegetarianism. He decided to try feeding their dogs a vegetarian diet. It didn’t go well. They didn’t thrive. He admitted defeat and returned to a diet with animal protein. Eventually he also returned to eating meat. Some things just are what they are.

    I hope a few tweaks to your diet will eliminate the dizziness and provide some pep to your running steps, just in time for spring!

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    • I really wasted a lot of time with my old doctor. The only thing he tried was to take me off my cholesterol medicine. I kept mentioning the vegetarian thing and he kept dismissing it. Really frustrating. The only downside (besides the cost) is that I’m having so many appointments it’s leaving me insecure at work. Hopefully I’m done with this for a while. Not sure how my return to meat will work. I’m trying to go very slowly and pay attention to my joints and muscles.

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  9. Ah the whole strip steak in the cast iron pan trick. Yeah that would be hard to resist. And a day of cranberry juice man, that’s a rough penitence. Makes me pucker just thinking of it, or my odd old uncle who takes a shot of vinegar and gin every morning, swears by it. He’s strong as a horse at 83. Still does his own yard work.

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