Atheroma

While living on the remote and primitive island of Tanna in Vanuatu in 1995, my four fearless/feisty/foolish kids and I ventured up the side of a large nasty volcano named Mt. Yasr. This volcano is so dangerous that were it located in any place in the world other than Tanna, we’d not be allowed within two time zones of it. But here, nobody cares how stupid you are, and being second to no one in that category, I edged up the peak to peek over the edge and into the earth’s fiery furnace. While we stood/cowered/bargained with the Lord there, the earth beneath our feet suddenly gave a mighty groan.

Yasr first rumbled, then belched and then, to the great alarm of our souls/minds/bladders, it suddenly exploded with a terrifying bellow! We fell to the ground, certain that we were about to be shot heavenward/dumped into the river Styx. Massive lava boulders the size of Cadillacs/Rhode Island/Libby Davies flew straight up over our heads. They seemed to hover in mid air for a moment and then, throttled by gravity, came crashing back, falling either into the boiling cauldron or onto the ground where we lay quivering like frightened felines. No sooner did we retrieve our mercury/amalgam/dentures, than it exploded again! We flew/scurried/cart-wheeled down the mountainside as fast as 40 pounds of goose bumps clinging to our carcasses would allow. While stumbling down the slope, dodging the meteor shower, we vowed to never return.

Mt. Yasr claimed three lives during the time I lived at its base and at its mercy. While I had the sobering opportunity to live in the South Pacific’s infamous “ring of fire” you may have the sobering realization that a ring of fire lives in many of you. A string of volcanoes, many ready to erupt, rumble within our arterial system, with a particularly dense collection lining our coronary and cerebral arteries. Known as atheroma, these volcanoes are the number one cause of death in the civilized world. “Atheroma” comes from the Greek for “porridge”. I can still hear my sweet wee Scottish gran “Eat yer bloody atheroma ‘ere yer kilt’ll fall down about yer lily-white ankles, exposin’ yer lily-white… umm… knickers” which of course is something no self-respecting son of Scotland could bear. The core of the atheroma is a porridge-like soft lipid-rich material that is built up by too much LDL cholesterol. The volcano is covered by a fibrous cap that keeps it from erupting. This sclerotic (hard) fibrous cap is what causes “hardening of the arteries” a condition also known as atherosclerosis. This cap, however, is eroded by inflammation from smoking’s free radicals, LDL cholesterol itself, infections (like gingivitis) and even high blood pressure, which can sheer the cap right off. The rupture of Mt Atheroma into the blood stream is stemmed by platelets and sticky buns, which clot over the volcano, seemingly a good thing. But in a classic case of the fix being worse than the problem it is this clot that kills! The rupture/clot is so large that it shuts off all blood flow in the artery giving its owner a heart attack or stroke. Soon Mr. LDL Bloggins is getting his photo in the local paper followed by several kind phrases he never heard in life that include the words “beloved”/”suddenly”/”probate.”

Leave a Reply