following essay by Malcolm Wells was originally published
in Energy Essays, Edmund Scientific Co., and
reprinted in Notes from the Energy Underground,
1980, Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Return to Index of Essays.
Sweat, and Tears. And Spit.
I'm really happy.
After what seemed like hours, the dentist has finally pushed
the folding drill-arm all the way back. That means the rest
of this appointment will be pure pleasure; nothing but cotton
wads, fillings, and squirts of tasty mouthwash. But he seems
to think we can now carry on a conversation. He asks if I'm
growing my own vegetables this year, and all I can say is
"uh-uh". (I'ave one I 'ose I 'uction'ings in my
He takes my answer as a sign of disinterest and starts doing
something on the counter behind me. There's no further talk,
and that's all right, because I've just discovered how to
play tunes on this spit-siphon. I do a few bars of "Star
Spangled Banner," and they come out beautifully until
the dentist turns back and gives me a funny look, so I pretend
I'm just rearranging my mouth into a more comfortable position.
As the sucking sounds rise and fall I think about this saliva
I'm losing. I'm wondering where it all comes from. Sifting
back through my sketchy knowledge of anatomy I can't remember
ever hearing of a water circulation system inside the human
body. The only such system I know of is the one for blood.
So the saliva glands must take the water they need directly
from the arteries. But wait a minute; if that's true, then
teardrops and sweat must be made in the same way.
I calculate how much sweat I can work up on a hot day. Quarts!
If it all comes from my blood it's a wonder my corpuscles
don't find themselves rolling along dry, dusty veins all summer.
The dentist is pulling the wads and things out of my mouth.
Now I can ask him about it . . .
Well, I won't drag you through this long conservation on spit.
And sweat. And tears. It goes on for 15 minutes, and I don't
know whether I'm more impressed by his knowledge or by what
he's telling me about the fantastic recycling systems we all
carry around in us.
Saliva enters the mouth as an utterly clean liquid but it
is immediately polluted by all the bacteria and other goodies
that live there. Every time I swallow this germy soup--as
I do, unconsciously, all day long--it gets sent to my kidneys,
where all the impurities are removed before the water is sent
back into the blood stream again.
And that's just one of the miraculous recycling systems in
my body. They're built to last as long as 100 years, they
can repair many of their own defects, and this whole crazy
engine runs perfectly well on nothing but air, water, and
food. There are even control organs that keep the blood from
getting too thick--or too thin. You'd think drinking a few
quarts of water would dilute blood to the consistency of tea,
but it doesn't.
We must be in good hands.
It's strange to swish this familiar liquid around in my mouth
and realize that just a few minutes ago it was riding through
my feet and my brain as part of my blood, and that when I
swallow my saliva it will be on its way back into the endless
circuit again. It's like a mini-version of the earth's own
water-circulating system: rain to earth, to mud, to root,
to branch, to leaf, to cloud, and back to rain again. It confirms
my belief that if we are ever to get rid of our poisonous,
wasteful ways, we'll be wise to take closer looks at these
already perfected miracles.
Now my, dental appointment is over, and I feel really good.
Alive. Part of the feeling, I guess, comes from the knowledge
that I'll be away from tile drill for another six months,
but most of it, right now, is from my intense awareness that
this fleshy bag of me is a rare gift indeed. The dentist calls
the human body "an awesome piece of equipment,"
and that's one of tile nicest things anyone has ever said
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