Saturday, April 07, 2007

Saint John Paul

Dear Sage, I just heard from the news that JP2 is on the fast track to sainthood.

That's why he is being hyped as a heroic figure in the media. well, Saint or not, he was human. and he died of a very human affliction.

Physicians treat patients with Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) everyday. Most of the time, advising the patient to drink extra glasses of water and giving him regular doses of a very common antibiotic (Trimethoprim-Sulfamethoxazole) does the trick.

So how could this have brought down the Pope?

Two reasons: first, UTI was not the only health problem he had; Second, the infection did not just stay in his urinary tract- it found its way into his bloodstream. When the lining of the urinary tract gets infected, usually by a bacteria, it stays there because our body has inherent defenses that stops the INVADING BACTERIA and prevents it from spreading elsewhere in the body. IT’s as if the body was designed to do what erwin rommel could not do on D-DAY—Stop the invasion right at the beaches before it spreads out of control.

Even if the infection gets confined only in the Urinary tract, it becomes INFLAMMED. That’s why its most common symptoms are Fever and Pain when urinating (Dysuria). To understand it more, imagine your forearm’s skin with sunburn (a form of acute inflammation) try to put it under running water and you’ll feel the sting of pain. Ofcourse there are times when the patient does not even have any symptoms. And yet their Urinalysis shows that they have UTI. This is the reason why some people cannot accept the news that the holy father died of something practically as trivial as UTI.

To start with, the Pope was already 84 years old. He had Parkinson’s disease and was prone to have a host of infections. He was immunocompromised. His body can not contain the “INVASION” only in the urinary tract. It “leaked” into his cardiovascular system of arteries and veins which we commonly call the “bloodstream.” (Actually we can think of it not just as a “Stream” but as the body’s HIGHWAY that leads to the kidney, liver, lungs, heart, brain and every conceivable place within) Once there, the bacteria will start new colonies until those vital organs fail to function properly.

To make matters worse, the bloodstream incursion of the bacteria (which we call “Sepsis”) affects the body’s blood pressure. How? The arteries and veins of the blood stream are not like solid pipes that do not yield to the pressure of the liquid blood that flow through it. The sturdiness of these “pipes” depend on its walls which are made up of muscles (smooth muscles to be exact, I’ll explain their difference from Schwarzenneger’s muscles next time) When bacteria leaks into the blood stream, these smooth muscles inadvertently relaxes (which causes the drop in blood pressure), some say entire lengths of veins get stretched like small cylindrical balloons as they yield to the pressure of the liquid blood that they contain. These condition is what we call “Shock”, Veins are supposed to be the “highways” that will bring the blood back to the heart so that the heart can pump it back to the lungs. If the walls of these veins lose their sturdiness and become relaxed (like what happens in a state of Shock) lesser amount of blood will go back to the heart and lungs.

Since the blood carries the oxygen we breath to different parts of the body, If there will be less blood that goes to the lungs, there will be less oxygen that will go the other parts of the body too. The most vital organs (The brain, Heart and Kidneys) will fail shortly thereafter.

The heart tries to beat faster in an attempt to save itself from impending doom—the faster it beats, more blood gets to travel the length of the diseased veins back to the heart, and it gets to pump out more blood into the brain and vital organs. Alas, it can do this only for a limited period of time before giving up. And while doing so, it sacrifices efficiency, hence this creates a vicious cycle that leads to it own failure.

His illness followed a textbook pattern: a battered immune system, infection, sepsis, shock, finally, Multiorgan failure.

He had been ill for years. He survived an assassin’s bullet, Gallantly struggled with Parkinson’s and out duelled Colon cancer. Then He had a bout of pulmonary infection that made breathing difficult. He had to undergo “tracheostomy” where Surgeons created a separate hole in his throat for him to breath. He recovered, was discharged from the hospital. But the weakness of his body’s defenses made him prone to a very ordinary infection, specifically UTI. The infection breached his bloodstream, hence sepsis set in. His blood pressure dropped and went into shock. His most vital organs started to malfunction. Then they failed to function at all. So to set the record straight, It was a Multi Organ Failure.

For somebody who stood up against the Proto, Neo and Paleo Conservatives in the remaining world superpower, who faced down the lackeys of Stalinism like Jaruzelski, who had the guts to forgive his would be assassin and actually apologized for the Church’s unjust treatment of Galileo Galilei, I just couldn’t bear the thought that history will record that he died of something as ordinary as UTI.

Make no mistake about it, the armageddon that his body had to go through before he passed away was worthy of an epic-- Even though it pales in comparison to the life and achievements of this extraordinary man.

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