I wrote a series of very short stories in which the main character is a white blood cell (a CD4 lymphocyte to be precise). The stories should be read in the voice of a 1940s noir detective — like Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon. I’ve two in succession on this page. They’re only a couple pages each. They were published in a medical journal ( the only time the Journal has ever published fiction). If your not a doctor or in the medical field or biochemistry, the second one might be a bit much.
The Pudendal Artery Off-Ramp
Yesterday, I was cruising down the femoral highway, couple of antibodies in tow. We see this whole gang of clostridiums. They’re pretending to just be hanging out by the Pudendal artery off-ramp. I hang back to see if these antibods—stupid clusters of proteins—know what’s up. Shit, they drifted right by. Fucken chemicals. So, I let loose a small burst of β1-integrin. That got their attention. They started spinning around, lookin for some antigen to glob on to. Aaa, I shouldn’t be so hard on the dumb molecules. Us CD4 leukocytes are the brains of this here immune system. Without us, assholes like them clostridiums, the germs that cause botulism, would have this body in the ground in minutes. That load of integrin I secreted called in a bunch of CD8s — killer cells. We rounded up every last clostridium. But before we smothered them good-for-nothing bacterium’s, we persuaded them to reveal that they’d arrived in a bad can of refried beans.
The Pudendal’s my beat. It supplies blood to the genitals, the sleazy underside of the body. Things tend to move slow down here, but every once in a while, the plasma really hits the fan. The Pudendal swells to the size of a pencil — things get hot. I don’t know what wild notion got into the brain this time, but I felt the tug of rapid blood flow. I latched onto the artery wall to wait out the storm. These episodes usually last five minutes or so. You feel like you’re right near the heart; every pulse tries to crush you into the wall. This time it must have gone on for half an hour. When the flow slowed, I let out a jet of nitrous oxide I’d been holding and relaxed my grip on the wall, felt lucky to be in one piece. Goddamn brain should come on down here for a stint, see what us guys that work the vessels have to put up with when he gets all worked up.
I creped along a little tributary off the main flow. Gotta check things out after all the activity. Could hardly see a thing. Loose foam cells, bits a platelets were everywhere. Stuff gets real stirred up after a show. Passing through a tortuous AVM I stopped dead, grabbed some vessel, hid behind a cholesterol plaque. Oh shit! A whole swarm of um. Herpes!
Pudendal Artery Off-Ramp Part II:
They say all politics is local, and that’s the way we handle things down here — one shady germ at a time. We get em all too: GC, Staph, your assorted Strep’s, even them screwy looking spirochetes. Yah, the pudendal artery’s my beat, it supplies blood to the genitals, the sleazy underside a the body.
The other day I was patrolling one of the perineal veins when I picked up a whiff of chemokines. It wasn’t much, but we CD-4 leucocytes are trained for this sort a thing, we don’t go armed, but we’re the brains a this here immune system. So, I followed my receptors, right into a fuck’n war zone. It was in the periphery of the gluteal region, but we just call it the Butt. It was pandemonium. B-cells morphing into plasma cells; stupid little antibods being spewed out by the millions. Shit, humoral immunity is such an amateur hour. It took me all a ten milliseconds to see that this was one of those drills that the brain puts on every year or so. All this commotion over a wad of viral protein jabbed in through a hollow piece of steel. Probably some flu bug the body will never run into anyway.
I got out a there quick, before I was engulfed in the inflammation. I been overworked recently, taken care of that damn Herpes invasion was a chore. Dealing with da scum around the pudendal gets to ya after awhile. I figure, this is a good time to take a vacation. So, I took a short-cut I know through some lymphatics, hopped into the femoral and took the fast track down to the foot. I always wanted to see the place. Supposedly the pace is slow, but with a behind the scenes shadiness, more cultured than the slimy characters that hang out around the groin.
I oozed into a little aberrant node I’d heard about down around the lower saphenous, the gateway to the foot. Bumped into another CD-4 who was taken in a bit a glucose up against a capillary. We got to swapping stories and the guy was buzzed to hear that I was down from the pudendal; had somethin he wanted me to see. So, after I took a couple a belts of glucose myself, we put on a low profile and eased through the extra-vascular fluid down to the bottom, the sole.
He told me that down here, the skin does a crummy job. Lots a cracks in the dermis. Apparently, the body had built a fence outa old cow skin and tree sap to keep out the riffraff, but though the thing covered the whole foot, sleazebags that hang in the dirt were always slippen through. He stopped at the edge of the plantar fascia, the part that pulls on the Calcaneus. It felt a bit hot to the touch — body should spend a few bucks on some decent shoes. Lookin around the frayed tissue, I jerked back, not believing my receptors.
“You got Ketes!” I whispered. I thought we only got the syphilis up near the pudendal.”
“You sure?” he said. “The body’s a bit rambunctious, but I didn’t think the foot went in for that sort a thing.”
I peered back around the fascia. Them skinny little bacteria had a different twist to um then the Spirochetes I’ve dealt with around the genitals. I’d also had to duke it out once with a bunch of Borrelias, those jerks that cause Lyme disease. But these guys were different. They had them sharp ends that I bet would let um corkscrew right through the blood-brain-barrier. And those ligands I was pickin’ up told me these stupid germs liked to go for the liver too. What the heck was goin’ on down here? It seems all my vacations get to be workin’ ones.
My friend and I sauntered on over to get a closer look at these screwballs. It was dangerous, but that’s what being a CD-4 is all about. Without us, this body wouldn’t outlast a red blood cell. Then it hit me, right in the dextro side of my cell wall. Some goddamn spinning drug crazed jumble of protein. The moron careened off me like I was the side bank of a three quarter a game, greasy pool table. Once it ricocheted a bit away from me, I recognized that stupid ‘Y’ shape — a goddamn antibody, and it was headed right for those Ketes. As I rotated from the collision I began to put things together. I’d seen the configuration of antigens on that reckless antibod somewhere before. Yah, it had to be. The corkscrew shape, the affinity for the liver and the means to cause true havoc in the CNS. I rolled along the membrane walls as quickly as my fembrels would take me. I found my bud and told him what I thought. After we conferred for a couple of seconds, we decided it was time for the cavalry. We both spewed out our whole wad of leukotrienes and lymphokines. Stupid body must have been mucking around barefoot in a horse stall or something. We had to get the whole works down here quick. B-cells, CD8s and we started to get complement riled up.
Never thought I’d get to tangle with Leptospirosis. This vacation was gonna be fun.