© March 2011
Can one be too old to learn?
Unlike most children (as I learned later), I never played doctor with my pals. Apparently, that created a gap that was never filled in my education.
As a young French girl of the Baby Boom, I had only vague notions about the inside of my body. My long arms were always sticking out from my jumper sleeves, and my long legs allowed me to beat my friends at roller skating in the park. Boys were interesting curiosities all right, but only up to a point. Until you became a student and gave them second thoughts.
Marriage (with one of them) and childbirth enlightened me on a number of points. By that time, I thought I had learned all that was needed in the field. A good number of years later, the dreaded menopause triggered a new anatomical quest.
That's why I am now sitting in an evening class, a great opportunity for senior citizens (as we are called). Our comrades-in-arms here are a refreshing mix of ages, genders and backgrounds.
Bill the teacher starts: “The first thing to know is that your body contains 60 to 70 per cent of water.” Wow! I get this mental image where all the various accessories of my body are packed up in the top part, down to the middle of my ribcage; the rest is a reservoir, all the way to the feet. Bill continues: “Water is essential for life. Since we are losing fluids all the time, we have to replenish the corpus.” Our eyes are wide open. We have heard that message before, but now it actually seems true. He moves on: “Besides the obvious, regularly-spaced pit-stops, do not understate the effects of ordinary losses, like sweating, crying, vomiting or bleeding. Using your imagination, think of other bodily activities.”
With water continuously flowing out, there is only one way to go. Bill is not preaching in vain about having to drink, again and again...
The main part of the course is related to the organs. To see the extend of our knowledge, our teacher asks us to call them out. We are very enthusiastic, shouting all at once: “The heart, the guts, the lungs, the genitals, the brain…” (in that order, same as in real life). Bill keeps cool, as always. He then explains: “An organ is a relatively independent body part that performs special functions. Exact definitions vary with countries and experts.” We think: theory, theory... He carries on: “For some, the tongue is an organ, while the pancreas is a gland. All agree, however, to list the lungs, the heart, the liver, the kidneys, the stomach and the brain as organs.” How can we remember all that?
“And by the way,” Bill adds, “You are missing one on the list.” The class cries out more answers, as an apology to the forgotten specialised part: “The spleen, the thyroid, the ileum.” A respectful silence settles in, the ileum, sounds serious, that must be it. But our teacher is not satisfied and we go on: “The duodenum, the caecum, the sternum.” Obviously, a Latin trend is started, everyone remembering words heard in their past. “No,” Bill replies at last, “The one you forgot is... the skin!” The audience sighs with relief, the mystery is solved. Some of us start laughing, pinching our skin in disbelief. Unfaltering, he announces: “Thanks to its receptors, the skin is an organ of touch, protection, and regulation. It can also stretch when needed.”
Marvelling at these manifold functions, the class is now quiet, under a spell. The digestion of the organs will take some time.