By Dr. Jim Ferguson
I’ve never understood some people’s excitement with Halloween.  Some see this pseudo-holiday as the beginning of the Holiday season.  I see this as a marketing ploy of stores rather than the liturgical observance of departed saints on All Hallow’s Eve.  I’ll admit that when I was a kid I loved roaming the neighborhood on Halloween night to trick-or-treat.  The bag of booty (candy) lasted weeks, though its contents were not good for my chubby adolescent body or my dental health.  I’m told that a return to healthy treats like apples are White House approved, though I doubt these are any more popular with modern pranksters as they were with me in my boyhood.

This week as Becky and I drove to our early Wednesday morning Bible study group we noticed the strange appearance of the moon.  I’m a star gazer and I’ve seen this celestial event before.  “That’s a lunar eclipse, Becky!” I exclaimed.  However, the moon looked especially creepy to us and instead of being full and white, it had a dusky reddish tinge.  I’m told this phenomenon is explained by light reflected off the earth onto the moon during an eclipse, and is known as a “blood moon.”  Currently, we are in a cycle of repeating lunar eclipses and blood moons, which makes me think of Halloween, zombies and red blood cells.

Four years ago I wrote an essay about iron deficiency and anemia.  Perhaps you missed that one, or maybe you’ve slept since last reading that missive and forgot the details.  Don’t feel too badly because I’d forgotten I’d written that essay as well.  A recent review of anemia and iron deficiency in the New England Journal of Medicine prompted me to search my computer archives and update you on this common problem and its treatment.

Nearly everyone has had a blood sample removed for medical testing, skinned a knee or had a mosquito bite and noticed bleeding.  Tiny elements called platelets circulate in the blood stream and plug any holes which occur from a doctor’s needle or trauma.  The blood stream also contains white blood cells which fight infection and modulate the immune system’s response to infection as well as inflammation, which is a part of the healing process.  White cells are so named because they look pale when compared to red blood cells under the microscope.  In fact, blood appears red to us because the numerous red cells reflect the red wavelength of light within the visible electromagnetic spectrum.  Red blood cells are tasked with carrying oxygen.  They are able to do so because they contain the element iron complexed with a protein called globin which forms hemoglobin.  It is hemoglobin that carries oxygen to our muscles and brain.  And, like rust, our blood runs red.

I find it fascinating that we are dependent on iron, the “ashes” of stellar nuclear fusion.  Stars like our sun are powered by the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium, which produces vast amounts of heat and energy which stream across space and warm our planet.  Subsequent fusion of helium produces other building blocks of life such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in a process known as nucleosynthesis.  In massive stars the other elements of the periodic table like sodium, potassium and uranium, are produced with stellar fusion or supernovas (exploding stars).

My editriss, Becky, says that’s more than enough about stellar physics.  Returning to the practical, iron deficiency is a common cause of anemia.  Strangely, humans have only a limited ability to absorb iron which is so necessary for normal red blood cell production and life.  Additionally, because iron facilitates many chemical reactions, a deficiency can lead to problems of metabolism and fatigue even in the absence of anemia.  Menstruation and pregnancy put women at risk of iron deficiency even if iron supplements and natal vitamins are taken.  And in adults iron deficiency often means occult or hidden gastrointestinal blood loss which requires investigation to preclude ulcers, cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.  There are other conditions that mimic iron deficiency anemia. These include chronic infections, serious kidney disease and a congenital disease of globin formation called thalassemia.  How these conditions simulate iron deficiency and are probably like a book on elephants – more than you care know!

Some think celestial events portend those on earth.  I’m not an astrologer nor a proponent of using the Bible to predict when such and such will happen.  In fact, Jesus said anyone who purports to know when the apocalypse will occur is a charlatan.  None the less, Wednesday morning’s reddish eclipse made me think of the book, “Four Blood Moons,” written recently by a fundamentalist Biblical scholar.  Reverend Hagee maintains that something important is happening in our world and is reflected in the current cycle of blood moons.

I do think something is happening in our country and the world.  Yesterday, I heard a media “talking head” refer to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) terrorists as an army.  Maybe the ever increasing estimates of this monstrous throng caused the media guy to use the term army, which I had never heard before.  They certainly conquer like an army, and now occupy territory comparable in size to Belgium.  And I believe thoughtful people concur that air strikes will not stop this horde or save innocents from their butcher’s knife.  Perhaps it is Halloween after all.  As I watch the advance of the black flag of radical Islam and its atrocities across the Middle East, I have the vision of zombies on the march.

Modern Western philosophers have trouble conceiving of evil.  Case in point was Secretary of State John Kerry’s plea for Hamas to be “reasonable” during the latest Israeli-Hamas conflict.  I hope the President has learned that rhetoric is useless against perverted religion or zombies.  I hope the Democrat party can learn from former President Bush’s 2005 statement that we are in a multi-decade war against al-Qaeda, Hamas, and the latest incarnation of evil, ISIS.  How interesting that Obama’s former Secretary of Defense and head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, has echoed these same sentiments.

Is anyone in Washington or American listening?  I hope so.  Our answer will be November 4th, 2014.  If we do not change the leadership in Washington and the direction of our country, we should expect and we will deserve the apocalypse that is on the move and coming.