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Guest Writer

The carnage starts earlier every year
Holiday for bloodletting
by Ryan Douglas

loodletting 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 options.

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 worsen.

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 into tourniquet.

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.

E-mail Ryan at ryonie@hotmail.com, and see more of his work in our archives.

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