I also remembered those models made of coloured plastic balls connected by plastic sticks. I knew they were supposed to represent molecules but all I could think of was how much fun they would be to play with … how many different animals could I make using five small balls, three large ones and seven connecting sticks, for example.
So I turned up reluctant and nervous for the first day of the bridging course. Luckily, our teacher was well practised in working with people like myself. He disarmed our fears by asking us peculiar questions. Are atoms pink or brown? How big is air? Or he would climb onto a desk then jump off, or lie on the floor and wave his limbs around, to illustrate a point.
By the time I finished the bridging course, my fear of science had almost evaporated; in fact, I was looking forward to learning some more.
Anatomy and physiology were pretty good; I remember being so excited when I discovered the elegant simplicity of how dialysis machines replicate the work of the kidneys, rushing to show friends the diagram in my textbook. “Look look! Isn’t this fantastic? See, this semi-permeable membrane lets some of the molecules through but not others. It’s so simple!” Some of those friends are still with me, fortunately.
But it was when our biochemistry teacher taught us about protein synthesis that I really got hooked. Over several weeks she guided us through a description of DNA replication; how the tightly wound strands uncurl in sections, separate like a zipper, the exposed code used as a template to create a replica strand, finally closing up again after a little Pacman unit has moved along the new strand snipping out and repairing errors, nanosecond after nanosecond, day after day, constantly.
I was literally awestruck. It was exhausting to think that this intricate, incredibly fast yet accurate process was going on continuously inside every single cell of my body.
But it also made me realise what a superb organism the human body is. That it continually adapts, maintains, repairs and reconstructs itself via innumerable microscopic processes such as this one demonstrated, for me, the naturopathic philosophy of vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature.
It made me want to learn everything I could about how everything works; to try to understand how normal physiology keeps us well, or heals temporary damage such as a cut or a bruise or a viral infection. How an apple or a bowl of muesli get turned into muscles and also the energy to make them work. And does it all by itself without any conscious direction from us.
It also made me want to look after my body as well as I could, so the amazing cellular processes that keep all our organs and systems functioning could go about their business unimpeded.
One of our teachers pointed out that these cellular processes are conducted with such accuracy that we must actually work quite hard to cause them to break down and start causing illness. I have also heard it said the body will take care of itself “if only we would get out of the way”.
The understanding that our bodies are so magnificently skilled at keeping us alive and thriving informs my approach to my own wellbeing to this day. It is why I choose healthy foods, make regular exercise a high priority, try to manage stress, keep regular sleep habits, and take the advice of relevant practitioners when something does become out of balance.
Obviously no-one is perfect, but having a deep and conscious respect for the intricate mechanism that is the human body takes you a long way toward achieving the best level of wellbeing you can reach.