I am willing to admit the initial sight of thick, yellowish green drainage weeping from reddened, inflamed tissue is not a thing of beauty to the untrained eye, but have you ever stopped to consider the wonder and intrigue of Pus? Our bodies have abundant surface area that, if compromised, can expose us to morbidity and potential mortality. Thankfully, through our amazingly efficient immune system, within hours, sometimes minutes, of our initial inoculation by infection or foreign substances, our bodies mount a swift, tactical response.
Proteins and white blood cells are beckoned to the battle by the sentinel cytokines which create a cascade of events to stop, surround and eliminate the enemy. The neutrophils, white blood cells born to fight and on continual alert in the blood stream and lymph system, line up like soldiers and migrate from blood vessels through tissues to the site of the conflict. Though temperature and inflammation play supporting roles, the neutrophil is the consummate commando.
It has the innate ability to recognize good from evil, a lesson we could all stand to learn from, and through a process called phagocytosis envelop the invader and destroy it, laying waste to the cell contents, causing fluid accumulation and eventually the demise of both pathogen and protector. Nevertheless, without hesitation or reservation, these cells obey the call to fight. We might gain greater insight, respect and appreciation of this grotesque symbol of infection, if we consider life without it.
Through disease and immune compromise, some people do not have the luxury of pus. Without it, we are left with the late sign of systemic fever. To the neutropenic patient, that can be life-threatening. Simple beneficial microorganisms become parasitic leading to illness which, if not quickly treated with intravenous antibiotics, may lead to death. So, the next time you see the gruesome sight of an inflamed, oozing wound, I ask you to consider the warrior neutrophil and its by-product pus as your hero, romantically laying down its’ life in defense of your body’s health and welfare.