Hemoglobin to the rescue!

I’ve discovered that I’m leaking iron. Yesterday, while walking down the street, a cast-iron skillet fell from my pants leg and clattered onto the sidewalk. Magnets no longer stick to my body parts. It’s embarrassing.

Actually, if I’m leaking anything, I’m probably leaking blood. I’ve become iron anemic, and as Popeye fans well know, iron makes you strong enough to flatten the likes of Brutus and win the affections of Olive Oyl.

I’ve been tested, probed and prodded, but so far the doctors have found nothing amiss. Except for that iron, which seems to have moved away without leaving a forwarding address.

So, you say, iron, schmiron! We don’t need no stinking iron!

Ah, but you are wrong, my friend. For iron plays a very amazing and necessary part in life.

When we breathe, we inhale air, which is a mix of oxygen, nitrogen, nasty environmental pollutants put there by Republicans and body odor. Unless you are a chain smoker, oxygen goes from your lungs into your blood, where it travels to the muscles and organs of your body and makes them into happy tissues.

But oxygen and blood plasma don’t mix very well. In fact, they are practically enemies. So how does the oxygen in our lungs get to our brain and our toes?

Hemoglobin to the rescue! Hemoglobin is a protein, a weird little tinker-toy construction of carbon and hydrogen and nitrogen with a unique molecule at the very center. This molecule is called the heme, and at the heart of every heme is an iron atom. Because of that iron, the heme and oxygen have an affinity for each other like Ben and J Lo—it’s a hot love affair that is somewhat lacking in long-term commitment.

As soon as the heme and oxygen make eye contact, they’re on each other like white on rice. The heme takes the oxygen out for a spin in his red-hot hemoglobin sportscar. But oxygen is a fickle lover, and after cruising around the body for awhile, oxygen spots some sexy tissue making eyes at her and it’s splitsville. Dumped and on the rebound, the heme drives back to the lungs and picks up another oxygen. It’s love at first sight, but this relationship will be short-lived, too.

All of this is possible because of iron. Without iron, our organs would quickly suffocate and die.

Not that there’s any chance of that in my case. Low iron makes one tired, and it somewhat reduces the power of ones’ magnetic personality.

Only a century ago, the human body seemed to be a black box. We didn’t understand how it worked; we just knew that it did.

Today, we know a bit more, and scientists are frankly amazed at what they are discovering. Hemoglobin is only one remarkable protein among tens of thousands, each one fashioned for a specific purpose. The failure of any single protein to do its job is often fatal to life. Like a symphony, they each play their part as written on the score of our DNA, and together they make it possible for us to experience life in all of its splendor.

We are complex right down to the molecular level, and our complexity is a sure sign of a Genius behind the scenes.

I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! —Psalm 139:14, The Message

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  1. Ha! Very entertaining description of the way iron works!

    And very important more serious point you make, too.