Picture this: in a world where it’s every germ for themselves, the common cold is like a fierce army, equipped with swords and nuclear bombs alike, preparing to take on…the human body. They have three types of defence to make it through. The first consists of several kinds of barriers within the body; skin, mucus and cilia are like a castle’s walls with its moat and portcullis. In order for them to survive they need penetrate the walls and get inside where they will meet the second line of defence: the white blood cells. In the event a germ manages to make it through phagocytosis, they face a final battle against the mighty B and T cells.
They are sent flying through the air, the sneeze causing a mass exodus from the cushy confines of the nose. The world is really big, blurs of colour and sound, and they are so very small. If they don’t land where they need to be, it’s going to be another long sleep until someone brings them back again. They don’t want to go to sleep though. This sleep isn’t anything like a normal sleep. It’s like dying only to come back to life in some unknown future.
They fall into a bowl of peanuts.
“Here we go, boys! It’s like the ball pit all over again!” It’s the sergeant. He’s the one in charge; he knows everything there is to know about our enemies. “Watch out for the hands, they aren’t as sticky so you’ll need to hang on tight.”
One such hand descends over the bowl and they assemble on the peanuts nearest the top, ready latch onto any skin they can find. The hands are clean and sealed, no cuts or abrasions to pass through. When the hand moves to place the peanuts in the mouth, everyone rallies at the back, far from the threat of saliva. A few are too slow to move and they perish in the snare of the mouth. The troops must wait for this host to touch nose or eyes. The others bide their time. Being pushed out of homes again and again, they’ve developed patience in their desperation for belonging.
Then, after much procrastination and waving around, they are finally near the face again, coming closer and closer to the eyes.
“IMPACT!” the sergeant yells, preparing everyone for the coming invasion.
A war cry is heard and the remaining survivors turn to face those cursed B and T cells. The sergeant reaches for his weapons and all others follow suit. Swords clashing against that of the T cell warriors ring out all around. Other T cells carry messages and a few germs are dispatched to cut them off while another squad is sent to target the B cells. The B cells keep sending flares up, identifying where all the germs are so the T cells and the phagocytes know where to attack.
Imagine the end of this battle inside a phagocyte. They know it engulfs you but no one knows what happens after you’re inside. Imagine pushing away the fold of tissue, a cosy waiting room is revealed. A cushioned armchair beside a fire: the perfect place to hide out. I stay there for a while, days at least, feeling warm and full and large. Everything is bigger. The room is starting to throb and waver and wobble and it’s no longer a place you can stay. You’re so hot you erupt and then you’re nothing. Better to be outside, fighting T cells with swords and bombs and having a home for a little while longer.