I have a degree in Biology. It was close to worthless when it was brand-new and now it’s essentially vestigial. My university had an excellent biology department and I took only one course, an introduction to botany. All the rest of my biology credits were earned in a second-rate college in London in my junior year, during which I potted seedlings in someone’s greenhouse, examined grass species in a freezing drizzle in the Midlands, dissected a fetal pig, and—primarily—studied the metabolism of Guinness. I picked up my chemistry and physics requirements in my senior year and by the time the money ran out, Biology was the only subject I had enough credits in to get a degree. It did score me a lab job murdering mice for less than $3 per hour for a couple years and then I became a mail carrier.
All of that, plus my famously porous memory, leaves me with a love of science and almost no knowledge whatsoever, although as my learning drains out, I top it up by reading. So occasionally the most basic facts elude me. Such as:
What keeps all my internal organs where they belong?
I mean, once you think about it, it’s a worry. The other day I was observing my own skin hanging off my arm like bunting on a grandstand—it was fascinating—and it occurred to me: If my exterior covering has so abruptly lost its snap, what’s keeping everything stable on the interior? I visualized all my various important organs slowly succumbing to gravity until they were a damp, lumpy jumble on the pelvic floor.
I missed doing the dissection of a cat every other bio major at my university did, and the fetal pig might as well have been made of rubber. I did go to the exhibit of plastinated bodies when it came to town, which was vivid, and led me to maintain there is such a thing as too naked. But even so I’m a bit in the dark about how everything inside stays properly put.
What I imagined was that all that stuff was so jammed in that there was no room for anything to wander far afield. I further imagined—imagining is what I do best—that the reason everything stays put when you’re younger is that it still has its starch and verve and holds its position like a gymnast sticking the landing. Ta-da! But unless the gravitational attraction from my burgeoning neck was able to offset the planetary force, I feared the worst.
Actually what is happening is the peritoneum is bagging it all together the same way God puts turkey guts inside the Butterball. The peritoneum is a membrane whose outer layer is attached towards your back and bottom, basically, and whose inner layer folds up and wraps around all those organs I was so worried about. It also produces slippery juice to lubricate everything so your stomach doesn’t rub a bald spot into your pancreas or something. And it runs the communication network: nerves, blood, lymph, nuclear codes. It does a lot of things. But we can rest assured our organs are not jostling for position in there like kindergartners playing musical chairs. They’re bagged up tight and the bag itself is connected. To something solid.
Which is a relief, at first. Until you remember what’s happening to your arm skin. What if our nice peritoneal bag develops the same sort of apathy? What if it goes stretchy? Maybe it’s anchored but how can we rule out that our organs are bobbing around like testicles on an old bull?
It is kind of noisy in there sometimes.
Here’s a rare bonus photo of my father actually beaming. Last of four kids through college! Go, Daddy!