Born in the fifties and three years short of sixty, I seem to have been blessed with the genes and metabolism which seem oblivious to the abuse I have given them. Generally a healthy later middle aged male, I am fortunate to have been born, and still living, where I do here in British Columbia. But life is still life and when one is an anatomically and behaviourally modern Homo sapien, living in a body composed of mostly water and oxygen, things are bound to happen.
Beneath the hair of an average adult human, no matter the race, color, faith, or where they live, sixty per cent of their body’s weight and volume is water. Incredulously, it stands, can fall, and get back up. The body also contains about five and a half litres (just over one gallon) of blood, and about ten litres (two and a half gallons) of interstitial fluid, which washes and surrounds our trillions of cells. Other elements of the body include oxygen (sixty-five per cent), carbon (eighteen per cent) and other trace elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, potassium, sulphur, sodium chlorine, and magnesium, to name but a few.
Materials include protein, connective tissue, fats, carbohydrates and bone, with operating systems that include mechanical, physical, and bio-electrical and biochemical functions, which make up such a life form, and the machine it is.
Naturally odd and kind of eerie, the vast majority of our cells in our bodies are not even human, but instead microorganisms and bacteria in a symbiotic relationship with our functions and make up. The largest proportions of these cells, about one hundred trillion of them, a number about ten times greater than the total number of other human cells in the entire body, live in the digestive tract. Such microorganism cells digest our food, gleaning the energy and fatty acids needed for us to exist, and keep all the body’s systems running properly. They also metabolize acids and synthesize vitamins, working closely with the liver, digestive tract, and even muscle tissue, with their combined efforts resembling an alien organ seemingly existing within us. Much like our skin is also considered an organ. But many believe, and rightly so, that for all intents and purposes in most living things, the digestive tract is running the show.
One hundred years ago an average human never made it to sixty years of age. Today many do, though often are hurting units when they get there. That is the downside of living longer, especially in developed corporations, sorry I mean developed countries. As humans age their lives become filled with chronic pain, depression, cancer, ever continuing prescription needs, strokes, kidneys and knees shutting down, and increasing rates of those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, among so many other ailments.
But when young we all thought and felt we were invincible, and became distracted by it. It distracts us even more today because we think it keeps us from going mad, and yet our survival depends on being aware, of ourselves yes, but also and more importantly, of our surroundings, including all the other thousands of living things sharing the planet with us, and most critically, the natural workings of the world. Having lost such awareness, it’s not surprising that the leading cause of death for people from the ages, one to thirty-four years old, is accidents.
Personally I have learned to embrace moderation of all things. And, am grateful and humbled that, as of yet, I do not live with pain on a daily basis. But besides the absorption of toxins, hormones and viruses that exists in frighteningly increasing numbers, I have not always been nice and respectful to my body regarding what goes into it, whether food, drink and smoke, or given enough concern for the health of some of its operating systems.
I smoke cigarettes, which often makes me worry that since I have been a full time smoker for over forty years I would not be surprised for that shoe to drop, and the thing I thought was bound to happen does. Yet I continue to play ignorant and not even attempt to alter the outcome, which may yet still arrive, by hiding behind the excuse that I am basically a drug addict and allowing the addiction to control, in many ways, my life. As it is, the nicotine and the few thousand other chemicals in each cigarette I smoke have given me chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which shows up in my lungs as emphysema. Meaning the small air sacs of my lungs have been weakened and have ruptured, creating one larger air sac instead of the higher efficiency small ones. My lungs’ cavities are also filling up with black carbon deposits. So it takes longer for me to breathe out than in.
I am sure that the few thousand hours of bottom time spent as a commercial diver and seafood harvester, which took part of my right lung, caused calcified barnacles to form on my rotator cuff in my left shoulder, and living through multiple near death experiences, does not aid the cause.
M’lady has told me my breath rattles in my lungs as I sleep and I dry cough regularly throughout the day, though it’s a subdued and quick one. But as each year passes, the cough worsens and further embarrasses me with sometimes overwhelming grief for not doing anything about it. The worst is in the morning, when I cough for a few minutes until I give a couple of good nose blows in tissue, after which I feel relatively cleared up. It is curious that after we blow our noses, somewhat instinctively, we all take a second to examine what was expelled, like a forensic specialist or tea leaf reader. So far the coughs are rarely productive of any mucous, or blood or black tar, which is good I figure.
Of those who do smoke, about two out of ten will get COPD. For those who are life-long smokers, over half will develop COPD. Worldwide, it affects over 329 million people, nearly five per cent of the planet’s population. Along with chronic bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory diseases, it is currently one of the leading causes of death in the world, with over three million people dying from it each year.
In Canada, it is estimated that seventeen per cent of Canadians thirty-five to seventy-nine (over two million people) have some sort of airflow obstruction condition, with eight per cent, or 1.3 million people having severe degrees of it. Nearly twelve thousand Canadians die each year from COPD, somewhat close to the number of deaths attributed to all cerebrovascular diseases, mainly stroke.
Though very aware of the importance of eating well, and the vital importance of stretching the body’s sinew and muscles each day, I rarely do. When I am with m’lady, I eat much healthier, as she is a seafood and salad gal and not as lazy as I am in the kitchen when eating alone. When alone, I eat as everyone else does, according to one’s pay grade. But the fact of the matter is that most days I plumb forget to eat, then, just before going to bed devour a large plate of something along the lines of a half dozen perogies covered in butter and a couple of scoops of cottage cheese, a couple of boiled Chinese sausages, a few olives, two slices of toast, one with just butter and peanut butter, which along with ketchup should be deemed a basic food group, and the other slice of toast lathered in peanut butter and honey, or perhaps cinnamon spread. For dessert, it is often a half litre of chocolate milk, a multi-vitamin, Vitamin D and a cod-liver oil, a small bag of either Hawkins Cheezies or salted corn chips and a chocolate chip muffin. A quick bite for me is usually sliced banana, yogurt, milk, ice-cream or raisin bran, in any combination thereof.
Though never putting much stress on my cardio, and not having much lung wind, I keep active and at least look fit, as in, I do not appear to have a basketball duct taped to my belly, and can still see my penis. Up to last year, I spent eight seasons on the ice a few times a week coaching midget hockey, which I miss very much. But other than sitting and writing, and because it’s my lot in life to have to work for a living, my employment usually entails physicality through good old plain hard work, using brush, ladder, hammer, paint, saw, wood and my hands, on buildings or the boat I live on. About the only actual exercise being the occasional karate kata, regular walkabouts, dog-like stretches, a physically active work life, and love making.
As for my bowels, just like my heart that somehow continues to beat regularly, I usually have to empty it at about six minutes and thirty-three seconds after arising from the bed in the morning. Which is also a good thing, one would think. Considering that the usual cause of death for a middle aged man in the industrial world, is colon cancer. But we will get to that lower down, as it were.
I am very fortunate here on Vancouver Island to actually have a regular doctor. He, of course, works out of a clinic with others, as lone general practitioners of medicine have become a rare species, whether in the city or in the country, and are booked solid.
A general practitioner (GP), works outrageous hours, and needs more than one assistant to deal with the tidal surge of paperwork created by having to submit endless reams of forms, charts and invoices, many of which go to the government, where payment could arrive anytime over the next couple of months. And they need large office spaces in which to store it all, because their basements are probably already full. And a great many new doctors want to specialize, further diminishing the number of GP’s.
Being a medical specialist, means one works in a silo and rarely communicates with doctors not in their field of study or department. So I can see why clinics are the way to go. For the doctors, sharing costs, space, and staff, and perhaps even sharing camaraderie with their team, instead of just themselves. And to think, advice could be two doors down the hall and to the left.
I was fortunate enough to have coached two of my doctor’s sons through their midget hockey years, and was grateful to work with him when he was the team’s manager. His sons are exceptional young men, as is he and the rest of their family. Thankfully he was able to take me into his stable. As such, his office calls me about once every year to set up an appointment for an annual physical.
Some people who own cars get them tuned up regularly. Some people just wait until something breaks or wears out and then gets it replaced. An annual physical on the other hand is a bit different and much more important. Instead of perhaps missing the chance to discover something early on before it breaks down, thus preventing further collapse, or even death, it may be wise to occasionally look under the hood. I have no qualms about letting a medical professional poke and prod the machine called my body and determine whether it shall continue to live or perhaps needs adjustment, therapy or replacement to sustain its life.
Having an annual exam, is where they check our dipsticks and kick our tires, and go over all operating systems. This scares many people, often because of the absurd concept, that if something is deathly wrong, do they really need to know, or in the case of having a colonoscopy, the fear of someone sticking a finger up their butt. But when something is wrong with our bodies we know it. All living things do. Our dog eats grass when her stomach is upset and drags her bum along the lawn when it has been especially messy back there or she just needs a good scratch, and we do not have to tell her to do it. For over sixty years my Mom, has been drinking Coke whenever she feels under the weather, and to ward off all sorts of evils and ague. Whenever I feel something is brewing in me I take five cod liver oil pills with about the same number of garlic pills before going to bed, and in most cases feel much better in the morning. But anything to do with our rectum is uncomfortable for everyone involved, regardless of whether the doctor and patient are emotionless, or professionally smiling through it all.
While on the same topic, here’s a tip I learned long ago. When getting a physical and you are lying on your side and the doctor is getting the glove lubed up, of course it is going to be uncomfortable, but do not, I repeat, do not lean your head over and continue the discussion you had been having with your doctor, as he will politely ask you to please look the other way. But really people, we will allow doctors to slice open our chests and replace our hearts and other organs but heaven forbid if they should want to stick a well lubricated finger a few inches up our asses, one of the most frequent places for cancer to rear its ugly head in the human body.
One in fourteen Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime, and it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in adults. Thirty per cent of all deaths in Canada, about seventy-two thousand people, die of malignant neoplasm or cancer, while twenty one per cent of all deaths are due to diseases of the heart.
Going global, of all the human deaths in the world in one year (about sixty million), 270 individuals out of every thousand people, will die because their hearts either gave out, or was diseased. It is by far the leading cause of death in the world. Stroke is the number two cause of death, followed closely by deaths from infectious and parasitic diseases and other cardiovascular diseases.
Much farther down the list and still globally, for every one thousand people, fourteen will take their own lives each year, comparatively, about three people per thousand deaths are attributed to war, yet this is where all the money is being generated and spent. Much like the trillion-dollar war on terrorism, where every year before and after 9/11, anywhere from eight to twenty American citizens died worldwide due to terrorism, less than the number of people killed each year from a bolt of lightning. And that one is forty thousand times likely to die from heart disease or cancer than by terrorist actions. The leading cause of death for American civilians abroad, at least the few who actually have been off the continental United States, is actually car crashes. While in Canada, the number of deaths attributed to terrorism is minimal, and in fact, in the last thirty years, there have been four deaths.
Overall, in most developed countries, the largest increase in deaths over the past few years has been from Alzheimer’s, accidents and unintentional injuries, not from being victims of the blowback from the activities of the industrial military complex.
In related news, the Earth’s human population as of October 2015 is about 7.3 billion individuals. This is twice the number of people who lived on the planet in 1970. There are about 131 million births every year, meaning one million births every three days or 250 births every sixty seconds. For every one thousand people, nineteen are newborns.
At the other end, with an average life expectancy of sixty-seven years, for every thousand people on the planet there are about eight deaths (about fifty-five million) each year. It works out that two people die every second, while at the same time four babies are born.
With a screech, thud, and oh my, we are back at the garage getting an annual physical exam. Starting on the outside of the body, the doctor begins to make his or her way through physically examining the human body by inspecting, feeling, tapping, and listening.
The body’s all important blood pressure (BP) is taken, because it indicates whether the blood has enough power behind it or is under too much pressure, as it flows around the body doing its sublime job of pushing blood around. It is measured as the pressure at which the heart contracts, called the systole, which is when it pumps blood out to the rest of body, over the pressure called the diastole, when the heart re-fills with more blood. The medical gadgets used to do this are a stethoscope, and a sphygmomanometer (nearly broke out in a sweat typing that). Less than one twenty over eighty (120/80), is normal, while something like one ninety over one hundred (190/ 100), it’s Houston we have a problem.
Later, at a lab, blood will be taken for a blood count, which determines the kinds and numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets (thrombocytes) it contains. The red cells are the worker ants of the blood. They carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, and once relieved of the oxygen, return carrying carbon dioxide (CO2) which is expelled as we exhale. Bigger than the reds but fewer in numbers, the whites protect the body from infection and act like a pack of wolves when doing so. The platelets meanwhile are the runts of the blood cells, and hang out in gangs called Clotters. Whenever bleeding occurs they gather together in a mob and swell themselves up like Pillsbury dough boys to form a sticky plug to stop the leak. They are relentless, and will continue to staunch any flow until it is stopped or the body simply runs out of blood and its organs shut down. At which time it becomes “aah, Houston….aah…we have another problem.”
Heart rate is checked, sixty to just less than one hundred beats a minute is considered normal, sixty being the optimum. Of course people, who exercise daily, by whatever means, usually have a much lower heart rate at rest. Joggers in particular, tell you that running is adding years onto their lives. Unfortunately, those years will have already been taken, by the years spent running.
Next up is a cold stethoscope held to your chest. Invented over 200 years ago, back when leeches were most often used for getting rid of any bad blood, the stethoscope was another way of seeing into the body, especially the chest. All one had to do was put their ear up against the chest, while today we do with technological imagery.
The typical respiratory rate for a healthy adult at rest is twelve to twenty breaths per minute. Anything above twenty is typically signs of a heart or lung problem. At birth and up to about six weeks we take thirty to sixty breaths every minute. If we make eighty years of age our respiratory rate could be as low as ten every minute. The doctor is also listening for any snaps, crackles and pops, wheezes, ticking or decreased breath sounds.
Temperature is then taken and should be as close to 37C (98.6F) as possible. Women going through menopause are occasionally exempt from this rule.
All joints are checked for movement, with the doctor standing back or to one side to protect themselves, as the knees, elbows, wrists and ankles are tapped with a small rubber mallet and checked for reflex. Our reflexes are crucial in determining the integrity of the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord, which together coordinate the movement and activity of all parts of the body. Just as importantly, reflexes also determine the integrity of the peripheral nervous system, which is the communication link between the brain and the limbs and organs.
The abdomen is tapped to judge liver size and if there is any presence of abdominal fluid. Throat and tonsils are checked by going aaaah, just like when the doctor is holding one’s testicles checking for lumps. Similarly, women get their breasts checked for lumps and are also given a Pap test, to check for abnormal cellular changes to some of their pink parts.
The thyroid is especially checked, in both sexes. It is a butterfly shaped gland in the throat, just below the Adam’s apple, and is one of the body’s governors, controlling how quickly the body uses energy, makes proteins, and produces hormones, which regulate other hormones throughout the body. Lymph nodes are important filters of the immune system and though located throughout the body, the ones under the armpits and in the groin are checked delicately.
Ears, nose and sinuses are checked by shining a little flash light into those orifices. Though dental is not included in BC’s Medical Services Plan (MSP) at this point and time, the gums and teeth are checked by simply smiling. Speaking of which, it is unfortunate that dental coverage is but a dream for anyone having only MSP. For due to my lack of attention earlier on, my teeth need constant attention and one by one are falling out, often painlessly as my gums continue to recede. Long in the tooth, as it were. Whenever the next tooth needs to be added to my upper or lower plate, it is only done whenever I can afford it, or have enough of a balance on my credit card to cover it, unlike my smoking habit, which somehow continues whether I am able to afford it or not.
Once again we are back to the part of the body, where for some reason many people, especially men, do not bother to get a physical because of, the dreaded prostate exam. I know many men who have some sort of mental hang up about what a human is biologically, or they think they are far too macho for such a thing, and that no one is going to shove anything up their butts, including themselves. Yet all one is doing is lying on, usually the left side, with the doctor slowly inserting a very well lubricated gloved finger a few inches up the rectum and feeling around for a couple of seconds, checking the prostrate for size and any suspicious lumps. Although one’s eyes may bug out, it does not hurt nor is it a big deal.
The prostate is a gland of the males’ reproductive system. Over thirty per cent of its volume is semen, and it possesses muscles that expel the semen mixture, during ejaculation. The word comes from the Greek, prostates, meaning “one who stands before” and “the guardian”. Women also have a prostate, called the Skene’s gland or para urethral gland. It operates the same as a male’s prostate, minus the sperm of course, however it can also expel fluid during an orgasm. Anatomically, a women’s uterus is in the same position within her body as that of a prostate gland in his body.
With the physical exam complete, I’m sent for chest x-rays, which as usual confirms my lungs, should be classed as the vilest of porn. Then at yet another clinic, blood and urine samples are taken. The previously mentioned blood count is done, while the urine sample is used mainly to check on the kidneys since they deal with the waste products of metabolism and are the filters and expellers of waste material, minerals, fluids and other substances from the blood. They also contribute to the regulation of electrolytes, blood pressure and maintenance of an acid-alkaline balance in the blood.
Electrolytes are the substance that produces an “electrically” conducting solution, mainly sodium, when absorbed with water, and involves itself with fluid balance and blood pressure control. It also controls the electrical components of the body, such as muscle tissue and neurons.
The kidneys themselves are vital enough that there are two of them, with the ability of each to maybe carry on even if the other is lost. Each kidney has more than enough functioning renal tissue to do the job.
The exam’s final task is completed at one’s leisure at home – providing a sample of your pooh. A stool sample kit, called a fecal immuno-chemical test (FIT), is prescribed and bought at a pharmacy. Taking it home I read the directions three or four times and when the next bowel movement was imminent, I laid the piece of supplied paper over the surface of water in the toilet bowl. I was going to paint target rings on the paper, but all that was handy was m’lady’s tube of lipstick, and I wouldn’t dare. Hovering over the seat I squeezed out just a little bit then puckered back up. Standing, I took the wooden popsicle stick provided with the kit and daubed a small sample, which I then put into the provided tube, stick and all, sealed well, and voila, a sample any forensics investigator would be proud of. Returning to the seat and finishing the task at hand, I was ready to deliver the sacred Fit tube to the lab.
A month or so goes by and I get a call from my doctor’s office that the results are in. A date is set. Upon that day and working within the ten-minute window given for appointments, my doctor comes in, and after the “how are you doings” and genuine “would love to talk but”, he sits down beside me with his laptop and we review all the tests given. Besides both being disgusted by my lung pictures, and me being deeply embarrassed, we move forward. I am told my heart is steady-eddy, there are no deranged things, icky or untoward chemicals, needles or condoms flowing through my blood, and that I have beautiful cholesterol. But there were traces of blood found in my stool sample. If average traces are eighty whatever, my trace amount was about a thirty, which is far from a death sentence I am told, but… we talk about it for a bit more then as nonchalantly as possible, he leans over and asks as Tom Waits sings “Happy Anniversary”, how about a colonoscopy. And I thought, why not.
On average fifteen per cent of people who get their stool examined are found to have traces of blood in them. This does not mean one has cancer, though four per cent of people tested with a colonoscopy will have. The pooh-test is strictly a diagnostic test looking for potential signs of cancer, but all it really shows is that one is bleeding from somewhere inside.
The majority of times the blood traces come from polyps, benign growths that hang off the wall of the rectum or colon, and which rarely show any symptoms. Polyps that do become cancerous usually take years to develop, which is why it is important for those of us over fifty to get checked.
Bleeding from the behind could also mean all sorts of other things, like haemorrhoids, which are sometimes painless or internal, ulcers, anal cracks or cuts, irritable bowel syndrome, a colony of polyps, simple inflammation or having the evil diverticular disease.
Diverticulitis affects more than ten per cent of the populations of Canada, Western Europe, Britain and Australia over the age of forty. Coincidently, these places all represent the world’s largest meat consumers. By sixty years of age, half will have some sort of diverticular disease of the colon. Seen as balloon-like extensions bulging out from the wall of the colon, they are sometimes filled with fluid. This happens, because of weakness of the muscle layers and are in serious jeopardy of becoming infected since they exist within the sewer pipe of a “civilized” human’s body. In severe cases abscesses develop which can perforate and begin bleeding into the abdomen, or exploding like a pimple. Other than the occasional cramping, bloating, expelling pooh gas, and irregular schedule of when you need to empty your bowels, most people are totally unaware of the fact that the make-up of their intestines has changed into structures that are not normally present or natural. It gets serious when blood is showing up much too often and in higher volumes in any stool.
Interestingly enough, in the rest of the world, mainly Africa and Asia, diverticular disease is not at all common. The reasons why are many, from the possibility that Africans, especially, eat a diet that contains more fibre than the Western populations, to the possibility that most people in Africa, India and Asia still use the natural squatting position to empty their bowels, as humans have done all through our evolution. The benefits include the stretching of limbs and muscles used in the act of squatting in the first place, which many “civilized” people, especially in Canada and the States would have a hard time doing, because of their obesity rates. The position allows the bowel not to be as compressed as it is when sitting on a toilet, thus, even with the larger loads, there is far less straining. In the West there is a long list of people dying, often with their hearts giving out, trying to expel their stool. In many countries, especially amongst Muslim and Hindu peoples, another benefit is that they clean themselves with water, instead of smearing the remains off with multiple sheets of eight-ply toilet tissue, which both happen to be far easier to do squatting then sitting on a toilet. The trick with using water to clean one’s nether regions is to always use your left hand; right hand is reserved for eating and hand shaking. As for lefties, it is unfortunate.
After my doctor and I agreed on a colonoscopy and that I would be contacted soon to set it up, I began to think about the Magic School Bus, which was popular when my son was five years old, and the episode where after being shrunk down to a tiny speck, they enter the body down the throat to explore the human digestive system.
The Magic School Bus was one of the best animated educational programs ever. Running from 1994 to 1997, it was about a class of kids led by the incredibly informative Ms. Valerie Frizzle, voiced by Lily Tomlin, who in 1995 won an Emmy for the role for outstanding performance in an animated program. Ms Frizzle and her class would take adventurous day trips in their yellow school bus exploring the whys and how’s of nearly every science known to man.
For example, of the fifty-two episodes created, “Inside Ralphie”, was about germs. Ralphie, one of the students, was sick with a fever and sore throat, so for that day’s outing Ms Frizzle shrunk their magic school bus down to a pin point and they entered their ailing classmate through a cut on his arm. They travelled to his throat to see what was making him sick, but white blood cells, the body’s attack hounds and defenders, saw the magic school bus as a threat and began to attack, and attempted to devour it. Ms Frizzle got them out real quick-like, in saliva the next time Ralphie coughed.
Same sort of thing happened in the 1966 sci-fi classic film, Fantastic Voyage, where instead of a yellow school bus filled with kids, a spacecraft-type ship filled with scientists made the inner journey. The premise was that when an important scientist developed a blood clot on the brain after being shot in an assassination attempt, a small group of medical specialists and scientists boarded the submarine Proteus, which was armed with a laser. They were then miniaturized, inserted into a needle and injected into the patient to remove the clot. They had one hour to complete their mission before they and the ship begin to grow back to its normal size and explode out of the injured scientist’s body.
Besides being constantly attacked by the same hyena-like white blood cells that attacked the school bus, they had to detour through the heart. A cardiac arrest was induced in the patient, to avoid turbulence as they passed through the atria and ventricles. Running low on oxygen, they flew into the lungs to replenish their supply, after which they arrived in the middle ear, where everyone inside the ship and those surrounding the patient outside had to keep very quiet and still, once again to prevent any turbulence. As they got to the clot in the brain, a traitor on board created chaos and the ship crashed. The survivors swam out via a tear drop, and surfaced in the lake of the corner of the eye and escaped by being sucked up in a syringe.
But the Magic School Bus episode that I thinking about was the digestion episode titled, “For Lunch”, which seemed appropriate, considering my digestive tract, at least the bottom half, was soon going to be explored too. In reality, the undertaking of exploring the entire human gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), would be a daunting task, a truly epic endeavour. If it were a movie, the scope of it would put to shame “The Bridge over the River Kwai”, “Lawrence of Arabia” and any one of the episodes of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
From mouth to anus the GI tract is, on average, nine metres (thirty feet) long, about the average height of a three-storey building. Besides the previously mentioned trillions of cells found in it, there are also about one hundred million neurons which the brain uses for its control and regulation.
The entire gastric phase that food goes through takes from twenty-four to seventy-two hours, depending on what was eaten, how much and numerous other variables. But I find it odd that a McDonald’s Big-Mac seems to be given carte blanche to make it through me in under an hour, and a Magic School Bus episode was less than thirty minutes long.
In “For Lunch”, Arnold, another one of the students, gets sick after eating something, so Ms Frizzle comes up with yet another brilliant idea, and herding her kids onto the magic bus, they once again get shrunk down to nearly nothing and head on down Arnold’s esophagus. Though the episode could not detail all they would see and experience during such an epic journey, even though animated, I will ad-lib the narration and try to fill in the gaps.
After putting almost anything solid, other than a yellow school bus filled with kids and a teacher, in your mouth, the process of mastication (chewing) begins. While the tongue and cheeks position and move the food, chewing creates saliva (digestive enzyme) which immediately begins breaking down any starch and absorbing nutrients and energy from what you eat. How and for how long you chew can have a huge impact on your health. The best ways to retain the most energy from what you eat is to take smaller bites, chew until food is liquefied and lost all texture, then swallow completely before taking another bite. The importance of mastication cannot be stressed enough. Because, by the time the chewing is over, whatever is left splashes down into the hydrochloric acid and pepsin digestive juices of the stomach, where it quickly becomes either, if chewed properly, liquefied baby food and easily digestible, or a big fat bolus, a furry ball containing chunks of undigested food.
The stomach, which is a distensible organ and can normally expand to hold about one litre (about two pounds) of food, is where the mechanical and chemical digestion processes continue. It mixes the food down to molecules using peristalsis, which are waves of muscular contractions moving along the stomach wall like an arena crowd doing the “wave” at a hockey game, which furthers protein digestion. It takes a lot of energy to do this, and is why we often would love to take a nap while we digest a big meal. Most of the absorption of nutrients that is taking place goes to the circulatory and lymphatic capillaries through the actions of cellular biology, including osmosis, active transport and diffusion. But if there are chunks in the food it forces the digestion process to expend even more energy trying to break them down. Chunks that are unable to be digested in the stomach scrape their way through the gut, until they get to the intestine, where bacteria will cause it to putrefy and potentially cause a plethora of problems, including gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping and other digestive tribulations.
So chew well and savour each bite. With the brain taking about twenty minutes to signal the stomach that it is full, studies show by chewing slowly, one ends up consuming about ten percent fewer calories and burning less energy to achieve it.
After whatever is chewed and swallowed, it mixes in the stomach for typically one to two hours, what is left then enters the duodenum, the top part of the small intestine, where a finer break down process takes place using digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile juice from the liver. Then it is onto the small intestine where ninety-five per cent of the absorption of nutrients into the blood stream takes place. This process gets a boost when the gallbladder, the storage tank for the excess bile produced by the liver, releases bile into the small intestine sort of like an automated car wash. This process breaks down even further what had originally been chewed and swallowed.
Another organ, the pancreas, besides being an endocrine gland, secreting insulin which allows glucose to move from the blood into the muscles and other tissues for use as energy, is also an exocrine gland, releasing glucagon when the blood sugar is too low. This allows the liver to break down the stored sugar into glucose, to re-balance the sugar levels. Another very important function of the pancreas, and which is pertinent to this story, is that also secretes digestive enzymes.
At this point in the Magic School bus’ journey, wise one, Ms. Frizzle, glances at her watch and announces that it’s time to return and her class and their yellow school bus head back out, hopefully heading for the nearest car-wash. Waving goodbye, we will continue the journey alone.
Where the small intestine joins the colon, the large intestine, whatever has made it through and still undigested will eventually make its way down the slalom course of the, on average, one and a half metre (nearly five foot) long colon. This process will take about three to four hours. Along the way any remaining water and minerals are re-absorbed into the blood vessels of the colon. The bacteria, which reside in the colon, produce such things as biotin and vitamin K, which are also re-absorbed into the blood. But at this point the bacteria are mostly just dashing madly about like chickens with their heads cut off, frolicking in what to them, is both a Garden of Eden, and a smorgasbord of delicious debauchery. More the chaos, the more the colon’s acidity rises.
Eventually the waste and indigestible make it to the rectum, the final portion of the colon. About twelve centimetres (four point seven inches) long, it is the only straight section in the GI tract, and the storage silo for stools about to be launched.
It shouldn’t be a big surprise that after all the hoop jumping of the GI tract that so many of the human body’s problems arise in the colon. Considering all the unimaginable volumes of chemicals, hormones, pharmaceuticals and toxins a human takes in daily, from the food we eat, what we drink and air that we breathe, it’s no wonder our personal sewer pipes have become ever the more toxic and just plain nasty.
Staying between the legs, human anatomy is very functional, and so it should be after a couple of million years of evolution. But for those who believe it was achieved through intelligent design, perhaps Neil de Grasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator, can better explain. “I think of, like, the human body, and I look at what’s going on between our legs. There’s like a sewage system and entertainment complex intermingling. No engineer of any intelligence would have designed it that way.”
Back to the physical exam, and after the x-rays and body fluid samples, it was a couple of months before the party planner, a bubbly Colon Screening Program Patient Coordinator, contacted me with a date for an information/awareness meeting the following month. There were about seven people in my group, where a couple of very positive and perky nurses showed and told us what foods and drinks to avoid pre-op, what to buy to get the colon flushed, and not with embarrassment, the importance of a clean, thus happy colon. We all sat apart, equally uncomfortable. Of course one individual had a list of inane questions to ask, mostly about what could he eat and not eat, and then had to ask them again, all the while remaining just as confused.
We were shown slides on a big screen showing that a clean and happy colon looks like the inside of a light pink, ribbed water hose when inflated, but which usually lies flat. A weak attempt at cleaning a colon showed pools of yellow and brown gunk lodged along its ribs and caked along its sides. We were shown no slides of a colon when in use, as I’m sure we could all visualize the occasional brown train kneading its way down – sometimes firm, sometimes just a flash flood.
I thought we would get together when it was over and gather in a chanting group hug in the middle of the room, wishing each other the best, a “Remember the Titans” moment, but alas, everyone left rather quickly.
Another month went by, and as the date of the colonoscopy neared, the medical terms and conditions about being examined or operated on internally kick in. For a colonoscopy, one is to cease and desist in taking iron pills or supplements that contain iron, and immediately stop eating foods that contain seeds including whole flax, sesame seeds, berries and popcorn, because they stick in the folds of one’s colon, hindering further inspection and generally mucking up the whole exercise.
Three days before, you have to confirm your ride to and from hospital, review your diet for the next two days, and purchase one container of GoLytely (gotta love the irony) or Pico-Salax, both laxative solutions, and four Dulcolax tablets, which is a stimulant laxative. The solutions are intended to create a watery stool, basically they cause diarrhea by increasing the water in the intestinal tract to stimulate bowl movements, while the Dulcolax excites the bowel’s motion to help the flow along. To get the ball or should I say bolus, rolling, you take two of the Dulcolax, two nights before the procedure, the other two the next night on the eve of the planned assault.
The day before, stop eating any solid food, milk, milk products, non-dairy creamers, protein beverages or alcoholic beverages. Ensure-type nutrition drinks and the like are allowed, as they are non-dairy products and happen to taste pretty good in coffee. Only fluids you can see through are allowed, but stay especially away from fluids that are red or purple in colour because they stain the digestive tract. Clear fluids include water, of course, popsicles, though not red or purple, Jell-O, with no added toppings of fruit, clear broth with no vegetables, noodles or meat, clear tea and thank god, black coffee with sugar. Fruit juices without pulp, like apple juice and lemonade are allowed, but no milk, cream or soy. Pop of any kind and Gatorade, Power Aid, and all the other “ades” are taboo. Finally, add four litres of water to the GoLytely container and store in fridge.
About three in the afternoon on the eve of colonoscopy day, it came time for the cleansing. During the upcoming bowel cleanse a typical adult will lose about three to four liters (a gallon) of fluid. So the day before and up to three hours before the exam, they suggest drinking about the same amount of the clear fluids listed above. Being on such a diet, some people get light headed and I’m sure more cranky, craving a Snickers bar, so instead a Gravol is allowed.
I stood before the kitchen sink, took a deep breath and began drinking the voluminous laxative solution. Eight ounces every fifteen minutes until the four litre container is half empty. At ten PM that night, I drank the remaining two litres, at the same rate. They suggest it is best to drink it back quickly and not sip it like a Martini. I happen to agree. It is undoubtedly the worst part of the whole process.
After you have begun drinking the GoLytely or Pico-Salax mixture, Ms. Frizzle or any other wise person, would stay within twenty feet of a toilet. It definitely begins to flush out the digestive tract, and quite quickly I might add. But on average it starts working within one to three hours, though it’s also known to take up to six to eight hours. After the first few “sit-downs” you have serious diarrhea, basically pissing like a horse out of one’s arse. With each flash flood down the colon scouring any debris and waste along its way. Each time the fluid became clearer, though I was quite taken aback and rather concerned when after about the fourth or fifth sit-down a waft of fish permeated the room.
But that’s the thing, as mentioned, the colon may look like the inside of a ribbed garden hose when inflated with air, but naturally it lies flat, and has been eerily known to hide objects there for years. Like the joke I heard on a TV program, where a singer had just ended their audition song and the oldest judge asked her how old she was. She answered fourteen years. The youngest judge looked over at the eldest and crudely half-joked about the likelihood that, “There are probably pieces of steak older than that in your colon”.
But speaking from experience, I swallowed four quarters when I was about ten years old after being sent to the store for bread. Was X-rayed and told all should be good, but that I would have to check my stools and confirm that all four quarters exited my body. Using a pair of chopsticks as tools, each stool was checked thoroughly. I believe it took about a week for all four quarters to make their way to the end and out of me. And to this day I am still reminded, when I am in contact with one of my sisters, that she did the chop stick check for a promised cut of the take, and that I reneged on the deal. She is still waiting for her cut, with interest of course.
Your bowels are considered clear when you are only passing liquid, though the liquid may be clear with yellow or coloured flecks of stool. If you are unable to fully clean your bowels out, you must contact hospital immediately, instead of wasting everyone’s time showing up with a dirty, unhappy colon.
Over the entire cleansing process I managed to read a few chapters of a book and completed two Sunday crossword puzzles. As to the toilet, I felt it handled itself very well with its porcelain intact. The next time I cleaned it I lifted the seat which was obviously the blast containment ring, and now understand why the underside of a toilet seat is concave. It allows it to withstand intense forces better and deflects blasts back down into the bowl. I love well thought out and innovative designs.
The next morning in the dark of the early a.m., I walked the three blocks to the hospital sans nail polish, jewellery, body piercings, make-up, perfume, aftershave or other scented products. I did have wads of toilet paper stuffed into both jacket pockets, espying the bushes and hedges lining the walk just in case.
Once received into the hospital you go to the proper ward and are given a bed which gets curtained off so that you may slip into something a little more comfortable, typically a thin sheet opened at the back, which in this case seems so apropos. For many medical procedures, especially a colonoscopy, people are given the most commonly used drugs of choice, a benzodiazepine, usually midazolam, and an opioid analgesic such as fentanyl, for preoperative sedation.
After asking around before hand, I had been told that other than slight pressure from time to time, the actual procedure did not physically hurt, but if drugged, you are impaired for up to twenty-four hours. The fentanyl alone is eighty to one hundred times more potent than morphine and forty to fifty times more potent than one hundred per cent heroin. Thus, no important decision making or signing of documents, no driving a car, nor travelling alone by either bus or taxi, no riding a bicycle, swimming or climbing ladders, going to work or doing business, nor drinking alcohol, smoking pot, taking sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medicines, or even being responsible for another person for a day after the procedure. So I passed on being given the midazolam cocktail.
Midazolam is a short-acting central nervous system depressant of the benzodiazepine family, and is marketed under the names Dormicum, Hypnovel, and Versed. Benzodiazepines enhance the effect of what is called the neurotransmitter gamma (amino butyric acid) in receptors in the brain, resulting in sedative, hypnotic, anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant properties, thus in this day and age it is widely used in millions upon millions of people’s lives, whether they are being operated on or not.
The main reason midazolam works so well is because, besides its other attributes, it produces amnesia. Indeed it calms you from most anxiety, but in actual fact it breaks down the brain’s ability to make memory. If what you suffer from gives you pain, when you take midazolam you still hurt, but you forget about it almost immediately. As such, midazolam and other benzodiazepines are some of the most prescribed medicines in the world for all sorts of things. It goes without saying, benzodiazepines of any type are also considered to be major drugs of abuse.
In combination with an antipsychotic drug, midazolam is also able to calm aggressive or out of control behaviour of those who suffer from schizophrenia, and is often used as a stop gap measure for treatment of psychiatric emergencies, such as acute psychosis, at least until the effects of lithium and other antipsychotics take effect. Midazolam is also routinely used at low doses on those in their final hours or days lying on their death beds or waiting to go to the other side, as it helps with calming any agitation, restlessness, anxiety, and accompanying twitches, jerks and seizures.
In combination with other drugs, such as vecuronium bromide, potassium chloride and hydromorphone, midazolam is also used in certain US states in executions by lethal injection. The midazolam renders the condemned unconscious, the other drugs are then injected stopping the prisoner’s breathing and heart. It replaces pentobarbital, which was once used instead, but which was disallowed for use by the drug’s manufacturer.
Other popular benzodiazepines, which have replaced the seriously harmful and once well-used, barbiturates, include Alprazolam. Available under different generic names it is best known as Xanax, and much like other benzodiazepines is short-acting with a median half-life of only one to twelve hours. Similar to midazolam, Xanax also goes straight to the brain, and having the same, as already noted, anxiolytic, sedative, hypnotic, skeletal muscle relaxant, anticonvulsant and amnesic properties. A psychoactive drug, Xanax is commonly used for the medical treatment of panic, anxiety, and social disorders, as well as for most forms of depression. Xanax is one of the top ten selling drugs in the world today.
Meanwhile back at the hospital, a nurse has wheeled me into an examination room. She prepped me by saying the procedure will take from thirty minutes to an hour and introduced me to the gastroenterologist, his assistant, and the star of the show, the endoscope, who I instantly dubbed Snoopy. I was told to lie on my left side, where a large television screen sat before me, ready to record Snoopy’s walk-about up my anus and through my rectum and large bowel. It was going to be an eye opener.
Snoopy is a long soft flexible tube armed only with a camera and a light, but can perform all sorts of feats. Sort of like a Swiss army knife. As it entered my anus it began to pump air in ahead of itself. The pressure of the air to keep the colon expanded like the ribbed water hose it was described as and the initial entry of the doc’s finger inserting Snoopy were the most uncomfortable parts, but did not really hurt. The cramping that occurred at various times simply felt like the passing of a really bad case of gas.
Because the colon is usually lying flat, the air Snoopy pumps in expands the walls of the colon allowing it to see the now well-lit surfaces. Any fluids, now lying in pools of yellow brown water, are sucked up and out so that no surface area goes unchecked. The live footage on the big screen became fascinating, especially in Snoopy’s dogged determination to check every surface of my bowel. Could not see his tail wagging, but I bet you it was.
You are asked to change your position a little whenever Snoopy has to make his way around a dogleg of sorts. After the rectum, the course starts with a turn through the sigmoid colon, another turn up through the descending colon, and then across the belly to the entrance of the coiled up small intestine, where a stop sign awaits. Snoopy cleans and inspects on the journey in and inspects again on the way out.
Snoopy is even able to have instruments passed on down within itself. If there is bleeding in the colon, a laser, heater probe or needle to inject certain medicines to stop any bleeding, can be quickly sent along. In case of severe bleeding, Snoopy can tie off a rupture using a loop of blue string. If this does happen one is warned not to worry about the length of blue string that will appear in your stool in about seven days. He can also use a steel clip to stem bleeding, which takes about seven to twenty-four days to make its way out and is also harmless. They suggest if you are having an MRI scan or going through airport security, be sure to tell staff that you have a clip attached to your colon.
Snoopy can also perform a biopsy by taking small tissue samples and removing any abnormal growths, such as the previously mentioned polyps, which can be brought back out and sent to a lab for testing.
Snoopy found a small one in me and went right up to it. It looked like a skin sac hanging from a short umbilical line on the wall of my colon. Snoopy seemed to sniff it then deftly slid a wire loop around the base and tightened it up, pinching it off, then instantly cauterized the base to prevent bleeding. Though I watched it on TV I felt no pain.
Though incredibly good at what they do, during a colonoscopy there is a one in two hundred and fifty chance that there could be a complication, such as reaction to the medication or soreness of anus. And there is a one in one thousand chance of bleeding or puncturing of the bowel, and a slight risk, because of medication given, that your stomach contents will aspirate into one’s lungs if you throw up. But the most important risk is the possibility of Snoopy missing a polyp or small tumor. This is why it is imperative that you have a happy and clean colon. If not, you will have to come back and do it all over again. Supposedly they guarantee that Snoopy will be removed from your ass once the exam is over and samples have been taken. And that he will leave the place as if he wasn’t even there.
Waving Snoopy good bye, I was wheeled back to the general patient dorm and curtained off. A bit of confusion occurred with the nurses when the first one said they will be allowing me time to relax and come down from the medication. “I did not take any medication”, I reply. She frowned, and then told me she would call the person picking me up from the hospital because I would be still drugged up. She left, but a few moments later returned to confirm I had not taken any medication, but really just wanting to ask, why not? I then explained that I was farting and felt a bit bloated but other than that I was fine and not pregnant or retaining water. She chuckles “that’s good”, and explains it’s probably all right for me to get dressed and wait for my pickup. She leaves.
Another nurse quickly appears and asks if I would like juice or water as I wait for the drugs to dissipate. I said I was not on any drugs. Considering I had not eaten for over twenty-four hours, my bowel had just been cleaned, probed, detailed, and a polyp hanging off its wall had been snipped off, I asked if they had the food of champions and another important food group – chocolate milk. She frowned and smiled at the same time, said no and left me alone to dress.
Thereafter, if you do not get chills, fever, severe belly pain, gas pains that do not go away by farting; shortness of breath; rectal bleeding of more than a half a cup of blood, or black tarry “baby pooh”, you are good to go, and will hear back after Snoopy’s job performance report, and whether his inspecting and tissue retrieval work were up to par and a success.
One is able to eat and drink thirty to sixty minutes after the procedure, so after eventually being released, it was off to a little restaurant where m’lady watched me eat. After being dropped off at my place I just took it easy, though later that afternoon did spend some time stomping foot wide mushrooms, which had blossomed up through the building’s parking lot’s sixty-five year old asphalt layer. As they grew upwards, reaching for the sun, they did not see that they had peeled back three inches of asphalt like petals sprouting from a bud. I was in awe, and sad that they had to go.
That night I dined alone on half of a classic Italian sub from Subway, piles of cottage cheese and potato salad sprinkled with shredded Kale and garlic stuffed olives, a couple of honey garlic pepperoni sticks, two chocolate fudge cookies and a nuked cinnamon roll topped with cream cheese. Later I read in bed munching on a bowl of pecans. Then slept like a baby.
Here in Victoria, the wait for results can take anywhere from three weeks to a couple of months. Mine arrived by phone, by the same bubbly Colon Screening Program Patient Coordinator, who had contacted me in the beginning. Results were negative, meaning good, but it was suggested that I have another one in three to five years. I smiled right back at her over the phone, thanked her very much and sincerely agreed I would.
So there you go the tail exploits of a physical exam and a colonoscopy. Seriously, if you are an adult over fifty, especially a male, and you have not had a check-up or a colonoscopy recently or ever, and if you are able to afford one or have coverage, do yourself a favour and get one.
Besides watching what one puts into their digestive tracts, take care of your teeth too, they are important in being able to properly chew whatever it is you swallow. Stay away from cigarettes, and exercise the best you can, because heaven knows there is not much in the way of hunting and gathering going on these days to keep us fit.
And although I often don’t practise what I preach, but will never stop trying, once again, please be aware of what you are putting into your body, whether the air you breathe or food and drink you ingest. Try to make it food which is the least compromised by human added hormones, pesticides, herbicides and chemicals. Eat food that still has the earth’s life energy within it. It’s the perfect fuel for the human body’s digestive system. It is easily distributed throughout the body, and leaves all systems running smoothly, with the power behind them making it easier for them to expel any waste, do any repair work, or fight off any germs, and as a reward, you’ll hopefully possess one of the happiest colons around.
One of the best indicators of what is going on in the body and its overall health, besides keeping an eye on what we cough, spit and blow into a tissue is, yep, you guessed it, observe, assess, and report if needed, our bowel movements. Keep an eye on your stool. It can detect all sorts of things, from bacterial infections to cancers, immune dysfunctions, stress levels, hydration and nutrition.
Pooh itself is about 75% water, 25% fibre, dead and living bacteria, other cells and mucus. The perfect stool is a sausage or a snake that squeezes out quite easily like it has a life of its own, and knows where it’s going. Medium brown in colour and possibly up to 45 cm (18 in) long, with a 5 cm (2 in) diameter. To improve on an ideal stool, drink lots of water and chew fibre, especially hemp, flax, psyllium and chia. Of course there should be a slight odor to it, but it shouldn’t reek and peel paint. Remedy is to take a pro-biotic and eat more greens, nuts, and fruit.
Be aware of the colour of your stool. Light to dark brown, even some shades of green are ok. Pretty obvious what the problem is if your stool is red, while a black stool also could mean bleeding or too much meat consumption. Yellow stools typically mean gallbladder issues or parasitic problems, while white or grey, could show liver disease, pancreatic disorder or heavy antacid use.
If stool is under high pressure and dense, it’s often hard to pass, even painful, so take deep breaths to avoid any injuries to anus, and just take it slow. Allow the muscles to expand and do their job.
If the stool is a bunch of little lumps or balls, like deer or rabbit turds, it’s commonly a sign of dehydration and/or lack of fibre. Greasy and hard to flush often means heavy consumption of drugs, inflammation in digestive tract or food intolerance. And a high sugar intake, heavy spices, food sensitivities, especially hot sauces, makes a stool sticky and wetter.
Beyond the stool, we enter the realm of explosions. Smaller explosions out of the anus is often mild food poisoning, too much sugar or food intolerance. Basically, stuff the body is trying to expel as fast as it can. Do take note, when explosion is larger, and diarrhea like, and lies like an oil slick upon the surface of the toilet water. This could either be severe food poisoning, bacterial imbalances, food intolerance or inflammatory bowel disease. Get checked out, seriously.
If there are white spots in your stool and you have one of the itchiest asses around, it is probably a parasitic infection. Get treatment as well, and wash hands more than often. And if you ever wonder why we even eat corn, since it just shows up seemingly intact in our stools, it is because of the most easily ignored, yet most important and best thing we can do to for our digestive tract, is to slow down when eating. Take three deep breaths before you eat and chew each bite and chew it well.
Thinking back on the whole experience, I will end this essay with what I feel was the ah-ha moment for me.
When Snoopy was almost completely pulled out, but before popping out of my anus, he stopped and slowly arched his back, bending around to take a visual of my anus looking back from whence he came. It reminded me of the Voyager space probes.
Launched in 1977, the 722 kilogram (nearly sixteen hundred pound) robotic spacecraft, the Voyager I, has been using instruments on board, including infrared spectrometer, magnetometer, cosmic ray, radio-astronomy, plasma-wave and photo polariser systems, to study atmospheric properties and the composition of space as it bee-lines away from Earth.
It has been travelling at 67,000 kilometres per hour (40,000 mph) for nearly thirty-eight years and as of September 2015 is currently a staggering, and hard to fathom, nineteen billion km (nearly thirteen billion miles) away. She is followed by her sister, Voyager II, which was launched three weeks before her, but lolly-gagging along about three billion kilometres behind.
It took Voyager I two years to pass Jupiter, three years to pass Saturn, nine years for Uranus, not my anus, and twelve years to pass Neptune. It has also passed over forty-eight moons. To send a signal travelling at the speed of light (approx. 300,000 kilometres a second), to the Voyager I today would take over sixteen hours.
Since 2004 it has been leaving the sun’s solar system and entering interstellar space, the space between the stars, where the outward motion of the solar wind of our star, the sun, ceases. Though most of the Voyager I’s instruments have been shut down, she is estimated to be able to carry on until about 2025. But even if she were able, the next nearest star is about forty thousand years away.
In 1990, when the Voyager I was only about six billion kilometres (four billion miles) away, and after nine years of having its camera turned off, astronomer and author Carl Sagan, Candy Hanson of NASA, Carolyn Porco of the University of Arizona and the rest of the Voyagers team of scientists and engineers turned Voyager I’s fifteen hundred millimetre (fifty-nine inch) high-resolution narrow angle camera back on. Rotating the camera around to face from whence it came, sixty frames were taken and are the last photos from the Voyager I. Sending the frames back to earth took nearly six hours. One of the frames shows a nearly black backdrop with a smattering of light rays from the sun amidst thousands of pricks of light. In the lower left hand corner amongst the six hundred and forty thousand pixels that make up the image is one of those mere points of light. It measures less than a pixel, zero point twelve of a pixel in fact. A tiny dot against the vastness of space, but blown-up and peering really close or using a magnifying glass, one can see that it is pale blue in colour, and happens to be where all of Earth’s history has happened. And if the whole world consumed as much resources as the United States does, we would need four of them.
Within the vastness of space, one little planet out of many. Moving and spinning around at the perfect distance from the sun for the last four and a half billion years. But this little planet is abnormally heating up, much more quickly than in the past. Reason is because of the way only one, of the millions of other living species that inhabit the planet, has lived over the last microsecond of the planet’s history, over the past few hundred years.
But the nearly seven and a half billion people that inhabit the planet today are not entirely to blame for the ever dwindling and extinction of its resources, and changing climate. In fact where population is growing the fastest today, is in Sub-Saharan Africa. Where all the areas, and countries, that lie south of the Sahara desert, include some of the poorest parts of the world, and lowest carbon dioxide emissions producers in the world. The consumption habits of only about 10% of the world’s population of Earth are to blame, and are responsible for the vast majority of both, carbon dioxide emissions, which of course will change things, and wealth.
Whilst believing in unlimited growth in all human endeavours we also believe this is possible upon this one finite planet. But then as American author, philosopher, and libertarian socialist, Noam Chomsky, has stated,
“The general population doesn’t know what’s happening and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.”
This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why, besides the cancers erupting with abandon within us, immune systems dying, toxic digestive tracts, and hearts giving out, the soon-to-be number one health problem for humanity is expected to be, if not already, our state of mind.
The planet on the other hand, is losing its forests, its fresh water, while its seas, rivers, skies, lakes, cities become acidified, and ever quickly changing climates become extreme events. Its resources being consumed by greed, and to feed an ever growing population, both of which are already far larger than what this one small planet can supply. A planet which Carl Sagan describes in his 1994 book, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space”.
“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
Imagine that, as happen stance would have it, a small blue dot called earth, also in dire need of its own colonoscopy, and a date with Snoopy.