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Well! You've certainly got some nervous system! - (6/7/2022)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Mr. Baxter was standing in the pharmacy's prescription pick-up line, restlessly drumming his fingers on the counter. "I'll be right with you," the pharmacist said to him. "Oh, that's OK," Mr. Baxter replied. "I'm as nervous as a cat. Do you think my nervous system is shot?" The pharmacist explained that nervousness and the nervous system are two different creatures. 

Example: You stub your toe on the GD coffee table. The nervous system responds. How so? A hard-wired communications network, the system alerts the brain to stimuli that impact the body. The network consists of the brain, spinal cord, and bundles of nerves. It controls much of what you think and physically feel – actions that are both voluntary (walking, speaking) and involuntary (breathing, seeing). Back to your GD purple toe. A nerve cell transmits a pain signal at around 100 miles per hour! If you are 6 feet tall, it will take 0.5 seconds for the signal to go from your toe to your brain and another 0.0001 seconds to yell your curse word of choice. 

Now, Mr. Baxter declared that he is "nervous." This emotion, if you will, has nothing to do with nerve cells. Rather, nervousness is an uncomfortable state of mind that focuses on the possibility – or improbability – of an anticipated calamity. Case in point: Mr. Baxter will soon be flying to Europe. But he is nervous about the plane tumbling from the sky. While such an event is possible, it is also improbable given the number of planes that fly around the planet each day. And last winter Mr. B was nervous about the needle from his flu shot going into his arm and not coming out. He could distract himself from these feelings by praying the Holy Rosary or doing a Sudoku puzzle. But a part of him – not physical but mental – covertly luxuriates in his fears. He is due for a nervous breakdown, but let's not go too far into the future. Anyway, there are pills for all that. 

Nervousness is not the same as "having nerve." If you say someone has nerve, you might mean one of two things. First, you might suggest that the other person is especially brazen, audacious, or sassy. Example: You had some nerve slapping Martha Stewart's face! Here's another: What nerve possessed you to flush my mom's prize-winning tomato-vanilla cake down the GD crapper? Conversely, “having nerve” would be a person who has – or does not have – courage and control under pressure. Example: Tom lost his nerve when he said he would drive his car one mile with his eyes closed. Or: Tillie had a lot of nerve shoplifting that 12-pound ham even though the guards were armed with high-powered Clorox-filled squirt guns. 

Even though the nervous system and its partners, nervousness and nerves, are different, they are really the same. To wit, we live in a world of virtual reality that is both interactive and out of our control. Let's say you see a giraffe in your yard. But you are not actually seeing the giraffe. Your retinas do not produce a snapshot as a camera does. Instead, the ocular nerves zip electrical signals to the brain regarding light, distance, color, and shapes of the giraffe. In turn, the brain takes these impulses and creates an image of the world around you. Yet, your nervous system may be damaged somehow, and the giraffe you see is not physically there. It's right there in your brain, but it's not munching on your peonies. Again, there are pills for all that. 

As the pharmacist told Mr. B, "Nerves are God's gift to you, to remind you that your life is not passing you by. Nerves immerse you in life. Your nervous system is merely your conscience taking notes and reporting to your brain what is important, albeit a GD banged toe or imaginary wildlife." 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

 

 


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