Oct 30, 2019
by Dr. Michael Trapani
I am Spot’s spleen.
I try not to let my feelings get hurt, but I know I’m not the most beloved organ in the body. No one ever sings, "Take a, take another little piece of my spleen now baby…" or "You gotta have spleen! All you really need is spleen…" or even, "I left my spleen… in San Francisco!" I am, in fact the most seldom-sung organ in the body. "It ain’t easy bein’ spleen."
But I am, actually, the hero of the abdominal cavity. Oh, Spot doesn’t think about me much, or ever, really. Sure, Spot thinks about his heart, his lungs, his liver (even though I’m much better looking!). Spot thinks about his kidneys! His colon! He thinks about his bladder, for Spot’s sake!
But I’m not complaining. Not me. You’ll find me quietly hanging out beneath the stomach, crossing the abdomen from left to right. I’m kind of a long, thin, purple kind of guy, with lots and lots of blood supply. I mean, I have arteries that would make you shiver! I’m not really attached to anything except my buddy, the omentum, and that leaves me free to shift around when I feel like it. I need that kind of freedom because my job requires me to get myself pumped up from time to time.
Yup, I can double, even triple in size when I need to. Better yet, I can squeeze down and supply Spot with all the blood he needs to do pretty much anything. Let’s see any of the other organs try that! Hah! When it comes to blood, I am the bank! Yeah, bone marrow! Let’s see you kick out 30% of Spot’s total red blood cell volume in a matter of seconds, like I do! Spot needs blood, you say? Spot is bleeding or threatened? Spot needs all his resources RIGHT NOW? Huh? Who you gonna call? The spleen, that’s who! I’ve got the sinusoids, Baby!
I have to say it: Crisis management is not my only talent. Sure, I store a lot of red blood cells and platelets in my red pulp, but my day job is doing immune monitoring and cleaning the blood. Somebody has to do it, and I take pride in my function as the keeper of the erythron. I maintain the condition of circulating red blood cells, and can remove bits of damaged hemoglobin before sending middle aged red blood cells back into circulation, almost as good as new (you’d be amazed at how much money this saves!).In a pinch, I can even switch over to red blood cell manufacture!
My white pulp is full of B-lymphocytes that make antibodies and T-lymphocytes that process antigens, kill micro-organisms in the blood, and regulate the body’s immune response. Heck, at any given time I store up to a quarter of the body’s lymphocytes!
Spot doesn’t think about me much, mostly because he doesn’t need to. I’m usually pretty trouble free. Sure, I’ll come down with cancer once in a while. But when I do, WOW! We’re talking about some SERIOUS cancer. I guess it makes sense that a high-powered organ like me, full of such high powered cells, would have spectacularly high powered cancer when things go wrong. Lymphomas are fairly common, but in my defense I gotta say that lymphocytes travel everywhere, so when they make a cancer in the spleen it’s just part of a malignancy that’s found pretty much everywhere in Spot’s body.
Hemangiosarcoma - now there’s a cancer! This is a tumor of blood vessel walls and let me tell you, it’s a doozy. These cancers are some kind of nasty malignancies and they often arise right inside of, you guessed it, Da Spleen! No treatment either, at least none that work. Uniformly fatal. I’m not proud. I’m just sayin’.
Oh, I get sucked into immune system dysfunctions, like autoimmune hemolytic anemia or autoimmune thrombocytopenia, but I’m really more of the location of the disease rather than the cause. I’m not taking the blame for everything that happens in my neighborhood. You wanna talk about that stuff, you take it up with the lymphocytes.
Mostly, I’m just hanging out, doing my job. and I’m kind of proud of the fact that Spot doesn’t HAVE to think about me. Still, a little appreciation once it a while wouldn’t kill ya, would it Spot? Next time you’re tempted to vent your spleen, how about a little pat on the pulp first?
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