Medical Microfiction: Soma

Telegraphs and Endings

Some go on great adventures. Some stay home. And others, like me, live in a tower until the story’s over.

I wait for no rescue.

Instead, I watch through the window, where the wire runs from sky to machine, and I record the bleeps and blips that I must pass on.

Who waits at the end of the wire? Does anyone wait at all? And do they care for us abandoned to the margins?

I tap out the syllables on the telegraph:

Di-dah-dah di-di-di-dit di-dah dah. Di-di-di-dit di-dah dah di-di-di-dit. Dah-dah-dit dah-dah-dah dah-di-dit. Di-dah-dah di-dah-dit dah-dah-dah di-di-dah dah-dah-dit di-di-di-dit dah.


Morse Code Straight Key J-38
Morse Code Straight Key J-38 (Photo credit: Whiskeygonebad)

soma is the body of a nerve cell. It’s the portion of the cell that receives signals, and also the portion where the action potential is generated. The action potential, an electrical signal, travels down the axon, which is a long tail leading away from the soma. At the end of the axon, the signal reaches the synaptic terminal where chemical signals get released to the next neuron in line.

Think of the soma as the speaker in today’s story: alone in its tower, awaiting incoming messages. Think of the axon as the wire of the telegraph leading away from that tower. And the synaptic terminal is the point at which the line of communication leaves the domain of the first telegraph operator and enters the domain of the next.

English: Drawing illustrating the process of s...
Neurons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find it inherently tragic that the signal travels in only one direction down the axon. A neuron can never “hear back” from the place the message went. How lonely it must be to send out your message and wonder who received it, and whether it was received at all.

It’s much like the human condition. We send our messages out into the universe and hope that there’s an operator on the other end to catch the signal.  And who’s to say for sure who receives the messages, and what’s done with them?

People of faith hope that something supernatural’s listening. And then there’s these guys. Really, is it such a great idea to let any old Joe send a personalized message to hypothetical aliens? What if the aliens are a bunch of punks, like in this epic Escape Pod episode?

You want to know meaning of the Morse Code message? If you want to translate it yourself, stop reading now and use the key found here on Wikipedia to solve it. Dah=long, di/dit=short. Go! Encryption’s a blast!

For those short on time, the code translates to: “What Hath God Wrought?” This was the first message ever sent over the telegraph using Morse Code. How’s that for literally “telegraphing the ending”?

6 thoughts on “Medical Microfiction: Soma

  1. I remember learning about these things in A-Level biology, and finding it so fascinating. Unfortunately, my degree focuses mostly on biochemistry, so I’ve forgotten most of it.

    Neuromuscular junctions are especially interesting.

    1. Hey, rock on biochemist! My degree’s exactly the opposite: anatomy and biology focused, and with only basic chemistry. 🙂

      I loved studying the muscles, especially when you start getting into the different types of neurotoxins and how they paralyze you. Tetanus might just be my favorite disease ever. Although I totally recognize that it’s not normal to have a favorite disease.

      1. It’s probably more normal than my affection for staphylococcus bacteria. I had to keep a strain of it alive and do various tests on it for twelve weeks. Until we identified it, we just called it our pet organism.

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