New Year’s Update:  The video to which this post refers is no longer available through legal, open-access sources. You can still read a bit on phlebotomy, near the post’s end. – ES, Jan 2014


A student clued me in on an old take on therapeutic phlebotomy: the classic 1978 SNL skit, Theodoric of York (Season 3, episode 18), stars Steve Martin (as the barber, Theodoric of York.). It also features Dan Aykroyd (as William), Gilda Radner (as Broom Gilda), Jane Curtin (as Joan), John Belushi (as a hunchback) and a youthful Bill Murray (as a drunkard).

Theodoric of York

It’s a very funny skit when it’s not too gory, with some insight into the history of medicine.

But it’s also a sad reminder about the early deaths of Belushi, a promising actor who died at 33 years from heroin and cocaine toxicity, and of Radner, a wonderful comedian who died at 42 years from ovarian cancer.

As for modern, therapeutic phlebotomy –

In the U.S. and most other places, trained physicians, nurses and other providers perform this procedure routinely using sterile techniques and other precautions. (Checklist, anyone?) Typically a pint or so of blood is carefully drawn from the body so as to reduce iron overload in people with hemochromatosis, or to lessen the number of circulating red blood cells in patients with other, rarer blood conditions.

For the record, we don’t use leeches any more, although a New Yorker piece from several years ago delves nicely into those slimy creatures’ comeback in research and other possible applications.

One thing I learned today is there’s surprisingly little open-access information on modern therapeutic phlebotomy, which might serve as a useful counterpoint to the SNL skit. The NIH (including National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute) and MedlinePlus offer little specific information on this procedure, and in a multi-hour search I can’t find any non-commercial sites that do.


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