From the moment a sperm fertilises an ovum, our existence walks a fine line between perfection and disaster, with bombardments on our biology and mentality lurking behind every shuffle in DNA and every decision made.
A necessary and commonly made insert at this point is that we CANNOT live in fear of this, or we wouldn’t dare walk out the front door!
Between my education and my personal life I’ve learnt a lot about said ‘fine line’ between things going well, and not. I suppose this also results in an unavoidable education in ‘how to deal with it when it goes tits up’…be it through attempts at protein manipulation, pulling the emergency buzzer or calling my Mum…
But I get ahead of myself! Where to start.
My first degree was Biochemistry. I’ve always loved to know WHY things are the way they are. The epitome of this was a poster that covered my entire bedroom wall and showed all the interconnecting metabolic pathways in the human body, cool huh?! No.
That poster was, in tandem, beautiful and terrifying in it’s description of potential . So much working in sync means the system is as delicate as fine china.
From the microscopic components, to the being made up of them, the human body is a work of beauty. As with anything so finely tuned, you would expect more of us to be crumbling into heaps of broken biological machinery, but, normally we don’t.
A fellow student once turned to me in a lecture and whispered;
‘You will judge me for saying this, but don’t you think these errors that occur shouldn’t be fixed or cured? Isn’t it natures way of ensuring it isn’t passed on for future generations to suffer? Shouldn’t ill people be allowed to pass away?’
A shocking yet thought provoking comment from a lass who’s become a fantastic scientist. Probably a discussion for another day…
An example of those ‘fine lines’ from Biochem. The human cell.
In the first lecture on cellular biology the little old man (whom we dubbed Santa) said…and I quote…’If you thought the nucleus was complex at school, you can ruddy well drop out of this course right now.’ JOY.
I wanna talk about how the cells protects itself from ‘going wrong’. Put simply, it has 3 safety mechanisms.
If they fail, it’s the equivalent of either:
…a car’s accelerator pedal being stuck down with the engine racing,
…or an unskilled mechanic causing havoc.
Even if that cell shouldn’t pass it’s MOT and be scrapped for parts, the mechanic is on his lunch break, snoring. (Excuse the car analogy but it works and I’ve just got mine back from the garage. Barely paid a penny. Boom)
On a more serious note,
mutations in tumour suppressor genes on their own (for example) won’t necessarily result in disaster, but an accumulation of mutations over years will slowly deplete our little army of protective mechanisms.
If these mechanisms all fail, the person who is unlucky enough to have this broken cell, may develop a mass known as a carcinoma. Cancer.
In 2014, 356,860 cases of Cancer where diagnosed. The fine line is, sadly, too often crossed.
There are just as many examples of human perfection (and fragility) from my second interest and current profession, Midwifery. To choose one….
During childbirth, the ancient parts of a woman’s brain (the limbic system) release a cocktail or hormones, including Oxytocin. She enters an altered state of awareness and the hormones enable the mechanism of birth to flow smoothly. If someone was to walk into the room and break into her safe space, the woman will experience a stress reaction that causes adrenaline to counteract the Oxytocin. This, an inbuilt biological mechanism ‘designed’ to protect the birthing woman and her baby from predators, acts against us in modern day birthing environments. The daily ward round for example, pays very little heed to the limbic system…
Isn’t it fantastic (and frustrating when it isn’t planned), that a woman unconsciously can slow her labour by HOURS when the environment isn’t safe? Unfortunately, this inbuilt system means that an existing fear created by external factors (eg One born every minute) can affect a woman’s birthing experience. This is but one example of how finely designed and hence how fragile the whole birthing process can be.
Finally…..Even if our bodies work, sods law dictates that the healthiest among us will suffer an emotional breakdown! If you go through life without at some point wanting to put your fist through a window, well…you’ve done well…likely saved a few pennies too.
Our emotions aren’t often listed in books with reams of quantitative research studying their origin, and yet our lives can be just as dramatically derailed (for a time at least) by those events not dictated by DNA or hormones.
A perfect relationship can be ruined in the blink of an eye by a misjudgement easily avoided by a better night’s sleep. A perfect life can be turned upside down by someone choosing the left fork in the road over the right.
He decided to act in a way that sent ripples through the perfection, and shattered it.
Without that action, where would him and I be now? I’ll never know.
Without those bastard mutations in that DNA how many people would be alive that aren’t? Without ward environments and negative media coverage of birth, how many women would have a better birth experience?
I know it reads like I am comparing the breakdown of a relationship to the un-quantifiable suffering experienced when you loose a loved one to Cancer or have a horrific birth experience, which please, I am NOT.
To clarify, what I am trying to say is…
Life is so FRAGILE.
Birth, living, loving.
When something breaks,
we realise how beautiful it once was.
Men, Love & Birth. Mark Harris. Pinter and Martin Ltd. 2015