The greatest engineering feat of which we know anything is the building of a complex animal organism from a microscopic ovum. Think, for instance, of the marvels of the human body with its pulleys and levers to perform mechanical work, its channels for distribution of food and drainage of sewage and its means of regulating its temperature and adapting its actions and functions to its varied environments and needs.
Its nervous system and the eyes, ears, etc. are constant sources of wonder. We regard the radio as a wonderful invention, as indeed it is, but we are all equipped with more wonderful “sending” and “receiving” sets than any radio manufacturer will ever produce. All human inventions have their protypes in the animal body.
In studying the wonders of the body, its structures, functions, development, growth and its varied powers and capacities, it is well to keep in mind that the building and preservation of all these things is from within. The power, force or intelligence that evolves the adult body from the fertilized ovum is in the body, is part of it and is in constant and unceasing control of all its activities. Whether it is an intelligent power or a blind energy, it works determinately toward the latest results in complexity of structure and function.
In development and maintenance, and in health and disease, the movements of life appear to be guided by intelligence more often than the conscious intelligence of man. Indeed, unless we grant that something can come out of nothing, that intelligence can come out of that which has no intelligence, we must believe that the conscious intelligence of man is a subordinate part of that broader intelligence that evolves his body and which inheres in it.
If we view a few of the engineering feats performed by the body in cases of injury and disease, we are forcibly struck with the truth of Sylvester Graham’s remark: “In all these operations the organic instincts act determinately, and, as it were, rationally, with reference to a final cause of good, viz., the removal of the offending cause.” Some of these wonderful feats have been presented to you in previous chapters. We will here present a few of a different class.
To begin with, let us consider the natural healing of a wound, scratch or broken skin. We have become so accustomed to this familiar phenomenon that we have come to regard it as an almost mechanical process. But a close examination of the process shows us the presence of that same marvelous intelligence that built the body from a tiny microscopic speck of protoplasm to its present state.
Whenever the skin is broken or cut there is an exudation of blood which coagulates and forms an airtight scab. This scab serves as a protection to the wound and remains for a shorter or longer time as is needed.
Underneath this scab a wonderful thing occurs. Blood is rushed to the injured part in large quantities. The tissues, nerve and muscle cells, etc. on each side of the wound start multiplying rapidly and build a “cell-bridge” across the gap until the severed edges of the wound are reunited. But this is no mere haphazard process. Everywhere is apparent the presence of directing law and order.
The newly-formed cells of the blood vessels unite with their brothers on the other side so that, in an orderly and evenly manner, the channels of circulation are re-established. In this same lawful and orderly manner the connective tissues reunite. Skillfully, and just as a lineman repairs a telegraph system, do the nerve cells repair their broken line. Muscles and other tissues are repaired in a similar manner.
And what is a wonderfully marvelous fact to observe, no mistakes are made in this connective tissue, but each tissue connects with its kind.
After the wound is healed, when a new skin has been formed so that there is no longer any need for the protecting scab, nature proceeds to undermine and get rid of it. As long as the scab was useful it was firmly attached to the skin so that it was not easy to pull it off, but when there was no longer need for it, it was undermined so that it fell off of its own weight.
What more evidence than this does one require to know that the same intelligent power that built our bodies is also the power that heals it? What better evidence do we want that the healing process is accomplished in the same orderly manner and by means of the same functions with which the body is built, maintained and modified to meet its present needs.
We get a still more wonderful view of how nature performs her work if we observe the healing of a fractured or broken bone. If an arm or leg be broken, this same marvelous intelligence that has brought us from ovum to adulthood immediately sets about to repair the damage done. A liquid substance is secreted and deposited over the entire surface of the bone in each direction from the point of fracture. This section quickly hardens into a bone-like substance and is firmly attached to the two sections of the bone.
Until nature can repair the damage, this “bone ring” forms the chief support whereby the limb can be used. By the same process of cell multiplication which we saw in the healing of the wound, the ends of the bone are reunited. The circulatory channels are re-established through the part. It is then that the “bone ring” support is softened and absorbed, except about an eighth to a quarter of an inch about the point of fracture.
If you strike your finger with a hammer, a very painful bruise is the result. There is an effusion of blood under the surface, with inflammation and discoloration. The tissues are mangled, the cells are broken and many of them are killed. But does the thumb always remain so? No. As time passes, new tissues are formed to replace the dead ones and the dead blood and tissue cells are carried away by the bloodstream.
The inflammation subsides, the pain ceases and the bruise is healed and soon forgotten. Thus again is manifested the marvelous intelligence of the power that superintends the workshop which we call our body. Once again we watch its work and see its marvelous efficiency as a workman.
A similar manifestation of the body’s self-healing, self-adjusting and self-repairing powers is seen in the common accident whereby a sliver becomes embedded in the flesh. If it is not removed immediately, nature, or vital force, does a skillful little piece of engineering and removes it for us. Pain and inflammation are soon followed by the formation of pus, which breaks down the tissues, towards the surface of the body. Gradually increasing in amount, the pus finally breaks through the overlying skin and runs out, carrying the sliver along as a souvenir.
A remarkable engineering feat is presented to us in abscess formations. Ordinarily the abscess is limited by a thick protective wall of granulation tissue which prevents the abscess from spreading and prevents rapid escape of the pus into the circulation.
In appendicitis the loops of the bowels around the appendix form friendly adhesions. They adhere together and form a strong wall against further spread of the trouble. Within this enclosure the abscesses form. The line of least resistance normally is into the bowels so that practically every case, if not interfered with by meddlesome doctors, will rupture into the bowels and the pus will pass out with the stools.
Where the ice bag is employed for one or two days prior to the usual operations, there is a noticeable lack of effort on the part of nature to wall off the appendix from the rest of the abdominal cavity. However, where the ice bag has not been employed, a distinct walling off of the acutely inflamed and gangrenous appendix from the general peritoneal cavity is found.
So greatly does the ice bag interfere with the curative and protective operations of nature that one of the leading abdominal surgeons of this country declares: “I have entirely discarded the use of the ice bag, and in cases brought to me in which it has been used, I always announce beforehand that I expect to find a gangrenous appendix and am seldom surprised. Clearly the ice bag should never be used in cases of actual or suspected appendicitis.” Nature can do her own work in her own way, and all our so-called aiding of nature amounts to is nothing more than meddlesome and pernicious interference.
Acute inflammation of the liver usually terminates in resolution, but sometimes it terminates in suppuration with abscess formation. This is more apt to be the case in hot climates. The amount of matter discharged from an abscess of the liver is sometimes enormous, and it is wonderful to see in what ways nature operates in getting rid of it.
There are several channels through which the pus may be sent out of the system. The inflammation may extend upward until an adhesion to the diaphragm is accomplished. A dense wall of scar tissue is first formed around the abscess. The abscess then extends through the diaphragm to the lungs, which become adherent to the diaphragm. Liver, diaphragm and lungs form one solid piece. A tight union of these organs prevents the pus from pouring into the peritoneal or pleural cavities. A hole is eaten through the lung and the pus is poured into a bronchial tube and is coughed up, emptying the abscess and leaving a clean hole. The wall of scar tissue thrown up around the path of the abscess grows stronger and contracts until, finally, only the scar remains, it having closed the hole, and the patient is well.
The abscess may be directed downward or to the side of the liver. In such a case the process is the same except the liver becomes united to the stomach, the intestines or the walls of the abdomen by adhesions produced by inflammation. If it adheres to the stomach or intestine, the abscess will perforate into these and the pus will pass out in the stools. If it becomes adherent to the wall of the abdomen, the abscess will “come to a head” under the skin and the pus will be discharged on the surface of the body. In either case cicatrization follows and the patient is well. In some cases the abscess discharges into the gallbladder and passes from there into the intestine. It has also been known to “point” on the back.
It sometimes happens in weak individuals that nature is not able to make proper connections along the line of march and the pus ends up in the pleural cavity, resulting in empyema, or in the abdominal cavity, where it results in peritonitis and, usually, death.
Another daring engineering feat is often accomplished by nature in the case of gallstones that are too large to pass through the bile duct directly into the small intestine. She frequently causes the gallbladder to adhere, by means of inflammation, to the wall of the intestine. An ulcer forms, making a hole through both the wall of the gallbladder and the wall of the intestine. The stone slips through into the intestine and passes out with the stools. The hole heals up and all is well again. In other cases the stone may be sent out through the abdominal wall and skin, on the outside of the body.
An unusual piece of engineering which shows, in a remarkable manner, the ingenuity of nature in her efforts at prolonging life in spite of every obstacle, is recorded by J. F. Baldwin, A.M., M.D., F.A.C.S., in a surgical paper dealing with blood transfusions. He performed an operation on a middle-aged woman who had been having frequent hemorrhages from her bowels for several years. He says:
At the operation I removed a snarl of small bowel, making the usual anastamosis. Examination of this snarl showed that there had been an intestinal obstruction, but nature had overcome it by ulceration between adherent loops of the bowel above and below the obstruction. The ulcer persisted, however, and it was its persistent bleeding that caused her anemia. She made an excellent recovery and got fat and hearty.
It looks like a real intelligence at work when nature causes two folds of the bowels to adhere together and then ulcerates through them in order to make a passage around an obstruction. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the ulcer would have healed, leaving a passage, and the bleeding stopped, had the opportunity been afforded it. Nature probably cried out day after day in unmistakable language for the cessation of feeding long enough for her to complete her engineering feat. But this was never given her. The ulcerated surface was kept constantly irritated with food, and drugs as well.
Abscesses everywhere in the body are limited and walled off by the formation of a thick wall of granulation tissue. Gangrene is also walled off in the same manner. The necrosed portion then sloughs off; nature grows new tissue to take the place of the destroyed tissue and the place is healed.
Encapsulation is the process of surrounding a body or substance with a capsule. A cyst or capsule consists of a cavity lined according to its origin by endothelium (in preexisting cavities of connective tissue—exudation cysts) or epithelium (in pre-existing epithelial cavities—retention cysts) with a fluid or semifluid content.
Those of chief interest to us here are known as distention cysts and are divided into:
(a) Retention cysts, which are due to the obstruction of the excretory ducts of glands. The cavity becomes filled with the secretion of the gland which later becomes altered and circumscribed by a fibrous wall. These may develop in any glandular structure, as pancreas, kidneys, salivary glands, mammary glands, sebaceous glands (wens).
Around a foreign body like a bullet, such a capsule forms. There is first inflammation and perhaps suppuration. But if this fails to remove the bullet, a capsule of tissue also containing fluid is formed, and the bullet is rendered innocuous. A similar thing frequently happens in the lungs in the case of germs. Rausse thought this fluid was a variety of mucus and thought that chemical or drug poisons were enveloped in this same “musus” to render them harmless and that they were then deposited in the tissues. He says with regard to the face that this theory cannot at present be demonstrated:
This theory is founded upon the incontrovertible principle of nature in the alimentary and organic world, that nature operates similarly under similar circumstances. Hence, the theory here offered loses none of its certainty because we are unable to recognize with the unaided eye, on account of their minuteness, the inimical atoms and the minute network around them, and to exhibit them by section.
—Water Cure Manual, p. 92, 1845.
The encapsulation of exudates, excretions, extravasions, disintegrating tissues, germs, parasites, bullets and other foreign bodies renders them harmless. The process and structure it evolves are plainly defensive measures. They once more remind us of the many and varied emergency measures the body has at its command.
The formation of gallstones and other stones is in itself an engineering feat that serves a useful purpose and even extends and saves life. In the lungs, for instance, in those who have tuberculosis, the affected spots are often the seat of the formation of stones. When this takes place, the disease in that part ends. Medical authorities consider that nature employs this means to wall up the tubercle bacilli.
The formation of stones in the gallbladder and kidneys, just as in the lungs, is the end result of inflammation and undoubtedly serves a definite and useful purpose. Sometimes, it is true, they are made so large that they are the source of much trouble, but it is safe to assume that they are never made larger than the gravity of the situation demands. Most gallstones are small enough that they pass out without causing pain, and the individual is never aware that he or she has had them.
A large number of people examined at autopsies are found to have gallstones in the gallbladder and were never aware that they had them. They never cause trouble until they go to pass out and only then if they are small enough to get into the gall duct but too large to make the entire passage. A stone that may easily travel through the common duct may be forced, with extreme difficulty, through the small opening of the duct into the intestine. This causes severe pain. As soon as the stone is forced through, the pain ceases. (The sufferer then thinks that it was the last treatment he employed that relieved the pain and “cured” his troubles.)
A thrombus is a small blood clot formed inside a blood vessel. The condition is called thrombosis and the vessel is said to be thrombosed. They are the result of injury and inflammation and may completely plug the vessel.
In the intestines are many small glands composed of lymphoid structure just as are the tonsils of the throat. They are known as Pyer’s patches. In typhoid fever these patches are swollen or enlarged (hypertrophied), and frequently they suppurate. They may slough off. This peeling off may result in a hemorrhage or it may not, depending on whether or not all the vessels in that locality are tightly thrombosed. If they are all tightly thrombosed, no hemorrhage occurs.
If the work of sealing the vessel is not complete or perfect, then a hemorrhage occurs with more or less loss of blood before it finally ceases. This is but another evidence of nature’s engineering work. These thrombi may later be swept into the general circulation and carried to some vital spot where they are too large to pass through the artery and may there cut off the blood to parts of the organ, causing it to die of starvation. Starvation would only occur in cases of stopping of an “end artery.”
“Anastamosing” arteries would soon establish sufficient collateral or compensatory circulation to supply the part with blood.
If heat or friction of sufficient intensity and duration is applied to the skin, a blister forms; that is, a watery exudate or serum is poured out of the surrounding tissues and circulation into the “space” between the dermis and epidermis and detaches the dermis from this, raising it up and thus protecting the tissues beneath. The accumulated fluid holds back the heat or, in the case of sunburn, the actinic rays, and protects from the friction. This little piece of engineering work is quite obviously a defensive work. In both burns and sunburn, inflammation and healing follow the blister, and in the case of sunburn pigmentation occurs to protect from future sunburn.
Of a similarly defensive nature are corns and callouses that form on the feet and hands or any other surface of the body that is subjected to constant friction. The clerk who
deserts the store for manual labor finds his hands are tender and blister easily when he handles tools. However, before many days have passed, the skin on his hands has become thickened and hardened, ultimately becoming almost horn-like. When this occurs, he finds that no reasonable amount of hard work blisters his hands.
Tumors likely begin in this same manner. They probably begin as hardening and thickening of the tissues at a point of irritation as a means of defense.
Hardening and thickening of the tissues occurs in any and all parts of the body to resist constant irritation. This can be seen in the mouth, stomach and intestines of those who employ salt and condiments. It is seen in the constant use of drugs. Silver nitrate, for instance, if repeatedly employed, converts the mucous surface upon which it is used into a kind of half-living leather. Other organs harden and thicken as a result of toxic irritation. Toxemia, with or without the aid of external irritation, often necessitates, at certain points of the body, the erection of greater than ordinary barriers against it.
When the normal cells of a local spot become so impaired that they no longer successfully resist the encroachment of toxins, not only are the usual defense processes brought into activity, but also, since a more than usual condition is to be met, nature calls into play her heavier battalions. She begins by erecting a barrier of connective tissue cells. Then, with a slowly-yielding fight against the toxins, she continues to erect her barriers.
This may continue until the tumor becomes so large as to constitute a source of danger itself. Were it not for the erection of this barrier, the causes against which it is erected would destroy life long before they ultimately do. The tumor actually prolongs life.
A process similar to this is seen in plants that have been invaded by parasites. The large, rough excrescences seen on oak trees form about the larva of a certain fly. This fly lays its eggs beneath the bark of the tree. The larva which develop from the eggs secrete a substance that results in the formation of the huge tumorous mass. Large tumor-like masses form on the roots and stalks of cabbages as a result of parasitic invasion.
The olive tree also develops tumors from a similar cause, while cedar trees present peculiar growths called “witches’ brooms” as a result of a fungus growing on them. There are many other examples, and they are all quite obviously protective measures. Tumor formation is undoubtedly due to a variation in the complex relations determining normal growth and is of a distinctively protective nature. A tumor is not a source of danger until it begins to break down.
In inflammation of the kidneys due to the impairment of kidney function, the normal constituents of the urine are decreased. They remain in the blood instead of being eliminated. Due to the necessity of removing from the circulation, the salts, etc., that are normally eliminated through the kidneys, and due also to the necessity of keeping these in dilute solution so long as they remain in the body, and to the equal necessity of removing them from the circulation, drospy develops in various portions of the body, particularly in the tissues immediately under the skin.
It may also collect in the cavities of the body. When kidney function is restored, the dropsical fluid is gradually absorbed into circulation and eliminated.
An aneurism is an inflated portion of an artery. If the walls of an artery become weak at a given place, they either burst, some of its coats are strengthened or else it becomes bulged out due to the pressure of the blood from within. The body at once sets about to protect itself by forming a vail of new tissue around the aneurism. Should it rupture so that the blood finds its way along between other organs, a wall of scar tissue is thrown up around the aneurism to limit the escape of blood. This is called a dissecting aneurism.
Learn more about human body
Thus we might continue giving example after example of the wonderful engineering feats of the body and show with what marvelous powers and works it meets emergencies and protects its own vital interests. When we consider the wonderful mechanism of the human body, the certainty with which all organs perform their allotted work, the marvelous ingenuity with which the body meets emergencies, its almost limitless powers of repair and recuperation, we develop a large respect and admiration for the healing powers of the body and learn to view with contempt and disgust the means that people employ in unintelligent efforts to “cure.”
Well did Jennings affirm:
But at every step of her (nature’s) downward progress (in the face of pathoferic causes she cannot overcome), her tendency and effort have been to ascend and remount the pinnacle of her greatness; and even now, in the depth of her degradation, the tendency of all that remains of her, of principle or law, power and action, is still upwards.