It isn't that an interest in football and a working knowledge of internal organs can't lend itself to levity, next week I've scheduled a rousing game of Guess the size of Mad Dog's colon, it's simply that for me this particular subject doesn't broach much satire. After listening to a week of conjecture around the water cooler, message boards, television and talk radio I'd like to discuss a few straightforward topics for purely informational purposes. Forewarned.
It sits just below your diaphragm on the left side, hidden behind your rib cage for protection. It's a soft mushy conglomeration of lymph tissue wrapped in a tough fibrous shell, sort of like a leather bound bag of souffle. Lay articles point out that it's about the size of your fist for reference. It's a fairly important organ, probably the second most important non-paired, non central nervous system organ that you can actually live without, right behind the thyroid. It has several functions, mainly filtering the blood for trash like old red blood cells and other cellular debris. It's also a key part of the bodies defense against certain infections, which why people without one require specific vaccinations every so often. For our purposes it's the filtration aspects that matter.
Think of it as an oil filter- which isn't a bad comparison structurally or functionally. The entire blood volume from the circulatory system is filtered through the spleen continuously, it handles a lot of blood from a flow standpoint under high pressure. The blood courses through tiny channels called sinusoids which act like the fine mesh of our oil filter. Clean blood passes through and on to the liver while the debris remains behind to be destroyed by specialized cells put there to do just so. Because of it's location and construction it doesn't handle blunt trauma to the side of the ribs very well. If the tough outer capsule tears a bit it's strong enough to hold most of the blood in and repair itself. If it completely ruptures, as happens in motor vehicle accidents or violent athletic collisions, it's possible to have heavy bleeding into the abdominal cavity. Your abdominal cavity can hold quite a bit of blood, and under arterial pressure the spleen can oblige that capacity. The result, untreated, is a lack of volume left in the system causing very low blood pressure, circulatory collapse, and eventually shock. If this situation goes on long enough the major organs like the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, gut and liver shut down, roughly in that order. The treatment is removal of the thing before you bleed out and replacement of large amounts of volume via IV fluids and blood transfusion.
This is your brain's ability to know where your body is in space. Close your eyes and and think about where your left heel is right now. You can probably generate a fairly accurate angle and distance from another any other part of your body to that heel with your eyes closed as well. Special columns of nerves running along the back of your spinal cord relate information to your brain about exactly where any particular body part is in relation to every other part at any given time. Note that proprioception is a building block of coordination, you can have the former without the latter, but not the other way around. The part of the brain that controls coordination, the cerebellum, process this information along with a multitude of other data to allow you to move smoothly in space and accomplish complex tasks. The sheer amount of instantaneous processing required to do this is staggering, and it's the reason my 15 month old toddler can easily negotiate obstacles that multimillion dollar robots cannot.
Some areas of the brain are either evolved or designed, depending on your preference, to be protected from periods of low blood flow, basic housekeeping functions like breathing and gut motility as well as our more primitive senses like smell fall into this class. Certain parts of the brain are more susceptible to shock, particular fibers in the cerebellum called Purkinje fibers happen to be one of them. Other areas at risk have memory, language, and visual perception implications. It isn't uncommon for someone who has suffered a traumatic event and lost a lot of blood to have any number of variable lingering effects. The degree of impairment varies greatly among individuals, as does the ability to rehabilitate these deficits. The psychological aspects of said trauma are another issue, one I'm not qualified to discuss.
What does this all mean and why do I care? Two reasons I guess. One is a desire to provide some clarity around some of the terms being thrown around of late and attempt to explain them in a way that makes sense. The other is that I am a fan of Chris Simms the person and have tired of some of the office punchlines and shots taken by media outlets who do little or no research into the topics they are covering. I have empathy for someone who is now being labeled a basket case by coaching staff and the media without a great deal of understanding informing that opinion. Note, I have no personal knowledge of his medical condition whatsoever, if I did I would be prevented from even discussing such with a close friend, much less on a public blog, by very strict and rigid ethical and legal guidelines. I am pulling for the guy though. He's handled a great deal of adversity well at a very young age, and has shown a full measure of personal courage when tested. Regardless of his future as an NFL quarterback, perennial backup vs. Pro-bowler, that sort of thing rates very highly with me. In my schema, if one is judging a man integrity and physical courage are important touchstones.