The human skull is a pretty amazing thing. One of the bits of Anatomy class I enjoyed most while having to memorize the bones was getting to explore what’s called an ‘exploded’ human skull, which is one that’s been taken apart into it’s various parts. The skull, no matter what you might have learned in your elementary science classes, is not a single bone. The temporal, occipital, vomer, parietal, sphenoid, ethmoid… a total of twenty-two bones out of the 206 (approximately, but that’s not what this blog is about) in our body. Most of those bones are fused together shortly after birth, and the sutures where the edges meet continue to harden and fill in through childhood.
Which brings me to this morning, pressing my fingertips against the sides of my nose. The maxilla, nasal, and lacrimal bones have sutures there, and even though I’m old enough my bones are fully ossified, I still would swear that pressure against them, right over the weird holes in our head we call sinuses, actually pressed in and moved the sludge in my sinuses around enough to give some relief. Maybe it’s all in my head…
Snot is a non-Newtonian fluid. Like slug slime, it has some properties of a crystal, and some of a liquid. Which means that it clings. Up in the warm, moist, often oddly shaped sinuses, I’ve got stalagmites and stalactites of snot quivering gently, and eventually filling up to the point where I can feel the pressure through the bones in my head. And in that fertile proteinaceous mass, bacteria is reproducing happily, fulfilling the ultimate mandate to be fruitful and multiply.
I’m left with a dilemma, then: do I relieve the pressure on my facial bones by taking a decongestant? Or do I try to keep the bacterial colonies down to small villages and towns by allowing my snot to thin and flush while I got through box after box of tissues? If I let it dry up so I can breathe, those will urbanize until I’ve got the sewers of NYC up my nose. Bleah.
Snot, the immune system’s equivalent to a violent storm system flushing out the tunnels where mutated rats and alligators lurk.
So why do we have sinuses again?
Well, without your sinuses, you wouldn’t have those lovely portraits of swan-necked ladies. That graceful column would be a lot more muscular over a heavier spine and vertebral system, because our heads would be heavier. We’d no longer have pencil-necked geeks, and being a no-neck would be normal, not stereotyped as thuggish. But more important than changing what our voices sound like, both to ourselves and others, is the production of snot. While the mucus is annoying at the height of a cold like the one I have, and yes, it’s a great culture medium for bacteria, it’s purpose is to trap and flush out any detritus that finds it’s way up our nose. Along with the sneeze reflex, and watering eyes, mucus keeps the body free from invaders by, well, sheer grossness. I mean, imagine a castle where when you tried to breach the walls, you got buckets of slime poured on you until you lost your grip and were washed away? Eww….
S’cuse me while I go blow my nose again.