By Dr. Jim Ferguson

I’ve become accustomed to writing my Focus essay on Wednesday afternoons after I’ve made hospital rounds and I’ve finish business chores.  However, grandbabies change your life.  My two girls were fortunate to have my stay-at-home wife, Becky, when they were growing up.  There’s nothing better than a mom to watch over and love you when you’re a kid.  And it goes for grandkids as well.  Oakley is lucky to be with his grandmother Becky everyday and I get to help on Wednesdays, though it’s hard to write carrying a fussy grandson, who has a cold and is teething.  I’ve never seen so much liquid oozing from so many orifices, even as his rheumy eyes melt my heart.

We’ve all experienced the misery of a cold and I’m always amazed how much eventually comes out of my head as the affliction resolves.  Have you ever wondered why you have sinuses that seem to plug up with colds and allergies? These cavities behind our cheek bones and foreheads warm and moisten the air we breathe.  Our voices are given resonance and timbre by the sinuses, much like a violin–that is unless your sinuses are plugged with a cold.

Have you wondered why men’s voices are lower or why men have an Adam’s Apple?  Testosterone causes the voice box (the larynx) to elongate and as a result the vocal cords are longer in a man than in a woman.  Now picture the strings of a cello as compared to a violin.  The longer strings on a cello produce a note that has a lower frequency than the shorter strings of a violin.  You might say that our ladies sit in the violin or viola section, and we men reside with the cellos and the bass.  And you might envision our sinuses as analogous to the wooden part of stringed instruments which gives resonance to our voices!

A friend of ours has been very sick with pneumonia and complications.  She developed respiratory failure and had to be placed on a ventilator which is commonly known as a breathing machine.  The purpose of our lungs is to extract oxygen from the air we breathe, just as the gills on a fish are designed to extract oxygen from the water in which they swim.  Have you ever seen “a fish out of water,” as the saying goes?  It’s not a pretty picture and with respiratory failure patients can’t extract enough oxygen because the lungs are damaged with pneumonia or filled with fluid as in heart failure.  When this happens doctors insert a tube down the wind pipe and connect it to a machine (ventilator) that breathes for the patient to buy some time until their lung condition can be treated and corrected.

Being on a ventilator is not a pleasant experience for patients or their families.  It’s uncomfortable and scary and patients can’t speak because the tube goes through their vocal cords and into the trachea or windpipe.  As a consequence, patients often are sedated and fortunately will remember little of their ordeal after they recover.

Envision a bunch of grapes on a stalk.  The stems connect the grapes to the stalk and this arrangement is analogous to the lungs where the grapes represent the tiny air sacks where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.  There are four hundred and fifty million tiny balloons (grapes) in the lungs and their combined surface area is comparable to that of a tennis court.  We take our lungs for granted, but they are a very sophisticated organ which evolved (under I believe Devine guidance) over eons to extract the oxygen we need.

I don’t usually write sequels to my essays, but I have a bit more to say about a recent missive.  I lost another friend recently, though I never met him outside his writings.  I’ve long maintained that honest writing is the best measure of a man and rarely deceives.  Rufus Fears was a professor at the University of Oklahoma who taught me the classics, about great books and about ancient history through his lectures for The Teaching Company.  And now he is suddenly gone and I feel the loss of a friend.

For the first two-thirds of my life I reveled in science, but I have spent the last twenty years in the humanities to complete my education.  You can learn a lot studying history.  Our Founders believed that Plutarch’s biographies of famous leaders such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar should be required reading of all school children.  What a different country we would have if our kids were taught the mistakes and successes of great leaders of the past rather than learning how to succeed in the street culture, emulating the MTV pop culture or learning the pabulum of government schools.

Dr. Fears taught me that if a man’s life, liberty and his property (echoes of John Locke) are not protected by his government then there is no need to work hard or better yourself because your efforts can be taken away and redistributed to others to curry favor and votes.  This has happened over and over again through history, and it is happening again in what was once America.