My telephone rings and it is Joe, my news manager.
“Jillian, there a breaking story. An invasion of the lungs. I need you on it. Where are you guys?”
“We’re just finishing up the interview in the femoral vein. We always edit later if you think it’s a hot story.”
“It’s bacteria. Our girls got a fever so you should be feeling the heat already,” he responds.
“We’re on it.” I tell my photographer Doug who also pilots this sub to head for the lungs.
“Which way?” he asks and I roll my eyes.
“If you would ever bother learning the background material before we’re miniaturized you wouldn’t have to ask. Head for the bifurcation.”
“Huh?” Man I really wish he’d study up on things just once.
“Where the right and left femoral veins meet. Sound familiar?” I am getting warm, and it’s making me irritable. I don’t stop to take note of the heat, although if I had done so, had realized that the heat had to be seeping through the submarine walls to heat the air normally kept at an ideal 68 degrees Fahrenheit, we might never have gotten into the trouble we did. “I’m going to need to start the live report as we’re on approach so you need to at least have the last of the directions in mind. When you hit the bifurcation head straight up the inferior vena cava. Make sure you switch on the antigravity or we’ll never make it up. And be sure the shields are engaged before you reach the heart or we’ll get beaten to death.”
“Right,” Doug said. “I’ve got it from there.” I just raise an eyebrow. “Seriously,” he says. “Go do your hair and makeup already.” I leave him to it.
Makeup done and hair just about, I feel us slowing, stopping then moving backwards to hit something behind us. Great. I knew I shouldn’t have left Doug alone. I rush into the operations room just as Doug flips a switch. “What did I tell you about the antigravity?” I shout as we settle back against something.
“So I forgot. What’s the big deal? It’s not like we’ll end up all the way back where we started. There are those valves along the way you know. Most likely what we’re parked up against right now.” Doug looks at me proudly.
“So you managed to learn something after all, huh?” I reply. “Okay, okay. Let’s just get there please? And in one piece if you don’t mind,” I settle into the copilots chair and flip down a mirror to finish my hair.
“Oh, and Josh called back. It’s bacterium.”
Now it was my turn to say, “Huh?”
“Bacterium. There’s only one of the buggers. Weird, huh?” Doug said.
“Very,” I replied. “I’ve never heard of one splitting off from the group to attack. There’s always a bunch of them during an invasion. How does one bacterium invade?”
“No idea,” Doug said. “Guess we’ll find out though. Any chance it’s not actually invading?”
“No,” I say. “That’s what they’re born to do. Invade, invade, invade. One track mind. Not that they really have a mind,” I add.
“And let’s thank our lucky stars for that,” Doug says. “Given all the havoc they create without minds, just think what would happen if they had them. No one would be safe.”
We ponder this in silence as we finally navigate up the inferior vena cava and spot the right atrium. Doug turns off the antigravity, puts engines in neutral since he knows we’ll gain momentum as we near the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle. We both grab for safety harnesses a little late and I’m thrown from my chair before I can put mine on. Doug might not know directions but he’s a great pilot and though that beating sound remains we stabilize as he engages our sound wave pulse thrusters intermittently to keep us steady.
“Is the auto pilot programmed for the final approach?” I ask looking over my notes on bacterial invasions.
“Yep, set to engage just after I get us through this narrow passage here. Pulmonary artery seem tighter than usual to you?” Doug asks.
“Hmm, not sure. All set?” I reply distractedly, focused on the broadcast.
“Right, that’s it then. Auto pilot set for final approach, slowed to suboptimal speed and programmed to go down, down, down those little arteries until we enter the lower lobe of the right lung. That’s where the bugger was reported to be right?” He asks rhetorically, all business now as he grabs his cameral, not needing to wait for my response. “And we’re live in Five, Four, Three,” here he goes to fingers and I toss my brush out view, adjusting my expression to the right mix of pleasant yet concerned. Let them know something’s up but don’t panic them. I knew I wouldn’t be getting a lead in.
As the red light goes on I begin, “This is Jillian Cornoza with a special report. A bacterium is said to be ravaging the right lung of the host female. We’re on the way now and will report live as we discover what is actually happening in the lower lobe of our first lady.”
Doug signals me to let me know he’s set the camera on autopan to return to the subs controls since we don’t know what we’ll find. As I begin to continue, I hear him yell, “Oh My God!” Not one to lose his cool I jerk my head in his direction despite being onair, and the shock goes through my body. I break the cardinal rule of “No dead air even if your hair is on fire”, as my mouth gapes open in shock. Having a second head start on me, Doug gets it together before I do.
“Bacterium, huh?” he mumbles. “Right, if you multiple it by about a million. Someone better tell Joe to get his facts straight next time.”
I force myself into a state of calm, quickly facing back towards the camera. “We’ve arrived and it’s a war zone. Green, glowing bacteria of all sizes are darting through the lower lung, trying to make headway into the upper regions as hosts of defenders try to protect the delicate tissue from being overwhelmed with infection.”
All of a sudden we’re slammed against one wall of the lung, air pillows ballooning out to stop us from injuring the lung. Doug is swearing as he employs antigravity control and other techniques as the sub shakes and shudders, the lights flickering and finally going dark. The red light on the camera goes out then glows once more as dim lights come up powered by the subs backup generator.
Doug says, “We’re actually in about the best spot possible. That last cough almost did us in but we’ve managed to anchor high enough up to keep out of the action. Unless they start to win. But we can’t hold forever, and those coughs are going to increase if the bacteria manage to spread and multiply into additional forces.”
I paraphrase Doug’s comments for the audience then press my ear bud against my ear to signal Doug that I need more information. I repeat his hasty comments filtering out the swear words as I report. “B-cells have arrived in force from the pleural space, and are busily secreting polyreactive emergency immunoglobulin as the frontline defense, attempting to prevent the invaders from advancing further. Macrophages are everywhere, pseudopods whipping out to capture and destroy bacteria that have slipped past the frontline.”
“Look there!” Doug shouts.
I whip around again forgetting, that pesky rule, but just for a split second this time. “The Killer Cells have arrived,” I announce excitedly to my on-air audience. “They have joined the ceaseless Macrophages, remorselessly killing off bacteria left and right.” Before I can continue, an alarm sounds and Joe’s voice reaches us over the emergency communication system.
“Jillian, Doug, Incoming, Incoming, Get out of there, now!” he yells. “I screwed up! It’s walking pneumonia! Treatment indicated! Incoming! Missiles launching in seconds! Erythromycin has been cleared for use! Break off, buckle up and get out of there!”
Doug swears again and I buckle up not bothering to sign off from my audience who heard the whole thing. Doug continues to swear at Joe, at the bacteria, at the idiot doctors who didn’t check to see if anyone needed to be evacuated before authorizing treatment, then at Joe again and I hold on to my harness as the sub bucks under the pressure multiplied by our hazardous speed. I’m not sure if we can make it back behind the blood brain barrier before the Erythromycin arrives to wipe out any non-native entities it finds, including wayward micro-subs with journalists onboard. It will be close After what seems like an eternity, but in reality is only minutes thanks to Doug’s miraculous piloting skill, the watery looking barrier is finally in sight. There’s a slight glow from behind, likely part of the antibiotic force that must have sensed our presence, part of it turning towards us seeking engagement. Then we are through. We’ve made it. Doug gives a victory yell and I see Joe running towards the dock as we anchor and technicians tie us off. Stepping out of the hatch I try to stay upright, feeling Doug grab my arm. Then Joe is there in front of a number of my peers from the reporting agency. The excited hum of their voices merge but aren’t loud enough to drown out Joe’s excitement.
“And that is how it done, Ladies and Gentlemen,” he yells out to the gathered news people who have begun to applaud. He turns to me with a twinkle in his, then says, “Smile for your well-wishing colleagues, Jillian.”
Pasting a weak smile on my face, I ask, “So you think that will let us win the ratings war?”
“That,” he replies, “Will win us the Pulitzer.”
As I’m swept away by other reporters, I hear Doug mumble, “Us? Just who, exactly, is us?”
The others all but carry me on board the trans-sub and we take our seats on plush pillowed recliners for our journey from our host female through the nasal route. I see Doug enter at the back slightly behind Joe who is carrying on as usual, this time with a tipsy redhead. I raise the glass of champagne that someone has hastily pressed into my hand upward and forward in Doug’s direction. With a characteristic smirk he takes the crystal flute from Joe’s hand, leaving him with a surprised look, and raises it in towards me. We freeze there for a second as if for a photo, time frozen as we share in the warm glow of the continuing accolades, our triumph just now breaking through the adrenalin. Lowering them, we smile at each other and sip from our glasses.
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Craig. A., Mai, J., Shanshan C., Y Sanithamby J. (2008). Neutrophil Recruitment to the Lungs during Bacterial Pneumonia. American Society for Microbiology. Retrieved from http://iai.asm.org/content/77/2/568.
Paraskevas, P. (n.d.). Venous anatomy and pathophysiology. The Fundamentals of Phlebology: Venous Disease for Clinicians. Retrieved from http://www.phlebology.org/pdfs/Ch1_pp1-4.pdf