When I was growing up, my parents wanted all of their children to have a well-balanced education. My father, an electrician, insisted that each one of us enroll in our school’s band. The instrument chosen by him for us was the clarinet. My brother and oldest sister both played for a couple of years. Then my older sister played for a few years and later transitioned to the bass clarinet. And finally it was my turn. It became a family tradition.
When I first started playing I sounded horrible. I practiced in my room for hours and played music that sounded like an injured animal. With practice, I excelled and eventually achieved the crowned jewel of first chair clarinet in the school band.
Although there are many famous clarinet solos (especially in blues music), including the most famous one considered by many to be Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (1791), it seemed like the flutes and horns in our band were always getting the best solos. We clarinet players rarely had a solo part, although we regularly supported the chorus. That was okay. I was proud of my position and my instrument. The music wouldn’t have been the same without the clarinet and other instruments like the brass, percussion, and strings. To make beautiful music, all instruments play an “instrumental” part.
Not that long ago, some friends and I began to debate which organ in the body was the “smartest.” Not unlike in a band or orchestra, all instruments are important and necessary. But, when we thought about the body’s organs in our debate, we needed to decide which organs to consider.
Organs are grouped into different categories. Technically, the skin is the largest organ. The skin (including the hair, nails, and sweat and oil glands) is our integumentary system. Perhaps you haven’t heard of that one. Although it is not commonly thought of as an organ, it plays an important role in protecting the body. It protects against external factors such as bacteria, chemicals, and extreme temperatures. If someone is badly burned, they can succumb to infection because the skin is no longer there to protect against bacteria. Burn victims sometimes get skin grafts if the damage is not too severe.
The smallest organ is the pineal gland. It’s located in the brain. In addition to excreting melatonin, a hormone, it also controls the body’s internal clock. Because it excretes melatonin, it’s part of the endocrine system. Anyone who suffers from insomnia knows that sleep is an important part of health!
My friends and I decided to only include “vital organs” in our contest. Acknowledging that all organs, large and small, are vital, some organs are more critical than others; they are the ones you can’t live without!
Vital organs are groups of cells and tissues that perform specific functions. In medical terminology, the word organ comes from the Latin word organum which means “instrument.” Vital organs are like instruments in a band or an orchestra. The human body is like music!
Vital organs include:
When we looked at the heart, we acknowledged that it is vitally important. The heart is a muscle. It’s part of the circulatory system. It sends oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body, including the organs. It has its own electrical system and carries away carbon dioxide and waste products through the blood in our body.
The liver, along with the stomach, intestines, pancreas, and gallbladder, are all part of the digestive system. It breaks down, balances, and creates nutrients and metabolizes medications and drugs through the blood leaving the stomach and intestines.
The lungs are part of the respiratory system. They allow us to breathe. They bring oxygen into the body and send carbon dioxide out.
The kidneys remove wastes and extra fluid from the body by filtering the blood. They also remove acid and maintain a healthy balance of water, salts, and minerals, including sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. The kidneys belong to the excretory system, also known as the urinary system or the renal system; but the adrenal glands also play a role in the endocrine system. They control blood pressure by excreting hormones (remember the endocrine system?). They also make red blood cells and keep your bones strong and healthy!
Last, but not least is the brain. The brain is the seat of intelligence. It is the interpreter of the senses. It initiates movement and controls emotion. Without it, I would never have learned how to play the clarinet. I wouldn’t have heard the mistakes I made when I played. And my body would not have sent signals to my fingers to press the keys. I wouldn’t have felt proud of my accomplishment nor felt love when I played. The brain is why I appreciate the fact that my father created a family tradition to teach his children to appreciate music and liberal arts, while also having a formal education. The brain is the conductor and the muse of our band and our music.
My friends and I excluded the brain from the smartest organ competition because it cannot be replaced by a transplant (to date).
When I was diagnosed with kidney disease, I learned about all the things the kidneys do. Kidneys have something to do with all other organs, and neither one of mine worked well any longer. The rise of my blood pressure was one of the first symptoms. It rose before I even knew I had kidney disease. Doctors constantly watched my lungs because of the fatigue and shortness of breath I felt due to fluid accumulation; I constantly had x-rays done because I was more susceptible to colds. My liver was constantly being tested because of the countless drugs I was now taking. I felt cold all the time because I was anemic. Even insomnia became a problem, which caused me anxiety and depression, and I was prescribed yet another medication that my liver needed to filter and excrete.
“Learning a musical instrument is challenging, it demands fine motor skills and coordination. It develops children’s listening, thinking skills, imagination, and perseverance. It brings out the best in the children as they work collaboratively with their peers and teachers.” – Sheila Hancock
My father didn’t have a crystal ball that would tell him I would develop kidney disease, but by insisting that I, along with his other children, learn to play an instrument, he gave us much, much more.
When I was diagnosed with kidney disease, I learned how important these “instruments” – the kidneys – are. Perhaps it doesn’t get all the good solos, but it is in every song, and is part of every melody.
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Cher Thomas, RDH, is a registered dental hygienist and a renal transplant recipient. After her kidneys failed due to ANCA positive vasculitis, in 1999 her brother became her kidney donor. Cher utilizes her experience with peritoneal dialysis and organ transplantation to explore the relationship between oral and renal health. She lives in Galveston, Texas.
More from Cher Thomas:
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