Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In the Garden

It all started in the garden. The world was tainted by sin in that first garden when a snake crept in and marred what God had made. God had made the world in such a way that it had the potential for beauty and perfection; he had also made it with the potential for sin and disease and death. For John, it all started in the garden as well. Ever since Adam, humans have been trying to correct the damage done in that first garden: toiling over weeds and sin. Maybe John twisted a little hard as he pulled a weed, maybe it was as he lifted a tool in the garage. Even he wasn’t sure, but something popped and he began to feel his mortality. His ribs were sore the next day and continued to be sore for the next several days. Sometimes it was difficult to breathe without pain. Laughter, always an essential part of John’s life, hurt and it became difficult to sleep.

The pain in his ribs was not truly the beginning for John, but merely one of the first noticeable signs. No one knows when, or for that matter why, but deep in the marrow of his bones a process had started some time ago. As cells divided and multiplied to replace other cells that were dying in the natural processes of life, something went wrong. One of those cells lost one of its chromosomes. Chromosome 13 is a mid-sized chromosome in a very tiny world of chromosomes within a very tiny cell and yet the loss of this microscopic piece of information in one cell was enough to start the process. As this cell divided and other cells were created from it, they too were lacking a copy of chromosome 13. This change in itself was not enough to cause disease because each cell has a second copy of chromosome 13. The creator had designed the system with redundancy and just as a computer user backs up his information on a second disk, God backed up the information on chromosome 13 with another chromosome 13. But as more and more of these cells with missing information proliferated in the marrow, there was a chance that something even smaller would happen. When millions of cells with only one chromosome 13 had developed in John’s bone marrow something further did happen. When all of the genetic information was being copied so that another cell could divide and carry out its important work, a little gene, too small to even see with a microscope, was copied with an error. Perhaps one of the tiny building blocks that make up the gene was not put into its proper place, leaving a tiny hole in the gene. Or perhaps one of the building blocks that we label with C was used instead of the one we label G. The end result was that a second copy of a vital piece of information was lost. Now this cell, with both copies of this genetic information missing had an important switch missing. It was the “off” switch. This cell no longer knew how to quit dividing and making more of itself. It could no longer tell that there were already enough of its type of cell in the bone marrow. And so it made more of itself and its daughter cells made more of themselves. Each daughter cell was missing the switching mechanisms that told it when to shut off. More and more of these cells were made at the expense of other types of cells in the bone marrow. This overproduction of cells began to make John tired, even before he knew anything was going on. He began to have far too many of some cells in his blood and a lack of other cells in his blood. So many of the "B" cells were being made that there was a lack of resources to put into the production of red blood cells and other cell types. John began to be anaemic.

These “out-of-control” B cells travelled out into John’s blood stream and into his lymphatic system in such huge numbers that they swamped some of the other types of cells. Some of these daughter cells differentiated into cells with specific jobs to carry out. One of the many jobs of these cells, is the work of breaking down bone. Some of the B cells, with no “off switch,” became osteoclasts - the bone breakers. Osteoclasts lie on the bone surface or in pits where they resorb bone. Normally, this natural degrading of bone allows for periodic repair and remodelling needed for everyday skeletal health. Normally, the production of these osteoclasts is balanced with bone formation by another group of cells called osteoblasts. Now, there were far too many of the osteoclasts and not enough of the osteoblasts. There were far too few builders and far too many breakers.

John’s bones began to get weak. Deep pits began to form where bone had been broken down but no bone cells had been put back in to replace the ones that had been destroyed. The bones in John’s body began to look like Swiss cheese. And so, in the summer of 2001, as John was working to rid his garden of the corruption brought on by the fall, as he pulled on a weed that marred the simple beauty of God’s creation, another part of the corruption brought on by the fall became evident. One of John’s ribs broke.

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