By Yemi Sanusi
This is purely a work of fiction, a result of the writer’s imagination. Any similarity to any individual or individuals is not intended.
“You either take our option or you leave. If you try to force your way in, we’ll kill you. We have no choice, we’ve been programmed like that and we have a system that works for us. We can live on our own and you need us more than we need you,” Hide said with finality to the squirming bacteria before walking out of the board room in the lower part of the epidermis covering the left shoulder blade.
The commander of the integumentary system was irritated; and he really couldn’t place a finger on why. He had earlier been involved in a series of pointless negotiations with some annoying and obnoxious bacteria that wanted to lodge in a section of the armpit but didn’t want to adhere to the rules of the human skin. When most of the requests had not been granted, the bacteria had become quite insulting, threatening to wreak real havoc when the body was at its weakest.
Hide had wished them luck, knowing how short their life span could be without food, before turning his back on them as he headed to his office in the dermis. That conversation had made him uneasy. The bacteria had talked about when the body was at its weakest and Hide didn’t like the sound of that. He always liked to be prepared, to be on guard for anything that might make his territory and eventually the body uncomfortable.
His department’s duties were many but quite clear. He didn’t need the hate-filled comments of some frustrated bacteria to get to him especially since he had more important things to consider.
But the thought lingered…and still lingered for some time… until the breach occurred when he was almost at the belly-button.
Feeling the clanging of the pain nerve receptors’ alarm, red lights blazing as the neurones transmitted, in micro-seconds, the responses – back and forth- with nerve cells reporting and spinal cord equally responding.
Tearing off the suit, shirt and tie he had worn for the meeting and returning to his full commanding cell regalia, Hide rushed quickly to his office, his beeper blazing furiously. When he got there, he didn’t bother to sit down. He looked at the monitor. A nail had jarred through a part of the fore-arm and a part of the skin; the epidermis had been ripped open. Calculating fast, Hide tried to assess the situation, mentally estimating how many of his cells had been killed prematurely in the assault and how much danger the body was exposed to. The bacteria that had insulted him earlier were still stuck on the walls of the armpit but he knew there were some equally treacherous ones in other areas of the skin.
Fortunately, the body had taken a bath some hours before so the bacterial load had been reduced drastically. But Hide knew that regardless of bacterial load, if one highly infectious bacterium made it into the extremely nutritious layers of the skin and got access to the blood, he would have a very hard time controlling his own side of the “ship”.
Pressing buttons with experienced control to alert his team, he watched as red blood cells gushed out of the little hole, their lives ending as their predestined courses suddenly changed. White blood cells rushed to the spot as clotting factors were activated – one after the other – in a race against time and in a bid to keep the tear under control while trying to prevent more alien entry through the spot. Hide saw several bacteria come in but he was relieved that the white blood cells were prepared to fight them. Turning his attention to the blaring lights of the pain nerves, he was pleased that the frequency of the blare had reduced even though it was still glowing red. Although he often wished the body didn’t have to experience such pain, he knew it was very essential that the pain signals be in place to alert the internal cells of danger and imminent destruction.
Feeling some relief as the body settled down for a few minutes to assess the tear before recovering and resuming its previous task, Hide grabbed a seat, breathing a sigh of relief as the nerve signals gradually turned green and became quiet. He hoped it would stay quiet for a while. He needed to check up on some of the skin’s other activities. There were so many things to be preoccupied with. Even though the skin was made up of seven layers – three layers/subunits in the epidermis and four subunits in the dermis while the hypodermis/subcutaneous tissue lay below – it felt like there were 10 departments rolled in each one.
The hourly report for temperature was pending. That needed a review to ensure all was going well. Hide also had to ensure there was no other security breach at any point in time or else the opening had to be closed fast – the skin was the main barrier between the body and the environment. Vitamin D synthesis from sunlight needed to be well monitored or else the head of bones/skeleton would have a reason to complain at the next executive council meeting. The delicate sense of touch was still very relevant and needed to be well maintained. Skin cell regeneration required close observation; waste products had to be excreted regularly while water and salt had to be processed frequently. Keratin, an important protein from which hair was made needed regular production and maintenance too. Food and water had to be stored adequately while breakdown and storage of fat had to be properly carried out. The skin also had to ensure that the two way passage of gases through it was facilitated while also ensuring that its self-cleansing activities and controlled rate of cell density were in perfect order.
All these reports (and a lot more) fell squarely on Hide’s table and he had since learnt to develop a very tough skin to pressures internally and externally. Moreover, as head of department, there were numerous requests to make. And it usually started with what food the body ate and what it drank. That was something that made a huge difference in his department’s outlook. Drinking lots of water, getting the right vitamins – A, C, D and E – and keeping the skin clean by bathing twice a day (and of course, not smoking) were things Hide would advocate to any body that wanted the best of skins. Afterall, the skin covered and protected everything inside the body. Without skin, the muscles, bones, and organs would be hanging out all over the place and nobody would look so attractive anyway… and the bacteria would have a field day causing series of infections. That was why he liked to harp on the fact that it really didn’t take much to make the skin happy. Drinking lots of water, bathing regularly and getting adequate nourishment would make significant changes. But his colleagues seldom listened to him.
Moving away from the indulgence in self-pity, Hide looked up and noticed that the red lights from the nerves were flashing again; this time announcing a slower kind of pain. Looking at his monitor once more, he realised that the sensation was from the face. The right thumb and index finger had as was now habitual, gone to the face, one of their favourite locations on the body, to try and burst a pimple. Hmm, a pimple; Hide didn’t like the look of that. The face had some of the thinnest layers of skin and sometimes the wall of a skin pore may open, allowing sebum (an oily substance which helps keep the skin from drying up), bacteria, and dead skin cells to make their way under the skin, leaving a small swelling called a pimple. Sometimes a pimple may have a pus-filled top from the body’s reaction to the bacterial infection and this worried Hide because bacteria, especially those that caused spots could get trapped inside the pores and multiply; causing swelling and redness.
As he watched on, he noticed that the expedition had been unsuccessful and the fingers were unrelenting. Making another attempt, the pain signals got brighter as the wound that was beginning to form grew larger. To Hide’s irritation, docile bacteria on the skin began to make their way through the opening of skin while bacteria on the fingers jumped off happily to search for the juiciest parts of the now exposed human tissues. In no time, there was a gathering of mean looking bacteria criss-crossing the weak link that had been created on the face while white blood cells tried to launch a valiant attack. The pimple still remained rigid, hard but expanding and from his office, Hide knew exactly what to expect.
With each pressing, the bacteria that had been pushed into a corner by the white blood cells now had pressure from outside to move into deeper structures… and then begin to multiply – a dangerous scenario that made Hide feel like screaming at the fingers.
Picking his cell phone, he dialled frantically before hearing the lazy voice of Sketer, commander of the skeleton. Still trying hard to control himself, he made Sketer hold on before calling Musc, the commander of the body’s muscular layers. With more difficulty, Hide tried to explain on the conference call the implication of what the two fingers were doing to the face.
Musc was quite attentive but his best friend, Sketer, who often acted a lot older than his real age, seemed to droop on the phone as the fingers on the body’s right hand kept up their thankless activity.
“A pimple is one of the many results of excess oil trapped in the skin pores,” Hide tried to explain to the listening commanders. “Inside the pore are glands which produce sebum, that oily substance that keeps the skin from drying up. When the skin’s outer layers are shed, some dead skin cells left behind may become ‘glued’ together by the sebum. This could lead to blockage of the pore and as more sebum is produced there could be a build-up behind the blockage causing the sebum to harbour different bacteria which can lead to infection and inflammation.” He paused for it to sink in.
“I know it’s tempting, but popping or squeezing a pimple won’t necessarily get rid of it. In fact, squeezing it can push bacteria and pus deeper into the skin, which might lead to more swelling. It might even leave a permanent scar. So, it’s best to be patient and let the pimple disappear on its own. That way, it’s less likely to leave any reminder.”
“So what exactly do you want us to do now?” Musc asked in his rich deep baritone.
Hide felt it was a silly question but controlled himself. It was obvious he hadn’t really communicated.
“Leave it,” he said simply. Taking a deep breath before continuing, he said, “Commanders, we need to practise good hygiene, including regular washing of skin areas. This can reduce the number of dead skin cells and other external contaminants which can contribute to the development of pimples. Although it is not always possible to completely prevent pimples, even with fantastic hygiene practices, I would still advice that we leave them… and move away from the mirror when necessary.”
Musc didn’t smile.
“Well, that last one is for the eyes to do,” the heavily-built muscle-like cell stated categorically. You could tell that he did a lot of press-ups as routine. “But you do know we could try one last attempt to see if that pimple might just burst; one last attempt and it might just give.”
Before Hide could say another word, he observed on the monitor, with dismay, as the two fingers latched on to the now highly inflamed rapidly expanding pimple. He was dumbfounded. It was as if everything he just said had simply landed on deaf ears. Continuing to work at a lesion that was not ready to be popped would certainly introduce unnecessary irritation and could also increase the risk of scarring. He thought that was obvious enough.
Shocked but undaunted, Hide knew he couldn’t possibly wait till the next executive council meeting to educate his colleagues. The information had to be passed right there in order to stop the damage being caused. Too many of his active cells were dying. Worse still, no one talked ill about a bad muscle or a bad bone whenever they were among their peers. In fact, they got a lot of sympathy when a section was paralysed; but with a scar on the face, the skin always looked bad.
“Look, think of that pimple as a small bag holding oil, debris, white blood cells and spots-causing bacteria,” Hide said through a rather controlled voice. “That pimple-bag is actually keeping the bacteria well contained,” he said, “So, when the pimple’s outer skin is punctured, pus oozes out. If the bacteria contained in that pus splash and fall inside other pores, it can lead to more pimples forming.”
Musc sighed, Sketer grunted.
“There’s another risk,” Hide continued, unsure of what the sigh and grunt meant. “Poking or picking a pimple can force bacteria even deeper into the skin. Also new kinds of bacteria from the fingers can be introduced into the pimple which can cause it to become more swollen and infected just as I can see on the skin monitor right now, and this may cause a scar.”
Sketer seemed to have suddenly woken up from a mysterious slumber, “So, what you’re saying is that…”
Hide felt it was a pretty good sign and quickly latched on it, “What I’m saying Commander Sketer, is that it’s best to let a pimple run through its life span. Left alone, a blemish will heal itself in 3 to 7 days. Popped wrongly, it can linger for weeks and even lead to scar formation.” He paused briefly, “I know what you’re thinking; it’s really not a critical condition but pimples can actually make a body feel miserable because of their appearance especially when the spots become prominent.” After a brief silence, Hide finally asked, “Musc, Sketer, is it really too much to ask for you to keep hands off?”
With that last question, Musc finally sensed something in Hide’s voice, and realised how tough it must be watching the friction between the skin cells of the fingers and those of the face while bacteria looked on joyously or even celebrated gleefully when the face skin was bruised. But to be honest, sometimes, it could be tough to resist the temptation of squeezing the pus out of that big pimple on the cheek, chin, or nose. It was going to be a tough job to stop that impulse of giving a pimple a little pressure; just maybe it would squirt out some goo. But they would give it a try, and probably warn eyes about the mirror effect that seemed so addictive. They would try their best, Musc knew. He could count on Sketer for that.
They soon ended the conference call and Hide sat, watching the body cells as they contended with the now growing number of bacteria from the once small pimple while the hands found something more productive to do. At least the commanders had stopped the fingers’ pressing but the dull red probing light of the nerves’ signals made it hard to forget.
And in Hide’s brown head, he made a silent creed that he hoped would be sent to all commanders for pimple prevention or spread.
- Don’t touch or pick at a pimple – try to resist bursting a pimple.
- Try to keep hands off the face.
- If a need to touch the face arises, use a clean cloth to do so.
- Drink plenty of water to help naturally clean the skin.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Clean the skin twice daily.
- Wash the face every night before going to bed.
- Keep a clean pillowcase.
- Maintain a clean face without too much oil to prevent bacteria from filling the pores.
- Don’t go to bed with make-up on.
- Don’t use too many chemical products on the skin.
- Do not smoke.
- Go to an expert for a skin consultation if necessary.
Yemi Sanusi is a medical doctor with a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Lagos Business School. She loves writing and hopes to make positive changes through her works. She is the author of ‘Heads and Tales’, a medical fiction.