Monday, October 08, 2007

God Don't Make No Junk

In 7th grade, the first year of school sponsored organized basketball in Minnesota, it was the night before basketball practice was set to begin at 6:30 AM. Needless to say, I was excited (thinking of not much else). I felt like I was all grown up and I was ready to prove I was a baller.
Unfortunately as that day prior passed, it grew more difficult to focus. What was this? I was coming down with the flu!? The night before basketball was to begin? Why oh why? It wasn't fair. I tried to play it off as nothing. "Was something wrong?" my parents asked. "Just feeling a little queasy..." I said.

Soon even that sentiment passed. Something was really wrong. I was in some serious pain. It felt like not only was I weak and nauseous, but a knife was stuck in my lower right side. The pain became quite bad. It soon was obvious even to my parents that this wasn't the normal run of the mill flu. To the hospital we went.

For anyone who has been similarly afflicted, it probably isn't a surprise that the diagnosis was quick (after some painful jabs by the doctor to confirm that yes, it really did hurt very badly on my lower right side). I had appendicitis. I needed to immediately have my appendix removed. And really, we had waited too long. My appendix was about to burst, and if that happened, it could be life-threatening.

So I had my appendix taken out. And for a week, while my future teammates practiced for the first times, I lay in the hospital recovering. I actually didn't mind the hospital stay too much as I got to read and watch TV (we didn't have one) as much as I wanted. I was fine, but I didn't like missing the basketball.

It was small consolation that I was reassured the appendix was of little use anyway--it was purposeless. But still, it was nice to know it wasn't something I needed anyway.

Now, though, that consolation has been shattered. Scientists seem to have found the purpose of the appendix.

The function of the appendix seems related to the massive amount of bacteria populating the human digestive system, according to the study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. There are more bacteria than human cells in the typical body. Most are good and help digest food.

But sometimes the flora of bacteria in the intestines die or are purged. Diseases such as cholera or amoebic dysentery would clear the gut of useful bacteria. The appendix's job is to reboot the digestive system in that case.

Really, it makes sense. It would be surprising to have a body part that is truly purposeless. One scientist notes,

I'll bet eventually we'll find the same sort of thing with the tonsils.

While the appendix is less needed today in an era of fewer diseases and mass plagues, it may be still used frequently, especially in the Third World.

Me, though? I had better not be needing it. As a friend forwarding me the article noted, I better hope I don't come down with cholera.


Greg said...

Wow, that is interesting.

And Westy, if it makes you feel any better, my grandpa had an appendicitis attack at age 27. He's now 94 and still attends every Toledo Rockets' home football game.

Liz Mouse said...

And you can always take my mom's advice...after a run of the runs or anything else that may have gotten your good bacteria count down, eat some yogurt - the active culture kind. That will replenish the good guys too.