Thursday, May 11, 2017

Story 185: Gut in Need

(Inside a human digestive tract, several scattered bacteria wearing hard hats go gloomily about their work.  One approaches Lead Bacterium)
Worker Bacterium 1: Captain Bacteroides?
Lead Bacterium: Yes, Lieutenant Escherichia, what’s your status?
Worker Bacterium 1: Same as the past 15 years, sir: working beyond capacity in trying to digest the majority of what passes through.  The crew can never keep up, sir.
Lead Bacterium: This isn’t news, Lieutenant.
Worker Bacterium 1: Well sir, with all due respect, none of us are getting any younger.
Lead Bacterium: I refer you to my previous statement.
Worker Bacterium 1: To be perfectly frank, sir, the crew and I worry about what will happen to our Host in the long run, sooner rather than later.  There are fewer and fewer of us as the years go on, and, not to be indelicate, just this morning we lost another thousand crew members who will not be replaced, and it seems as if none of us ever will be –
Lead Bacterium: I’m well aware of that, Lieutenant!  (There is an embarrassed pause) Forgive me, Lieutenant, I shouldn’t have spoken so harshly; we’re all under a lot of stress.  You’re right, every loss affects us all and I feel each and every one, just as much as, if not more than, the rest of the crew.
Worker Bacterium 1: Thank you, sir.  If I may be so bold, we were wondering if you possibly had any ideas that could help us help our Host, seeing as we're mutually dependent on each other.
Lead Bacterium: (Leans on the ileum) How I and my predecessors have thought on this day and night – which all looks the same in here – ever since we began losing our compatriots in negative sums.  I keep asking myself: is it something that I’ve done?  Am I somehow keeping new recruits away simply with my mere presence here?
Worker Bacterium 1: Never, sir!
Lead Bacterium:  I appreciate that.  But I fear that we really are in a no-win situation, and our Host will be the one to suffer the most after the rest of us are long gone.
(Another Worker Bacterium approaches)
Worker Bacterium 2: Word from upstairs, Captain.
Lead Bacterium: Report, Ensign.
Worker Bacterium 2: Our Host is meeting a friend today, at that café she went to about six months ago: menu items mainly feature cheesecakes, cupcakes, eclairs, and petit fours.
Lead Bacterium: Son of a –
(On the way to the café, Host holds her rumbling belly)
Host: Quiet, you; I haven’t even eaten anything yet.  (She pops a pill as she embarks)
(Lead Bacterium coordinates the preparation for the next meal’s arrival when Lactase Enzyme Pill arrives)
Lactase Enzyme Pill: (Smiling brightly) Hi!  I’m the temp enzyme, reporting for duty!  I have a life span of one hour and can only break down lactose, but in my limited scope of practice I guarantee that I will give you 100%!
Lead Bacterium: (Stares at Lactase Enzyme Pill, then slumps across it, weeping) I hate how we need you so much!
(Lactase Enzyme Pill, still smiling, pats Lead Bacterium uncertainly)
(Host arrives at the café and sees Friend at a table)
Friend: Hi!  You look great!
Host: (Sits) You, too!  How long’s it been now, five years?
Friend: Actually, almost 12.
Host: Oh.  I think I misplaced a decade somewhere back there.
Friend: So, how are things?
Host: Oh you know, same as everybody else.  What you see online is what you get.
Friend: Yeah, but I’m glad we got to meet up in person for a change – being an electronic pen pal has its drawbacks.  Anyway, I’ve never been here before – what do you recommend?
Host: Oh, anything.  (Stomach rumbles)
Friend: You OK?
Host: Honestly, no.  I can’t eat anything – and I mean anything – without feeling terrible.  It’s been like this for years.
Friend: Seen a doctor?
Host: I refuse to get on that treadmill!  (Picks up a menu) So, I’ve heard the strawberry shortcake cupcake is to die for.
Friend: (Snatches away the menu) Listen, you should get a second opinion on this, but you may want to think about taking probiotics.
Host: That sounds terrible.
Friend: No, they’re the bacteria you need to digest your food.  You have them now, but they may need some back-up.
Host: Wait a minute, wait a minute: I never paid attention in science class, so are you saying that I have creatures living inside my belly eating my food on me?!  And I actually may need more of them?!
Friend: Very likely, yes – they mostly hang out in your large intestine, though.
Host: Knock it off, Honors student, I’m already this close to throwing up.
Friend: They basically keep you running normally, and it’s so convenient now to resupply yourself just by eating stuff like yogurt.  You can even get them as pills in a store!
Host: It sounds fishy: I refuse to consume something that screams “cancer” all the way down my esophagus.
Friend: They don’t cause cancer; they’re natural.
Host: Nothing natural comes in pill form.
Friend: Look, I’ll give you the name of a company that sells them and you can check on all of it yourself, but I’m telling you, I know some people who had the same problem you do and feel so much better after they started taking them.  You still should see a doctor just to be certain it’s not something else –
Host: I stopped listening after “feel so much better.”
(As the Sisyphean task of digesting the café meal commences, Worker Bacterium 3 approaches Lead Bacterium)
Worker Bacterium 3: There’s a new report from upstairs, Captain: there is a possibility that reinforcements may be sent in.  As in, actual, permanent, full-time reinforcements.  I’m trying not to get too excited, sir.
Lead Bacterium: As you shouldn’t, Ensign – disappointment’s bad for morale.  Back to work.  (Looks around) Where’d that temp go?
Worker Bacterium 1: The temp’s watch has ended, sir.
Lead Bacterium: (Removes hard hat) As it will for us all soon enough, Lieutenant.
(In a health food store, Host stares at shelves of bottles as Employee approaches)
Employee: Probiotics?
Employee: Pretty much all our first-timers who aren’t bodybuilders come in for those.  We recommend this one. (Hands her a bottle)
Host: (Staring at it, whispers) My own little colony….
(Hours later)
Lead Bacterium: (Dictating into an unseen recorder) Our numbers dwindling, more and more fuel and garbage continue on their way through our corridors: undigested, unproductive, unbearable.  I feel myself beginning to slide down that slippery slope called Despair, heading towards that land called Doom –
Worker Bacterium 2: Captain!  Word from upstairs – reinforcements are on their way as we speak!
Lead Bacterium: Impossible.  After all these years?  What if it’s true but it’s too late; what if we’re ironically saved right at the very end; I can’t take this, I just can’t!
Worker Bacterium 2: Captain!  Respectfully request that you cease freaking out, sir.
Lead Bacterium: Request denied!
(A complement of new bacteria arrives, in formation)
Spokesbacterium: (To Lead Bacterium) Are you in command of this regiment?
Lead Bacterium: What’s left of it, yes.
Spokesbacterium: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, and all the necessary parties for digestion here: deploy us as you see fit.
Lead Bacterium: (Hugs a group of the new bacteria) Bless you, bless you, bless you!  You can’t know how we’ve suffered all this time!
Spokesbacterium: Judging by the state of this colon, I have an inkling.
(Some time later, Host relaxes on a lounge chair)
Host: (Typing to Friend) “You were right, never felt better in my adult life – I owe you big time.”  (Looking at her gut) Rest easy, soldiers.
Lead Bacterium: Aye-aye, Captain.