The days are winding down. It’s beginning to dawn on me that I have a major Physiology final will punch me in the face. I went to a 3-hour long Histology review this morning to get a general sense of what’s happening with the cells of human organs, so I won’t end up bombing this mega-exam. Most of the time, I’m just thinking, “OK, those blue things are cement lines. And the bean-shaped thing is the macrophage. The large red blob close to the basement membrane are Paneth cells. Look for purple uterine glands! The black streaks are elastic fibers elastic arteries!” Here’s a snippet of what I’m seeing and learning (and cramming in the next few days):
Some things still look like prociutto. I relate lots of things to food; I blame the Food Network. There’s the cardiac muscle; the myocardium situated between the epicardium and endocarcium is the red, ‘meaty’ part of the heart, responsible for the heart’s contractility powers.
Other things look like a savage civil war broke out. Whether it’s lymphocytes battling invasive pathogens or proliferating cartilage at the epiphyseal plates, they remind me of those old Chinese war dramas from the ancient dynasties. In my imagination, I see shouting men abound horses with their pointed spears, wispy moustaches and long, silky hair flying in the winds, dashing toward their enemies. Swords and shields clink, that ugly metal-metal sound ringing through my ears. Blood, violence, and heads everywhere: absolute carnage, not too far from the likeness of the trabeculae carnae of the cardiac ventricles. And yes, I watched these historical dramas with my parents growing up, forever embedded in my memory and now appearing in my histology slides.
Other things, I’m not sure if I should call “beautiful” or “dazzling.” Secretory mucus or serous acini cells look almost too perfect to be real, almost like fresh flowers.
Among many other things in our bodies, certain things are just butt-ugly, like all things in the GI tract: those finger-like projections of the small intestine just grabbing nutrients, the crypty colon and hideous appendix.
Lymphocytes look like purple dots. Sperm cells in the making look like red dots. Just merrily chilling with each other before they make their quest to the lonely egg.
You know what else sucks about humans? Things have to look so similar. It’s like how we believe there is at least one person out there who looks like you, despite all the genetic diversity and being worlds apart. I’ve been confused with many Asian girls over the past (it’s the long black hair, dark eyes, glasses, and body build). My sister still gets called “Connie,” but that’s different because we’re related. I even found look-alikes between my cousins and Korean popstars. Well, let’s dive into the human body and let me show you some remarkable similarities between different organs, despite being ‘worlds’ apart in terms of cell-tissue-organ specializations.
First up, there are the active mammary glands, thyroid, and alveoli. They look like inflated bubbles with intervening cells and blood vessels between the little bubble units. Without getting too much into medical jargon, you tell them apart by the epithelial cells, surrounding cells, and what’s in the center of that bursting bubble.
I’m saving the best laughs for last. You learn everything and anything in medical school, all the more room for perversion and it’s okay. There is no room for shyness when I have to do my first pelvic exam or rectal exam some day, next year I believe.
My physiology professor has not stopped reminding us of this classic mistake students keep making: telling the difference between the esophagus and … the vagina. Yes, it’s a painfully funny embarrassment to confuse the esophagus and the vagina, because histologically, they look very similar to a commoner’s eye.
Esophagus has significant submucosa and smooth muscularis mucosa; the lower third is all smooth muscle, while the upper third is all skeletal. The vagina is rather unremarkable except for blood vessels, and that would likely be for, um, sexual intercourse and stuff called ‘engorgement’ and plateaus and orgasms.
Before the end of class, my professor put up this significant picture. He said it was special because it’s the only organ you find stratified columnar epithelium in the body. I was looking at it clueless. The class was quiet. I don’t think any of us studied up on all our histology or attended lectures for many weeks. Someone said, ‘urethra.” Professor says, “Um, ok… but what organ?” He pauses and waits… “That’s the penis.” So here it is, the penis.