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You are what you eat 

Sometime around the afternoon of Sept. 12, it occurred to me that the most constructive thing I could do was to make a liquid deposit with the American Red Cross. But with one thing and another, it was almost Thanksgiving before I finally got around to donating blood. Or at least, trying to donate. I called and got a busy signal for half of September, then signed up online and left my name in a couple of other places just to get on a list.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, I followed the signs around the maze of the Fuqua Business School at Duke to find the Red Cross drive. A young woman welcomed me, instructed me to read a notebook full of warnings and definitions, and entered my name and address on the screen of her laptop computer. She asked if I'd been out of the country in the last 20 years. Amazingly, I hadn't.

Then I had to fill out the 39-question questionnaire. (Obviously, 40 would have been too many.) There were questions about HIV and hepatitis, about diseases that were completely unknown to me. And there were a lot of questions about traveling in Britain, with an emphasis on risk factors for mad cow disease. (I guess somebody out there has had injections of bovine insulin.)

After I completed the questionnaire, a nurse called me back to do the medical screening. We only got as far as the finger stick because my blood drop didn't sink immediately to the bottom of the tube of Windex-colored liquid like it was supposed to. Instead, my drop bobbed around like an indecisive cork for a while, before slowly spiraling down. My hematocrit count was 35, which isn't anemic, but is below the level required by the Red Cross. As a consolation prize, the nurse gave me a nice pamphlet about increasing the iron in my blood. From this pamphlet I learned that the really big cup of coffee I drink in the morning is probably keeping me from absorbing all the iron in my multi-vitamin.

A small irony: The best source of dietary iron, according to the pamphlet, is red meat, despite the fact that a burger consumed in Britain as long as 10 years ago will knock you right off the blood donation list.

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