On Mitosis, Meiosis, Neurosis and What Matters Mostest…


I had double carpal tunnel surgery a few weeks ago. I had let it go so long, that I had lost sensation in my fingers. I was constantly dropping things. I couldn’t decide if mealtimes, for my spouse, was more like dining with a toddler or a senior parent with Parkinson’s Disease; none of us, him, me, the toddler or the senior were having any fun but still I hesitated. Then, I got “mallet finger”1 due to, in my doctor’s opinion, the fact that since I could not feel my fingers, I hit my finger on the floor too hard when merely picking up the piece of paper I had dropped. There were two options. I wear a splint, then scar tissue would develop and hold the bent finger upright. It would never be exactly the same, but it would be functional. The second option was surgery to fuse the joint, which would render my finger pretty much useless, but it would look nicer sitting there rent free on my hand. My hands have never been my best feature, so I opted for function over form and wore the splint.

But the carpal tunnel surgery had to be addressed, it was interfering with my sleep and driving. The process is fairly simple, the surgeon goes through a small incision in the wrist and cuts through the tendon that has tightened around the nerves. Normally, they would do the one hand, then two weeks later, do the other. I insisted on having them both done at one time, to get it over with. This is a decision I was assured I would regret; but I don’t. Had I lived alone, it might have been different, but having a supportive husband at home made things easier. I’m glad most of the recovery is over, now. I’m starting to get the feeling back in my hands, which includes some pain, but that is expected as my nerves start to heal and take up their rightful places in my digits.

Sometime in the middle of all this, I had my annual cardiology check up to make sure my Congestive Heart Failure, “CHF” isn’t F-ing worse. I had my normal echocardiogram and ultra sound (after which, while escorting me out, the technician patted me lightly on the shoulder and said “God bless you, ma’am.” in a regretful tone). A few hours later my cardiologist nurse called and advised that I needed a TEE (transesophageal echocardiogram) to check for further F-ing and to assess the possibility of “intervention or repair.” That didn’t sound good at all. The TEE revealed that the CHF is F-ing worse, a second valve is leaking now, and dual valve replacement is in my future. Not now, but when I get sicker and my quality of life suffers. The valves need to break down even more before they will do the surgery. It is risky, and replacement valves do not last forever, so they put it off as long as possible. It is kind of the way they explained to my daughter why she can’t have a full knee replacement now, instead of this silly repairs they keep doing. Because you want to wait until there is no other option and you aren’t likely to outlive the new knee (in her case) or valves (in mine). This makes me all kinds of crazy; why not fix it NOW while everything else is healthy and I have the energy and will to stay active? Why wait until I’m in a wheelchair dragging around an oxygen tank, to say “hey, there’s a surgery for that?” I don’t know.

A good friend of mine lost her job through no fault of her own, just “corporate downsizing.” My young grandson experienced the death of a friend. I’m learning to live with fewer shoes because my German Shepherd puppy is eating her way through my shoe rack (I close the closet door, but apparently she has developed well hidden opposable thumbs).

And all of this activity was just February. It has been a busy month and we aren’t even halfway through it.

A friend told me last week that he and his wife had split up. He seemed resigned and almost relieved. I was shocked. They always appeared so fond of each other. But, having been through relationship breakups, I know that unless you are in it you don’t understand. He said something that struck me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Life just rips you apart so you can grow.”

As a requirement to graduate from community college this year, I am taking a biology class. It is officially listed in the college curriculum as “Biology for Non-Science Majors” but I’m sure they refer to it as “Biology for Dummies” in the science department’s break out Zoom meeting. We are studying cell division (meiosis and mitosis). I find the information fascinating on the surface, but devastatingly difficult at the actual study part because (1) time: it is a 16 week course condensed into 8 weeks and I have a full time job, and hobbies, and the aforementioned medical procedures in the middle of all that; (2) something that looks like math: there are all sorts of equations and abbreviations with letters and numbers, with super and subscripts and XYs and parenthesis; and finally (3) my brain being 58 years old and all. Leading into the final stretch of my much belated associates degree, I find myself with a 4.0 gpa, which I may not have at the end of this 8 weeks. It is a struggle and will be a crushing blow to my ego. But, I will also get over it, and I will probably learn something from the failure.

I am enjoying the class a great deal, in spite of my struggle. I’m learning enough to understand why my cousins have red hair, but I do not. I can now reason why there would be a yellow flower blooming in a bed were I planted only purple ones. A reason other than the obvious; a message from my mother who loved yellow. I have learned enough to have a relatively intelligent conversation about photosynthesis and how important it is to life. Not a conversation with actual scientists, mind you, but with regular folks who will respond with “That’s interesting, but I’m really trying to watch Yellowstone.”

So, what brought me from my health issues, to my friend’s statement and then back to my seemly random discussion about my biology studies? Last week’s unit was on cell division. As I was studying the different stages of mitosis and meiosis, low and behold there it was. Scientific proof. In the Metaphase stage of cell division, the little sister chromatids (apparently Siamese twins, joined at the centromere) gather together or line up to join hands and sing “kum bah ya” at the equator of the cell. Then suddenly, in Anaphase, for no apparent reason at all, forces from the poles of the cell start tugging at them until the sisters are ripped apart and forced to live separately on opposite ends of the cell. The sisters are sad at first, but then start to come alive with their newly found autonomy. Then the cell pinches off at the equator and yadda yadda yadda, the one cell is now two and the process starts all over again.

^BLate anaphase of mitosis. (Image 9 of 13).^b Light micrograph (LM) of a whitefish cell (^ICoregonus^i ^Isp.^i) undergoing cell division (mitosis). The cell is in the the late anaphase (third) stage of mitosis. Individual chromosomes can be seen within the cell as black thread-like structures (centre). During anaphase, the chromosomes attached to the spindles (left and right of chromosomes) divide and move to opposite poles (ends) of the cell. At the end of anaphase, each pole contains a complete set of chromosomes. For a sequence showing mitosis, see images P673/069-081.

There you have it. Life rips us apart so we can grow, and it is doing so down to the cellular level. We are divinely designed to have our guts ripped out, our hearts broken, our body parts give out, our plans changed, just so we can change and grow back stronger. My heart valves will deteriorate to a point of no return, and then a surgeon will fix them for me. The tendons in my wrists had to be cut in order for my nerves to grow back. The scar tissue in my finger will grow to serve as a support to the joint. My friend’s heart, because he is designed the way he is, will not harden from the break but will expand into greater compassion and capacity to love in bigger ways.

We have to keep growing, we just have to. To stop growing (either literally or figuratively) is to die (also literally or figuratively). What matters most is that we take our brokenness and allow it to make us stronger, smarter, and more resilient, but also kinder, gentler, and easier on ourselves.

1Mallet Finger: When the tendon that straightens the finger (the extensor tendon) is damaged at the fingertip. This can happen when an object (like a ball or in my case the floor) strikes the tip of the finger.

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