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The 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.


Blood, 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 mou'h.)

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 about me.


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