In Which I’m Convinced I’m Dying (or That Time I Went To The ER Twice Within 12 Hours)

12/11/11; 12:07am; Austin, TX

“I think I’m dying. I need to go to the Emergency Room. Can you pick me up?”

“Yeah, as long as you don’t mind that I’m wearing pajamas.”

“Nah, nevermind, I wouldn’t want to die while you were wearing pajamas.”

And so began my first of two visits to Austin-area Emergency Rooms (and one urgent care walk-in clinic) within the span of 12 hours.

The most expensive bracelets I've ever purchased.

But let’s backtrack a bit.

Anemia, A Death Sentence?

On Thursday, 2 days prior to my ER visits, I found out I was anemic via a random blood test I decided to take independently. I know what you’re thinking. “It’s because you’re vegan. Eat a steak.”

But you’d be wrong. And all I can think when writing this in public is, “God dammit, now people who were on the fence are going to think veganism is unhealthy and they won’t do their own research into it.”

My Mom has had anemia since she was a kid and she has eaten meat her whole life. Of the handful of people I’ve known who were anemic only one was vegan (and that was due to internal bleeding, which is diet agnostic). Anybody can develop an iron deficiency (or any other nutritional deficiency, for that matter) and a well balanced veg*n diet shouldn’t cause any issues.

I’ve been pretty meticulous about making sure I’m getting the recommended amount of iron per day. (Remember when DailyBurn.com was called Gyminee.com? That’s how long ago I started tracking intake.)

Spinach + Oxalic Acid = Bullshit

Non-heme iron (the iron found in plants) doesn’t absorb as well as heme iron (the iron only available in animal tissue). Add to that the fact that I consume a lot of iron absorption inhibitors (like tea) every day and you have the makings of a slowly progressing iron deficiency.

I also ate a lot of spinach. I would eat bags of spinach like they were potato chips.

The truth about spinach: Everybody knows spinach contains a significant amount of iron. What most people don’t know is that it also contains an iron inhibitor called oxalic acid. (I didn’t know this until last week.) How is that for some bullshit? Eating spinach might not do anything for us as far as iron content is concerned. (This depends on your own biology and also what else you eat with the spinach. Test your own blood, don’t take my results for anything.)

What I’m getting at is, as meticulous as I was with food intake, it’s my fault that I didn’t do regular blood testing to see if what I was consuming was also being absorbed.

“I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand.” - Benjamin Franklin

But I felt good so this news was still news to me. I’d been doing the Insanity work out program for about 3 months. If you’ve done Insanity you know how incredibly intense it is. Someone who’s anemic should not be able to complete the full 63 day course and then start it back up again. But I did. Because I felt good.

Who Gets Random Blood Tests Anyway?

You might be wondering, “Why would you be getting random blood tests? You had to think something was wrong.”

Nope. I wrote about this before. I just didn’t swallow my own pill as quickly as I originally planned.

I wanted these blood tests (and others), because our health system is not set up for preventive care. The only way to prevent is to be pro-active. Additionally, as precise as I may be with my food intake, science = truth. The blood tests aren’t going to lie to me, whereas the labels on a bag of spinach or a can of beans might.

I went to DirectLabs.com and ordered their Comprehensive Wellness Profile which tests for a lot of general stuff (CBC, kidney function, iron, cholesterol, and more). This was the first of many tests I planned to take. One at a time though so as not to get overwhelmed.

It was a really easy process. A few days after placing my order I went in for the blood work (Wednesday), about 24 hours later my results were in, and then the fun began.

Tangent: I had to fast for 12 hours before getting my blood drawn. So I fasted for 12 hours, walked just over 2 miles to the lab to get my blood drawn, and then walked 3 miles to get my first meal of the day. I never felt faint or woozy. To be considerably anemic and to not feel it at all still fascinates me.

After I got the news I researched more about iron deficiency, bought some supplements, decided to completely stop drinking tea, stopped doing Insanity, and planned on getting the blood tests again in a couple of weeks.

Like I stated, I felt fine. This simply didn’t make sense.

How Not To See A Concert You’ve Been Waiting 10 Years To See

Saturday I was speaking to my Mom and she freaked me out about anemia for 30 minutes, telling me all of the bad things I already knew (since I spent hours researching it). As much as I tried to fight it I couldn’t. I let all the negative thoughts get to me and I began slowly getting anxious.

I tried to focus on the show I’d be going to a few hours later. I’d been wanting to see Brian Setzer perform live for about 10 years and I always missed him on tour. Finally, I had tickets to the Brian Setzer Rockabilly Riot tour in Austin. Stray Cat Strut live and in person!

I walked the 1.5 miles to the show. No worries.

But the anxiety started bubbling.

When I walked into La Zona Rosa (concert venue) the opening band was finishing their last song. Perfect timing. I walked around a bit and 20 minutes later Brian Setzer and his band came on stage. They immediately started rocking with songs about 39 Fords and girls and fun times.

After 15 minutes I started sweating. There’s no smoking allowed inside La Zona Rosa, but I was beginning to feel faint. Hard to breathe. What is going on?

So I went to the restroom and splashed water on my face. Still felt like I was going to pass out. Then I went to the bar and drank a glass of water. Didn’t help. Finally, I went outside and sat down in the cold, crisp, Austin night.

“Breathe,” I demanded. “This is all mental,” I reasoned. “Stop being a baby,” I pleaded.

I tried to distract myself with Words With Friends.

Brian Setzer was on stage and I was outside playing Words With Friends.

I thought this was ridiculous so I went back inside and leaned up against a beam towards the back of the venue. “Maybe if I pass out it won’t be so bad since I’m leaning against this beam,” I thought. By this time I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d be passing out. It was just a matter of making it as painless as possible.

A few minutes went by and there was a short intermission while a new backing band came on stage. It was time for Stray Cats songs! While I’m a little bit of a fan of Brian Setzer’s solo work, I’m a much bigger fan of his work with the Stray Cats.

They launched into songs I barely remember. Death was imminent and I couldn’t focus. I thought about leaving. Did you really spend $40 to watch Brian Setzer play for 45 minutes? You’re an idiot.

I decided I’d hold off until they played Stray Cat Strut, my favorite song (and my favorite song to do at karaoke). Maybe that song would distract me enough to where I’d feel better.

They played it. I clapped, walked outside, sat down for a minute, got up, and walked towards Nueces St to hail a cab. I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was only 11pm, the band would probably be on stage for another hour, but I needed to go home.

An hour later, after trying not to die at home, I felt worse than ever. By now it was just after Midnight.

I Decide I’m Dying and Head To The ER

I called my friend. Her and her boyfriend came to pick me up and we went to the ER.

Where we waited.

A nurse took my blood pressure, asked a few questions (“Miss, I’m surely dying, can’t you see?”), and …

We waited.

Two guys walked into the ER covered in blood like it was the most normal thing in the world. (One dude made the unfortunate mistake of wearing an all white ensemble this evening. It looked like someone pissed blood all over him and his white pants. His friend’s head was literally pouring blood out of multiple gashes. These guys were unreal.)

And we waited.

I started to feel better after seeing all these people looking a mess.

“Death is nothing. But to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.” – Napoleon

I walked around a bit. Got a drink of water.

I Decide I’m Not Dying, Which Only Costs Me $313.75

“You know what? I think maybe we should go,” I told my friend.

I went up to the nurse and asked if I’d be charged for my visit. I said I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out and die anymore. It was nearly 3am by this time. I was exhausted and just wanted sleep.

“Wait just a minute, we’ll admit you right now.”

“Ugh, OK.”

The nurse said this would probably take a couple hours. I figured there was no sense in them staying so my friends left.

Just before getting to the point of being admitted I decided against it. “You know what? This is going to unnecessarily cost thousands of dollars and I don’t feel like I’m dying. I’m just going to go. How much will it cost?”

$313.75.

Ugh.

Called my friend: “Hey, swing back around, I’m leaving.”

Got home, still felt OK, and laid down to sleep. You’re dying. Don’t fall asleep or you won’t wake up. I tossed, turned, struggled, felt nauseous, propped up my head, watched something I don’t remember on Hulu, and finally fell asleep around 5am.

When I woke at a much-too-early-time of 9am it was in a cold, shaky, sweat.

I Decide I’m Dying (Again) and Go To A Walk-in Clinic

Shit, I’m dying again. I thought we went through this already.

This time I figured I’d just go to a walk-in clinic because what better place to die than a walk-in clinic not nearly adequately prepared for any kind of deathly emergency? I’d be leery of going there for a cold, much less death. But I guess I like to take chances.

I took my time, trying to get out of my head about the situation. I took a shower. Did laundry. Ate breakfast. Then took the bus 5 miles to a south Austin walk-in clinic.

The walk-in clinic was an ordeal in and of itself, but I’ll cut to the chase. I saw a doctor at 12:30pm. This is what he told me: “You need to go to the ER. I’m not going to charge you here, but I can’t help you.

“Oh great. This is wonderful news.”

By the way, the doctor didn’t perform any tests at all. His assistant looked at the blood work I had done at DirectLabs and they must’ve agreed with my diagnosis of death. (I heard them talking about diseases which I will mention shortly.)

Who else is surprised that a doctor in the United States of America did not charge me for my visit? He must’ve felt pity for my impending death.

Now I was sure of it. Well, you lived a solid life. It’s time.

“I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived.” - Willa Cather

I’m Absolutely Convinced I’m Dying, So I Take My Time Going Back To The ER

I guess I could’ve taken a cab or even an ambulance, but I decided if I’m going to find out I’m dying I might as well not rush it. I bussed it 7 miles north to a different hospital than the first.

(Much nicer and much cleaner. The first one was a not quite a hell hole, but also not quite where I’d ever want to spend any length of time.)

The bus ride was 25 minutes, but it felt like 25 seconds. I don’t remember a thing.

I arrived at the hospital at approximately 1:15pm and within 15 minutes of checking into the ER a Doctor was already discussing things with me. It was nothing like the ER I’d heard about from most people, and not even close to the ER from 12 hours prior.

“Your symptoms? What you call death? They’re not real. You are having an anxiety attack.”

“Sir, I beg to differ. I don’t have anxiety. I’m dying. If you would just evaluate the situation a little closer surely you’ll agree.”

“Sure. Let’s just run some blood work and see what’s going on.”

“OK. I’ll just be here reading Mindfulness In Plain English 20th Anniversary Edition and trying to distract myself from my impending death. Take your time, because if I’m dying I want to finish this book first.”

Karol Meet Caroline. Or Carol Meet Caroline. Or Karolina Meet Caroline?

A nurse came in and introduced herself as Caroline. “Hey Carol, I’m Caroline.”

“Hi Caroline, it’s Karl. Although my Parents wanted a girl and called me Karolina growing up.”

“Oh, I was kind of excited for a Carol. Caroline and Carol.”

“You get excited about weird things Caroline. What has this hospital done to you?” ;)

Caroline “1, 2, 3″ stuck me with the IV needle like I was a 7 year old, drew enough blood to feed Team Edward, and it was waiting time.

An Unnatural Fear Of Charts, Drawings, and Photos

I don’t mind needles, getting my blood drawn, or getting injections, but I don’t like hospitals or doctor offices. Or photos of medical things. Or biohazard waste containers. Or charts. Or drawings. I was a sweaty mess every day after 1st period Health in Freshman year of High School.

I tried to distract myself from the beeps and charts and photos and images in my head, but this Mindfulness reading was not to be. Back to Words With Friends. If I’m going to die I should probably beat someone in Words With Friends soon. I should also get morphine.

“Caroline, why isn’t my IV hooked up to something cool like morphine? If I’m going to die I don’t want to feel pain.”

“Are you in pain?”

“No, but this IV tube is just hanging here doing nothing except hindering my Kindle holding capabilities.”

Finally, My Doctor Tells Me The Bad News

40 minutes later the Doctor came back to tell me the news.

I thought I had everything from Hepatitis C to HIV to Leukemia to lots of other things the doctors at the walk-in clinic were talking about.

I don’t know if they were talking about me, of course. I assumed they were, because even though there were a dozen other people being treated, I was the only one being treated.

I probably heard something about the Black Plague as well. I prepared for the worst and secretly hoped I had a combination of everything and then some.

If I’m going to go out it should be extraordinary.

I don’t want a “10% chance to live,” diagnosis. If I get a death wish I want a, “you are a medical mystery, you are going to die very soon, and there is no chance we can do anything for you,” diagnosis.

This isn’t some macho thing. I’m probably the least macho guy you’ll ever meet.

It’s two things:

  1. A 10% chance wouldn’t let me relax about the situation. At least if there was no chance I could just continue doing what I was doing and let things happen as they would.
  2. I want my body used for science. (Anywhere except the Wayne State University medical school is OK with me.) How fun would it be to be the reason scientists cured an illness? If nothing else, hopefully they’d learn something.

“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” - Euripides

But it was not to be.

“You’re anemic. That’s all. I’m going to write you a prescription for iron and you need to stop giving yourself panic attacks.”

Oh the irony of my iron tattoo! :)

“What about my BUN/Creatinine Ratio? It was a bit low in the other blood test. That probably means I’m dying.” [Sometimes I think I'm a person who knows stuff when I'm talking to people who know stuff.]

“I checked that out. It’s fine. But you need to get blood tests again in a few weeks to make sure you’re absorbing this iron.”

I don’t actually know what blood tests they performed. Caroline took three or four vials of blood (vials make me queasy – I didn’t take a close look) so hopefully they tested for every horrible possibility.

They surely missed something. Fucking doctors.

My head’s starting to hurt. Why am I sweating? I’m pretty sure I’m gonna pass out.

“Can you pick me up and take me to the ER? I think I’m dying … sure, wear your pajamas.”

{ 75 comments }

Paula

Karol, thanks for telling this story. It had me smiling mostly. I’m sorry you missed the concert.

Panic attacks are the shittiest thing ever, because you totally think the world (or at least you will) end in the next few minutes and after they are gone you feel like an ass, for panicking. Though the best way through is to just face them head on, humans can only sustain that level of adrenaline for about 30 min and then it starts to decrease again. Once your head is cleared you can deal with the actual panic inducing thought/event.

All the best to you and that the iron works.

Karol

Well, I didn’t completely miss the concert. At least I got to see them play Stray Cat Strut!

As for panic attacks: Since I never got them before (not in that capacity anyway) I didn’t really know what was going on. Hopefully they don’t happen again! :)

Henri

Honestly, I thought this was hilarious, but mostly because I can relate to the freak outs.

I’m glad you’re alive sir. I almost wish the article was longer. Good stuff ;)

Karol

Thanks! I tried to find a balance between serious/funny. :)

shanna

Ah, Karol, that damn oxalic acid! Rinse your spinach in warm water and it will remove most of the acid make the iron uptake possible.

And yes, dying, I hear ya. I recently had, and am having, my dying. Hello, anaphylactic shock! Nothing like a later-in-life onset of a life-threatening condition (with nothing conclusive on the cause). Makes eating a daily dance with death. If you are curious: http://bit.ly/sSzHQ3

And truly, humor is the best way to get through this stuff. Keep living each day like you are dying–cuz we all are eventually!

Karol

Whoa! Anaphylactic shock sounds like absolutely no fun at all.

I’m not familiar with the warm water washing idea. Mostly I’m making sure I eat something that has vitamin c (or a vit c supplement) when I eat spinach now. Of course, have no proof that works either.

Tom

‘A friend of mine’ twice has taken similar anxiety tangents, and he’d be very reluctant to share them w/anyone he didn’t drag through them with him! (sleepless/Vegas/Porsche/women/wine/song… what a mess)
Credit to you for doing so….

Karol

Your friend’s episode sounds like The Hangover. Are you talking about The Hangover? :)

Chris Brisson

Man oh’ man…

You can at least say you almost died twice in one day. You should eat some protein ie: meat too: chicken, fish, the clean stuff. No pork.

Next hospital may come with worms in your brain. YouTube potential right there.

Get better my friend.

Live your your dying. :)

- Chris

PS. I’m heading to austin in Jan – be in town?

Karol

I’m going to assume you’re joking RE: the meat comment because 1) it’s ignorant and 2) it was already addressed in this article.

I don’t know if I want worms in brain although maybe that would be a fun medical mystery for the doctors to solve.

Won’t be in Austin. Leaving Dec 23! :)

Chris Brisson

Totally kidding, pun on the article… meat.

Yamile Yemoonyah

Oh my, I’m sorry I had to laugh so hard about an experience that, for you, was everything but funny. Glad you’re ok! Lots going on in your life lately, first your bank account gets emptied and now this. Hope you’ll have some quiet time to enjoy during the holidays!

Karol

hehe, yes, some fun stuff happening lately! Has definitely helped me re-evaluate and/or confirm what’s important.

Jeanne

Karol, a few things I’m grateful for… first, you’re alive and well (or well-ish). second, our words with friends games remained a top priority throughout this ordeal, and third no WSU med school for you.

Karol

Well, you beat me last week, and I couldn’t bear to breathe my last breath with a Words With Friends loss Jeanne. (Although that seems to be coming again soon.)

Also, booo WSU! :)

Joy

I’m glad you are not dying:) I imagine when you are, you will write an incredible “last words” story!
I love Brian Setzer…maybe he will read this story and invite you to his next show..after all, it is *you* and everything is truly possible in your life!

Karol

Hopefully I have the time to write that last story.

Thanks Joy!

Spencer

Hey Karol,
Sorry you had to go through this! Reminds me of earlier this year when I went in for a random checkup and got a call saying I was “profoundly anemic” and might need a blood trans. How could that be possible when I had just ran an 8k and felt fine? I’m vegan too but have always struggled with anemia regardless of diet. My doctor has me on a supplement cocktail of daily 1 tab feosol iron, 1000mg fit C and 1000mcg of B12. What I didn’t know (but know now) is that running breaks down blood cells and if you are anemic it makes it harder to replenish and rebuild what I was already lacking. Also learned as a vegan that B12 and Vit C are crucial in helping iron absorb and do its thing. Just taking iron may not get it through for you. Thankfully I have a doc who actually thought through my vegan diet and came up with something that works for me without making me feel that veganism is the wrong path.
I also supplement ignatia (in the little white pellets in whole foods homeopathic section) instead of tea for calming effects. I found out what you found out about the tea issue. Helped my anxiety issues!
Enjoyed your post and I know it was a serious sh%t for you but I’m glad you’re on the road to recovery instead of the road to ….death. Take care, Spencer

Karol

I’ve been supplementing with B12 for a long time, but I didn’t know about the connection with B12, vitamin c, and iron until last week. Glad to know it now and have definitely been taking all 3 at the same time.

Thanks Spencer!

Sal Greco

Hey Karol,

I’m glad you got to see Brian and the Stray Cats… I don’t think 45$ is too much, it probably would of felt more worth it if you didn’t feel like shit.

I am super glad your okay though, I don’t want to see a “last post” on this blog for a LOOOOONNNNGGGGG TIMEEE…

Surfs up!

p.s. You sure know how to distract someone from their inbox :-)

p.p.s. I had anemia as a kid and grew out of it. I do eat spinach like a maniac, you are making me want to get some blood work done. I hear you on our health care system too, and since it is the way it is… we should be more responsible in preventative care.

Thanks!

Karol

Yeah, $45 to see them would be cool. But I meant $40 to see not even half the show and barely pay attention to what I did see.

Thanks for letting me be a distraction!

John Foval

Karol!

Glad you’re okay man. I’d be panicking very similar to you in this situation! When you described your feelings about hospitals it couldn’t have been more spot on for how I feel.

I suffered from panic attacks for a short while and got prescribed some Xanax to take if I had one. They were as bad as the one you described when you felt impending death. But I have completely learned to deal with them. It’s very much a mental game. Which I know is a tough pill to swallow because I’m a very rational person and found it hard to believe I couldn’t conquer this mental challenge. Trick for me? I find it best right when I ever start to feel panicky to look for solid physical symptoms. If there aren’t any? Realize it’s 99.9% chance a panic attack and don’t let yourself believe it at all. A doctor once described it to me as a speeding train. You can get off when it’s going slow, but if you let your mind keep rolling then you’ll be going so fast you’ll be on the “death train” that you described.

Lastly, I wanted to add that if you completely cut out caffeine it will help. Panic attacks also happen more often when we’re in a period of overall greater stress. (I always thought before I had panic attacks that it was caused by one bad thing happening and then freaking out, usually not the case) Best of luck!

Btw, I know you know good ole’ Mr. Frazier, but I wanted to add this link for vegan iron consumption: http://www.nomeatathlete.com/iron-for-vegetarians/

Karol

Thanks John.

Anxiety attacks aren’t in my reality. :)

Thanks for the NMA link. Somehow I don’t remember reading that one.

Dana

Karol,

This was hilarious. As I’ve suffered from panic attacks before, I was nodding along in enjoyment. Buses and flying without consuming Twizzlers during take off were my triggers. Its amazing what our minds can do.

Karol

Thanks Dana, glad it made you laugh. :)

Yes, it is amazing what our minds can do. I was talking about this to my friend Kenny after this happened. That said, since I’d never had a real anxiety attack before I didn’t know what was happening so there was no way to talk myself out of it. I thought my heart was going to explode and I was going to vomit all over it.

Carrie Rose

If it helps any I had one similar experience and I am perfectly healthy and have always been. I too thought I was dying and couldn’t understand the nurses complete lack of empathy. They told me panic attack as well which I thought only happened to drama queens. I think I would have rather died listening to Stray Cats – its probably our age bracket or something – I adore them as well. I’m glad you are fine because I rely on your humor to get me through life now and then. Like Fievel said “We are all under the same moon.” and having you around reminds me we’re all in this together. Even if we don’t intimately know one another….All the best.

Karol

I didn’t feel a sense of lack of empathy for my situation at the 2nd hospital. At the first (and walk-in clinic) I felt a sense of “I don’t care about anybody, much less you” though. :)

Sam Longoria

“Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.”
– W. Somerset Maugham

Karol

hehe, nice!

Maria

Well, I am happy you don’t have anything serious..! Let us know if taking iron supplements will help you with your anemia.

Karol

Oh boy, I hope they do help. Otherwise I actually am dying.

Jenn

Poor Karol. There is nothing funny about anxiety that causes that level of stress leading to a panic attack. The feelings are real and horrible and I understand the self-mockery to make you feel better about it. I hope you will pass through this phase quickly and that the anaemia is the cause of the temporary attacks. Stay well, think good thoughts, and learn to breath deeply and calmly when you feel poorly – it really does help.

Feel better!

Karol

Thanks Jenn. I usually feel good. Hence the reaction here. I was not / am not stressed out. :)

Zach

I’m sorry to hear you’ve experienced a panic attack! I had my first of these a couple years ago at an incredibly stressful time and it took me quite a while to come to terms and learn to control and prevent them from occurring mostly by eliminating caffeine and integrating regular exercise into my routine.

It can be frightening on one hand, but on the other hand it’s a relief to know that everything is going to be fine and that if you were really in trouble, the symptoms would be more consistent and obvious. Having the experience you had will help you remember the situations that debunk it being an actual medical emergency, namely all the walking and feeling fine for extended periods of time between anxiety spikes. Stay well!

Karol

True that. It’s probably worth the thousands of dollars to now know if that ever happens again it’s really just in my head.

Thanks man!

Ann-emia

Hey,
I rarely ever comment on web posts – just missed that generational need to so, but I’m in the midst of doing my second round of iron tranfusions after years of tests (which then have made me undesirable from insurance companies’ viewpoints) and trying to figure out why i feel so lousy and just ‘anemic’ as a doctor would say. They never found the reason why, but I would get dizzy, feel like I was melting in direct sunlight, have to work from home (thus prompting me to start my own business), get what felt like panic attacks (people forget that iron creates hemaglobin and is actually responsible for getting oxygen to your body..and without it, puts you at risk of a heart attack), tired but not sleepy 24/7, etc…and after years of trying to find the reason, I finally begged for them to find a way to at least make me feel better rather than the “well, if you feel shortness of breath (what does that feel like really?) or your chest tightening (how do i know what that is and how to tell it apart from the panic that just set in after they tell me this?), then walk..but don’t run to the closest ER to get a blood transfusion”. So several years into expensive tests and feeling exhausted and my friends thinking I’m a hypochondriac (let alone my employers)…they found a solution. Iron infusion has been great…so you may not be absorbing like me…it only took them 3 years to tell me that – after GIs and Celiac testing and AutoImmune tests and on and on… and then finally 2 years to get me onto a feel-better program, I get a few weeks of infusions (vs. transfusions) at the local hematology/oncology center…and I no longer feel like I’m dying. You will feel like a new person. And no one should ever mock or say “just anemia” – it’s really serious and can make you feel like you are dying….

Karol

Thanks Ann. I’ve always felt good – and after taking these supplements for a few days I actually feel great (could be psychosomatic) – but if things change I will keep your info in mind. Thanks for sharing!

Mark

Dude, it’s a dangerous road to get started on – those voluntary medical tests. I had the same attitude as you, trying to be proactive not reactive with my health. But sometimes it’s just too much information. For me, it lead to 4 different doctors, about 11 diagnostic tests, several thousand dollars, a surgery, and getting half of an organ removed to find out nothing was wrong in the first place.

Karol

The more dangerous road is dying. But to each their own.

GTO

So glad you’re alive, Karol! And thanks for the entertaining story too. If my friends hadn’t “warned” me about their experiences with panic attacks, I would’ve thought I was dying too. Getting the word out could definitely help some people. GTO

Karol

Thanks GTO! :)

Deb Harlow

Karol,
My goodness, what an experience with our “healthcare system”.
Have you considered replacing the spinach in your diet with other greens such as kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens and collards? They are all quite delicious if prepared well, and may not have the same oxalic acid hit. Experiment and see what you like.
I have vegan family members including a 5-year-old granddaughter who are quite healthy. Best wishes from Deb

Karol

Thanks Deb. Spinach isn’t the only problem and it’s also not the only leafy green I eat. Had kale yesterday. Love that stuff.

poch

You didn’t have a ‘near-death-experience’ so I think it was not meant to be, thanks for that. Vegans should be thankful for your testimony and I hope they send you support.

Make a digital will but keep on living Karol!

Karol

That was as near death as I hope to be until I die. :)

Lisa

Thanks for a really good read, although I’m sorry that you went through such an ordeal.
I want to relate my experience with iron supplementation. My naturopathic midwife suggested Floradix or Herbal Iron, while I was pregnant with twins. Both are liquid, herb based iron supplements.
At first it didn’t work very well because I was blending it in a smoothie along with dairy/calcium. After I learned that iron and calcium should not be taken together I had the smoothie in the evening and took my iron concoction in the morning.
The concoction is: Emergen-C (super orange) in 4oz of water, a dose of the liquid iron and 2-4 oz of orange or pineapple juice. Weekly B-12 shots helped too.
I also had access to fresh nettles which are very nutritious as a tea or vegetable. And don’t forget about beets!
One more vegetarian option that I have heard good things about: Blood Builder by MegaFoods.
Wishing you good health!

Karol

Thanks Lisa.

Gujo

Anemia in men is extremely rare given we don’t lose typically lose blood – it is mostly an issue for women and I read not long ago that it concerns more than 1/3 of US females vs. circa 1% of US males.
I’m not too keen on branded formulas though when it’s typically so easy to go natural with a wee bit of knowledge and a few minor adaptations. Associating (natural) vitamin C with non-heme iron in the form of smoothies and eating spirulina regularly should be more than enough. And, yes, controlling the intake of those antinutrients – an excellent point too often forgetten. You have to strike a personal balance. Tea on an empty stomach won’t do any harm. Phytic acid is also uncool and the cause of the significantly lower level of iron in Indian diet vegetarians vs. Western diet vegetarians. But then again, eating whole wheat bread rather than white bread is an advantage fibre-wise so should generally be worth it, etc. Oxalic acid could be a no brainer given that it’s also pretty bad on the renal system. But, if you’re keen on spinach, better act on something else rather than risk eating less greens, etc. Good health t’y'all ;)

Karol

The stats from the CDC are much different than yours. 12% for females 12-49. 2% for males 16-69. (not sure why the ages are so weird)

In any case, thanks for all the info! :)

Gujo

I guess I got confused between figures for iron deficiency and those for iron deficient anemia (or God knows what… insufficient iron consumption maybe?). Good you got the figures straight.
The ages are weird, but at a margin. The figures loosely match those of Wikipedia for the US: menarche at the average age of 12.5, menopause potentially at 51. Strange thing the CDC decided to include potentially premenstruating women while excluding many non-menopaused women but even considering 0% of pre- and post-menstruating women are anemic the figures would be essentially under 20%.
Cheers ;)

adam crain

man, hell of a few days you had! Sorry to hear about that. I was in the ER on monday for a hand trauma, resulted in 11 stitches.

Do you have health insurance? seems expensive bro!

3 years ago I had my first anxiety attack, went to the ER thinking i was having a heart attack, very scary. Unfortunately it happened on a 1 week laps in my insurance, so it was $4k out of pocket. That sucked bigtime.

Hope you’re better homie!

Karol

Yeah, saw your tweets. 11 stitches ain’t no fun!

It’s crazy how many comments/e-mails have been along the lines of “I had a really bad anxiety attack before too.” I didn’t realize anxiety attacks were so prevalent.

I do have health insurance, but it’s very high deductible. I suspect I’ll be out of pocket a few grand as well when all is said and done.

Thanks Adam!

Chantelle

omg i love your iron tatoo! how many of your followers know the electron configuration of fe2+????

also, have you ever suffered from kidney stones? i worked for a company researching a therapeutic protein for people with severe accumulation of oxalate salts. our diet model included hefty portions of spinach.

oh well, glad you’re ok and keeping tabs on your body chemistry. you rock as usual :)

Karol

Thanks Chantelle. I’m not sure many people get the iron tattoo. :)

When I was 5 years old doctors thought I had kidney stones and I went through a few months of hell with doctor/hospital visits. They never did figure out what was wrong, but I stopped pissing blood forever, so that was cool!

Kevin

Beet juice! I have a friend with Crohn’s disease who is missing part of his small intestine–he has little chance for absorbing anything, and anemia has been a problem. He has tried just about everything, and he swears by beet juice (2 lbs carrots, 1 large beet, some apple or ginger to taste). Good luck with the anemia, and the anxiety too (which seems a bigger problem).

Karol

Thanks Kevin. I’ve read a bit about beet juice and, thankfully, I like the taste. But I don’t travel with a juicer so it’s rare that I actually drink it. :)

If I have troubles in the future I’ll revisit beet juice.

Conner

Glad to hear you’re sticking with the diet Karol. Did you even consider giving up on veganism?

I’ve been a veg*n 6 years now never had a problem. I don’t even watch my diet really, I just eat hella ‘jay’ food here in Thailand. I used to take multivitamins, b-12 supp etc.. but then one day i just stopped and I’ve always felt the same. I still think supps are b/s.

Karol

Interestingly, I took the same stance about supplements until I actually started reading more about them. They are not good as replacements, but as supplements they do their job. Subtle, but important, difference.

If I was dying and the only cure was eating meat then, yes, I would eat it. Just like if I was stranded in the middle of nowhere and the only way I could eat is to eat an animal (or human), I would also eat it. I have thought about that. But in a situation like this it doesn’t make sense. Eating a steak won’t magically fix anemia. :)

Caandi

Karol,
A few years ago I tried to donate blood on the standard American diet, couldn’t because I had low iron. Fast foward today, gave blood and don’t have the symptoms of anemia. I switched my diet to lots of leafy greens and raw veggies and fruit. I used to be tired all the time, get dizzy when standing up right away, pale color. Not anymore.
Is your view on life different, now that you had a near death experience?

Karol

Thanks for your insight Caandi. Glad to hear from someone who eats meat and was anemic. I think too many omnivores think it’s not something that could ever happen to them, like it’s some kind of veg*n thing.

My view on life isn’t all that different although I am more sure about what I want done with my body when my brain stops using it.

Nyle

I didn’t read any of the comments, so I’m not sure if this has been
mentioned, but if you need iron, blackstrap molasses is an excellent source. However, the amount of iron can vary dramatically from one brand to another. Hope this helps.

Karol

Thanks Nyle!

Martin

Hey Karol, thanks for the post. I must admit you changed my opinion about spinach. I really believed the plant was the ultimate for iron but the post and your experience have shocked me. I will need to read more about it to see how it plays out.

By the way I am glad that you are OK. Hope you stay out of danger.

Thanks again Karol

Karol

Spinach isn’t evil. The issue is that eating it on its own might not be giving the benefits we think. I still eat it, but I’m eating it with other things as well as a vitamin C tablet.

Jen Gresham

I’m so glad you’re okay, but also very thankful for you sharing a bit of background on anemia. I think I may have myself tested. I have been so very tired recently, and a bit stressed. When I get stressed, I tend to drink tea. I’ve also cut back my meat consumption, and eat almost no red meat at all now. So…maybe this all makes perfect sense? I can’t see giving up tea, but I could try taking iron supplements with my evening meal.

Keep living, Karol, as long as you can. :)

Karol

Thanks Jen.

Perfect sense? No, I don’t think so. Anemia is slow moving unless there are serious health issues at hand. As mentioned, diet agnostic.

I haven’t given up on tea, but I have switched to herbal. No chamomile though (dammit!) because it also inhibits iron absorption.

Rosa

Hi Karol,
I had a long day at work and your article had me laughing out loud! good way to end the day.
I am sure the ordeal was no fun, but your article was funny :)

Karol

That’s great to know Rosa. Glad I could provide some entertainment! Even if it was at my own expense. :)

Joan

A little late to the party, but I’M GLAD YOU’RE NOT DYING AND/OR DEAD. In all caps in your honor.

Karol

hehe, THANKS JOAN!

Crystal Silver

Hey Karol,

Sorry to hear about your ordeal. I’ve been bitten by the oxalic acid monster, too. I’m glad you seem to have gotten it straightened out so quickly.

I only ended up with borderline iron-deficiency anemia for a spell, but the bigger problem for me ended up being calcium absorption and hormonal imbalances, which the pesky oxalic acid magnified significantly. There were other contributing factors, but all the little things have a tendency to add up to bigger things if we’re not careful, particularly for independent, workaholic types.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been much of a fan of cooked spinach, so I was mostly using it raw in salads in smoothies. Cooking the spinach will neutralize a big chunk of the deficiency-inducing oxalic acid.

Luckily, I’ve found out that I really don’t miss spinach all that much, as I can get excellent nutrition from various lettuces combined with generous helpings of other healthy veggies that contain far less oxalic acid than spinach does.

As for death scares, I’ve had my fair share over the past year, but I’m getting a handle on things and getting my imbalances straightened out. It’s been a *lot* of research to connect all the dots and pull together the puzzle pieces.

What often seem like little things, such as childhood nutritional imbalances, family genetic history/heredity, previous concurrent antibiotic treatments, subsequent fungal infections, environmental toxicity, related hormonal issues, and compounded by extreme physical/emotional stress/anxiety, can send the adrenal glands and immune system into a tailspin more quickly than we realize.

The thing is that it’s all been layering on top of itself for many years before most of us take the time to notice what’s been happening. Either we’re not listening to our bodies, or we are just too concerned with what we consider more pressing matters to act on our largely dormant self-preservation instincts.

Good luck! :)

Karol

Thanks for all your input Crystal. You’re probably right, most people don’t listen to their bodies, or ignore their bodies. Looking back I actually see signs of anemia that I thought were other things. (eating ice, for example … I thought I just liked chewing on crunchy cold things, because I also like cold baby carrots)

Anna

Karol, I may be late on this, but I’m so glad you are alive! This post really made me laugh! It was scary yet so funny! Continue to kick ass and looking forward to greater posts for 2012! :)

Karol

Never late. Thanks Anna! This was actually the last “real” post for RidiculouslyExtraordinary.com. Shhhhhhhh, things are changing. ;)

Milemom

I don’t have time today to read the 74 comments before mine, but in case no one has mentioned it: I have had iron transfusions twice (weekly for a period of 6-8wks)…made a world of difference. Also, if you are going to supplement instead, I would highly recommend Floradix liquid iron and herbs. Take with at least a 1/4 cup of OJ for extra iron absorption.
Good luck.

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