Wednesday, October 31, 2012

James McManus

Centrifuge: Islets of Langerhans

It's 8:01 of an evening. Instead of "So What"
or "Blood Sugar Sex Magik," which, as it happens,
are both on this house-mix cassette, here I am half

listening to Maria Callas sing Massenet's "Air
de Chimène" while I read, riveted, in The Times
about researchers' efforts to cure diabetes.

Transplanting an entire unwieldy used pancreas
is no longer necessary. Now only the actual
insulin-producing cells, called islets of Langerhans,

are taken, separated out from the donor pancreatic
tissue in a centrifuge, yielding a bagful of what
"looks like pink grapefruit juice." This potent

solution gets dripped directly through the portal
vein into the patient's liver, where, about two
hours later, the islets begin to make insulin.

But. The procedure will not be available "for three
to five years, except"--except?--"to patients already
requiring transplants of other organs," which even

at this stage of things leaves me out. And there's more
downside: daily injections of FK 506,
an immunosuppressant derived from a Japanese

fungus,will have to be substituted for (in
my case, twice-daily) injections of insulin. So.
Since my xenophobic body accepts nothing foreign,

and, brother, I mean nothing . . . It already zapped
its own perfectly functional islets of Langerhans
twenty-six years ago, somehow mistaking the seventeen

amino acids on their surface for the almost not
quite* identical configuration on bovine serum
albumen. Cow's milk. And all because Mom didn't nurse me. . . .

It's time to test my blood, do my shot, have some dinner,
for which I imperiously decide to get naked. My
islets don't work, so I'll not eat tonight with my clothes on!

I use the remote thing to turn up the music to nine.
Ms. Callas isn't done singing quite yet. I do dumb
little jigs while I lip-sync, then stand still and listen.

My blood, liquid glass, oozes from deep in my gut
to the tip of my left middle finger, which now I must prick.
I spin myself round maybe six, seven times, and kick

off my underpants. Catch them. The bass of "So What" is
buzzing my woofers. When Miles finally hits it I'm turning
again, breathing and shivering hard, getting dizzy.

--James McManus


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