A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Tell the truth. You haven't paid much attention to your spleen lately, have you?

Don't worry - you're not alone. I mean, it's not like there's a National Spleen Association out there working to increase public awareness of spleen diseases and disorders. We don't have volunteers going door-to-door; raising money for spleen research, or rock stars joining forces to produce a music video for "Our Ductless Friend, the Spleen." And over years of professional and amateur late-night channel-hopping, I don't recall ever running across a 24-hour spleen telethon ("Come on, folks, let's get these telephones ringing for Jerry's spleen!").

From a public relation standpoint, the spleen has a couple of problems. The first has to do with public ignorance of its function. Everyone knows the basic job description for hearts, lungs, brains, stomachs, and kidneys, right? But, by show of hands, how many of you know that the spleen is where your body's required lymphocytes are produced?

What's that? You'd like to know what a lymphocyte is before you answer? Exactly my point.

The second P. R. problem for the spleen lobby is that the spleen is an organ that lacks any romantic connotation. We not only better understand the important bodily functions performed by other organs, but we have accorded them an emotional function as well. One who has been deeply hurt by a loved one is said to have a broken heart. Love has been likewise known to addle the brain, put butterflies in the stomach, or land a blow like a kidney punch - which, of course, takes your breath away.

But try to conjure up any romance with this line: "One look at you, baby, and my spleen starts pumping out lymphocytes like crazy!"

Not exactly heartwarming. If you're pardon the expression.

Of course, if you've ever had spleen trouble, it's a different story. A young friend of mine named Brandon was recently involved in a motorcycle accident. Thankfully, he was wearing a helmet, so he wasn't injured as seriously as he might have been. But nobody ever said anything about spleen protection. These days, every breath Brandon draws reminds him - painfully - of the existence of his spleen. His doctors say it'll be three months before he can run again and at least six months before he can participate in any sports - and all because a bit of muscle and tissue near his stomach he didn't even know he had until it was injured.

It's human nature to take certain things for granted. Most of us don't talk about our health unless there's something wrong. Nobody runs into the office and announces, "Hey, the bus was right on time again this morning!" And when was the last time a renter called the apartment manager to report that the dishwasher is working splendidly?

Which is okay, I guess, as long as we're talking about machines, buses, and bodily functions. But too often we carry that same cavalier attitude over to our relationships with other people. We expect that family, friends, and business associates will fulfill our expectations in the respective roles they play in our lives. And as long as they are fulfilling those expectations… well, that's their job, so it's no big deal. But then something comes along to disrupt the flow of our lives - a spouse has to leave town for a few days, a close friend moves away, a key secretary is out of the office on sick leave - and suddenly we realize how important that individual is to our success and happiness. Only, by then, sometimes it's too late.

How much better for all of us if we'd take a little time each day to express appreciation for the little things other people do to make life so pleasant. It isn't as difficult as it might sound. Just pick out two or three things that your spouse does without fanfare each day - and blow a bugle or two in gratitude. Or you could send a card to a friend for no other reason than to simply say, "thanks" for being a friend. Or you could acknowledge the daily efforts of teachers to make a difference in the lives of your children.

You get the idea. I'm not advocating anything revolutionary here - just heightened sensitivity to the people and circumstances around you. Notice them. Let them know you appreciate them. And make sure that your appreciation comes straight from the heart.

As opposed to the spleen.

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--- © 1998 Joseph Walker, "How Can You Mend A Broken Spleen." Used with permission.


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and