Love at first sight, physically.
My heart spent a brief moment in diastole: a period of inaction.
Suddenly, my left atrium was filled with oxygenated blood. The blood dropped through my mitral valve and into my left ventricle. Then, as my left ventricle went into systole, the pressure within it rose, causing the blood to pass through my aortic valve.
The blood then flowed through my aorta, then some of that off into my brachiocephalic artery, then some of that off into my common carotid artery, then a portion of that off into and through my internal carotid artery.
Meanwhile, along the way, blood was being siphoned off into arterioles then off into innumerable capillaries where it was stripped of oxygen by needy cells.
But, some oxygenated blood ran the gauntlet and made it to my ophthalmic artery, then to my central retinal artery, then off into sprawling vessels, nourishing my retina, allowing my cones and my rods to discern your face from the others.
Amongst the millions and millions of gradients of visible light that existed in my peripheral vision and foveal vision.
Of all the hues and tones and values within the visible spectrum, the only ones that mattered at that moment were the ones that encompassed you.
The lens of my eye focused the light onto my photoreceptive cells. You became more defined – the shadows slanting neatly from your nose and sharply across yours lips (that was my rods at work); your skin shimmering softly under the direct light of the sun (that was my cones at work).
You, though, at this point, merely consisted of wavelengths from about 380 to 750 nm, and your image upon my retina was upside down and left for right at that.
From each eye, my ganglion cells sent signals along my optic nerve, upon my retinohypothalamic tract, beyond my optic chiasm where it crossed into the respective opposite hemisphere of my brain.
The signals reached and were processed in each respective lateral geniculate nucleus which either inhibited or allowed the visual information to pass through to my visual cortex.
My brain did not yet know what my eyes did actually see.
In this case, the information pertaining to the sight of you was allowed and entered my visual cortex and, somewhere among this, my brain conceived the message that you were beauty, that your facial features were placed in such a manner as to cause me great pleasure and, quite possibly, unendurable anguish.
But scientists do not yet know where beauty is processed or possessed, let alone the pangs of guilt and frustration that accompany desire, so all of that is guesswork and I now speak of anatomical fact.
At this moment, my brain stem was sending neural inputs down the descending tracts in my spinal cord. My sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems were telling my heart to do two different things: the former was telling it to release norepinephrine and epinephrine to speed the heart rate up, the latter was telling it to release acetylcholine (ah-see-til-koh-leen) to slow it down.
The parasympathetic system won out and my heart rate increased.
Fight or flight, though I hoped fight.
The respiratory control center in my brain, usually mitigating an automatic, rhythmic process, was now facilitating an increase in my breathing. To do this, the central chemoreceptors organized a co-operative effort between my diaphragm and my muscles of inspiration.
As an added effect, my nostrils flared to allow more air into my nasal passage.
The oxygen rich air entered through my nose and was promptly filtered through tiny hairs called cilia which attempted to rid the air of any dust or other particles that could harm my heaving lungs.
Granted, this filtering was done at the risk of sneezing, the risk of embarrassment and the risk of looking like a snot covered berk in front of you, but sacrifices in the name of health must be made, as the parasympathetic nervous system has no time for love.
No, that is a matter for the sympathetic nervous system, and barely for it at that, but this doesn’t mean the parasympathetic system has no heart (they both share the same heart, obviously).
Besides, some speculate that the work ‘Gesundheit’ is not German origin at all, but rather a grammatical evolutionary function of the larynx developed to quell awkward moments caused by sneezing, allowing a prospective mate to feign pity and express desire for social connection, thereby facilitating procreation, thereby ensuring survival of the species, so maybe a sneeze wouldn’t have been such a bad thing after all.
But that’s conjecture and what I now speak of is anatomical fact.
The air in my nasal passage was adequately filtered and traveled beyond my pharynx at the back of my nose and mouth. It was routed by my epiglottis into my air passage and away from my esophagus – I wanted to breath the oxygen, not digest it.
The air passed beyond my larynx and into my trachea, which is also lined with cilia, the hair-like structure which, at this point in respiration, are ever the more vigilant in filtering the debris from within the air.
Note that, this far down in the respiratory system, a person is a single tainted breath away from a cough for which, unlike the sneeze, there is no pseudo-Germanic evolutionary grammatical cure.
But the outdoor air in the first days of May are temperate and clean, so I didn’t cough, not this time, so, good. And then the air was split and went either to my left or right bronchi and, consequently, to my left or right lung, it’s path determined only by chance.
Its accompanying fate, its destiny: that to be processed and robbed of oxygen within each lung and sent packing in expiration with nothing but a pocketful of carbon dioxide.
Strange thing: each lung is different. Both possess the same function, both have the same end goal, but the left bronchus subdivides into two lobar bronchi while the right divides into three.
Anatomically, the lungs are actually different: the left lung has only two lobes, while the right has three.
Strange thing, the lungs, like lovers separated not only by the physical space between them, but also by internal divisions, finding their functional symmetry not in spite of their internal divisions, but because of them. Both lungs within the crowded depths of the thorax, pumping away constantly, unknown to the world outside but for the subtle, barely noticeable up down throbbing of the rib cage.
The lungs, together, experiencing only the heavily filtered air from the world outside, knowing only the air from the same source, yet, never questioning their relationship with each other. Together, never out of sync. A pact, outside world be damned, there they heave, nestled among the heart which throbs, alternating between systole and diastole, resting just long enough to get the strength to force another moment to its high pressure blood filled crisis.
On, that particular day, at that park, at that particular moment, the air moved from my bronchi to my primary bronchioles to my terminal bronchioles which turn into more respiratory bronchioles which then divide into alveloar ducts which deliver the air to alveolar sacs. The alveoli (‘alveoli’ is plural for ‘alveolus’) are where the actual respiration occurs, where the actual gas exchange – Carbon Dioxide for oxygen – occurs. The absolute climax of respiration is when inspiration and expiration come to an indefinite moment of neither taking nor giving but aloft in an occasion of utter exchange.
Problem is, though, that my heart rate had quickened due to the presence of a threat of such assaulting beauty, or more specifically, due to my adrenal glands, which were pumping out epinephrine. The blood was now moving through my circulatory system faster. It needed more oxygen.
So, the specialized nerve cells – the central chemoreceptors – received the signal from my respiratory control center in my brain and my diaphragm began to pick up the pace, but it couldn’t do it alone, so my intercostal muscles kicked in, and even they needed a little help, so my sternocleidomastoid muscles in my neck began to quickly contract and relax.
This was a double edged sword because it was not ventilating deep enough with it’s quick, shallow breaths. My heart was beating faster and faster, the force of contractions becoming harder and harder, and the stroke volume growing larger and larger as my sino-atrial node whipped my left ventrical over and over again. I began to feel my nervous stomach as my parasympathetic nervous system became overwhelmed. Vessels were opened and dilated because there was now a disproportionately low amount of oxygen to how fast the blood was pumping through my circulatory system.
Gastric acid, composed of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride, was produced by the parietal cells in my stomach’s lumen, and the high acidity began to make me feel queazy, began to make my stomach churn.
Along the same lines, because blood was being diverted away from my inner organs, away from things like my digestive tract, I was no longer salivating and my mouth was beginning to feel dry.
My motor cortex told my vocal ligaments to constrict the vocal cords, and though expiration from my lungs did occur, audible wavelengths were not created. My cerebellum was able to organize prearticulatory verbal code, but, for some reason phonation was not realized.
Basically, the special visceral motor neurons never reached their destination. Then, as a consquence, my rima glottidis remained silent, hosting only air in a fit of forced inspiration as I took a deep breath to oxygenate my many organs that no longer seemed to be working in conjunction, even though they were or I wouldn’t have been breathing and beating and feeling, however much it felt as though everything was failing.
Sure, all the parts of my body were rebelling, each in their own way. But this was just a minor disruption, a symptom of coming closer to the one true internal milieu.
Suddenly, some part of my brain realized that I didn’t have enough heart, or a stomach for this, or even a spine to call a backbone and I wondered if I even had these eyes with which I saw your face or if it was all just an image on a screen in god’s mind meant to be perceived by me and for only a moment in agreed upon time, at that.
I had these thoughts and then an army of general somatic motor neurons shot down the descending fibers in my spine and my body turned around and began to walk away and the part of me that loves, wherever that is within this all too human body, that part of me that makes love and takes love and becomes love for someone else, that part began to return to a state of diastole, until the next time I see someone and feel this way, if that time even comes.
My fear may take hold again, though. My pregenual anterior cingulate cortex may have too much of a say in things. Again. It may convince my prefrontal cortex and my nervous systems (both of them) that the risks of embarrassment are too great. That it’s not worth it. That you probably wouldn’t like me if you got to know me more. That life alone is safer and more apt to survival.
But, I knew I’d spend the next days or weeks or months wishing I would have gotten the stomach or the heart or the spine to vocalize my desire, to disrupt the air between us with tiny wavelengths to vibrate your tympanic membrane to stimulate the tiny bones in your ear to stimulate the cochlea to stimulate the spiral organ of corti to send signals along the coclear nerve to the brain which would hopefully relay the information to stimulate the part of you that had been
stimulated in me.
So my heart conspired with my sympathetic nervous system to bypass my parasympathetic nervous system altogether. Thankfully. It did.
I can do it again. It may not work out. But that’s the great thing about the human body. All the processes happened before and they’ll happen again. So I’ll do it again.
Physiologically, the heart can sustain circulation even if the left atrium is in a permanent state of diastole. That’s fibrillation.
Gravity alone can provide enough pressure to move the blood into the left ventricle which would then enter systole to pump the blood through the circulatory system to sustain life, but leaving it up to natural processes like gravity takes all the fun out of it.
In love at first sight, we manage to blind ourselves to anatomical fact.