carnage starts earlier every year
has been a popular medical remedy since Egyptian times. Over the
centuries, it has been used to cure real and imaginary ailments
of all sorts, ranging from the bizarre to the mundane. Along with
vomiting, sweating and defecation, bleeding is the most prescribed
treatment in history.
No other practice has been exercised with as much zeal and enthusiasm
for as long as bloodletting. No practice has touched (or taken)
as many lives. From its earliest use in ancient Egypt, all the way
through the industrial revolution, prominent physicians, monks,
priests, barbers and other skilled practitioners celebrated a frenzied
blood bath, all in the name of medicine.
Bloodletting has deep roots in our nation's history. Many of our
founding fathers had blood drawn regularly to treat various conditions.
George Washington's death has been largely attributed to weakness
caused by an enthusiastic physician who drew a large quantity of
blood from the ailing ex-president in order to treat his strep.
As the ancient Greeks noted, the purpose of bloodletting is to
cleanse the body of impurities that can cause imbalance in the "humors,"
the four essential elements of the body. These impurities circulate
in the blood and, therefore, can only be released by its spillage.
During a procedure, the practitioner would attempt to drain as
much blood as necessary, or possible, while being careful to not
accidentally kill the already weakened patient in the process. Truly
feeble and ailing patients warranted more frequent and voluminous
bloodletting. If a patient collapsed or fainted during the procedure,
it was generally taken as a sign that the remedy was taking effect.
Luckily for most, the practice of bloodletting phlebotomy
lost favor sometime in the 1800s when the young scientist
Louis Pasteur was breaking new ground with the Germ Theory of disease.
But unbeknownst to many, bloodletting remains common practice even
today. The most common form of the modern technique is known as
leeching, or retail phlebotomy, and is generally available to willing
patients at retail centers during the months of November and December.
Leeching, like its antiquated predecessor, is an extremely common
practice and is used to treat many common ailments including depression,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, boredom and anxiety. Most sessions
usually consist of the purchase of meaningless holiday-oriented
merchandise that the buyer mistakenly believes will make his holiday
experience more complete.
Those who seek treatment need not look far. While not officially
posted, you'll know leeching is available though a few telltale
signs. Historically, the red and white barber pole was the symbol
of a licensed phlebotomist, but modern bloodletters tend to use
large inflatable snowmen or extravagant displays of lights and artificial
snow as a trademark.
Once a treatment center has been located, a patient can choose
a variety of instruments to spill their off-humor blood. Instead
of the leeches and spring-loaded lancets of long ago, there are
many more choices available today. Patients must choose wisely,
as different devices have different uses and one must always be
careful not to accidentally spill too much blood at one time.
One popular device this year is the "artificial tree."
It's a good, all-purpose bleeder at $99 to $300, and will succeed
at draining a substantial quantity of blood in a very short time.
Large Christmas lights, used for decorating the exteriors of houses,
can be applied readily, and are also excellent for generic use.
For less than $10, they deliver small but sustained leeching as
they continually drain blood by raising your electric bill throughout
the season. This is a popular remedy, since it can also draw blood
for up to two months after purchase.
For those whose ailments require extreme measures, there are more
For $100 to $500, expensive toys, such as video game consoles and
small electronics, can be applied to treat feelings of guilt, detachment
and emotional distance. Payment plans are usually available and
these can provide prolonged bleeding for years to come. While this
type of device is excellent at subduing nagging pangs of guilt,
such treatment has also been known to cause emotional distance to
Diamonds, gold and fine jewelry are excellent bloodletters for
$300 and up. These are unwieldy instruments and, if not used with
great caution, they can induce hemorrhaging. But although often
employed (with varied success) to treat masculine infidelity, this
is a dangerous practice and often only used as a last resort.
Perhaps my favorite blood-spillers are wide-format television sets,
sport utility vehicles and expensive clothing. These offer rich
rewards and deep bleeding. Unlike fine jewelry, these leeches lose
most of their value immediately after purchase, so blood loss is
permanent. They are, however, great for treating feelings of inadequacy.
If you plan on "breathing a vein" this holiday season,
be prepared. The carnage started earlier this year than ever before.
At one popular Portland shopping mecca, I watched as a tribe of
"elves" filled the shelves with state-of-the-art, blood-spilling
novelties shaped like snowmen and reindeer.
But for the fact that it was still October, such an event would
have slipped by unnoticed.
When the leeching starts early, it tends to get out of hand quickly.
At the warehouse store where I shop, I recently noticed blood pooling
on the floors near the cash registers. While waiting in line, I
watched a man spray blood from his knees and elbows while charging
a $1,500 wine cellar on his American Express card. From there, I
followed trails of blood into the parking lot, where I helped a
man who had purchased a seven-foot-tall nutcracker tie his shirtsleeve
If the obsession with which we consume holiday merchandise is any
indication of our nation's health, we must truly be an ailing country.
But if you're squeamish like me, consider your options before giving
blood this year. Doctors warn about the hazards of giving too much.
Make sure that you give yourself some time between purchases. Remember
to avoid smoking immediately after a large purchase so that your
body has time to recover.
Even though it's been around forever there is no evidence, except
in rare cases, that bloodletting works. So think twice next time
your eye catches that glimmering snow globe marked down 20 percent.
There are better uses for your blood.