Bacteria – A Story About Septic Shock

It was spring, a lovely warm spring morning like any other with the sun’s rays shining brightly through the bathroom window, but all was not well.

Henry stood in front of the bathroom mirror, “Oh no, not again!” He exclaimed.

Like a lot of teenagers, Henry has been suffering with acne. At first it was just the odd one here and there, but lately it really has become a big problem and, clearly in the mirror, a pimple right on the side of his nose!!

This could not have come at a worse time because Henry has big plans for this weekend. He is taking his new girlfriend out on a date Saturday evening. “This can’t be happening,” Henry thinks to himself.

His parents have been very supportive with the acne problem and he is being treated by one of the best dermatologists in his town, but despite medication and facial cleansing agents, he still gets a couple of zits.

This is especially so when he becomes stressed, and this date with Cynthia has been stressing him out BIGTIME!

He frantically cleans the pimple, but this small pimple is getting bigger in his mind. He knows all too well that he shouldn’t squeeze the pimple, but impulsively his hands and fingers closes in; but pressing just makes it uglier and bigger.



“Henry! What on earth happened to you?” His mother exclaims as she approaches to have a closer look. Henry is somewhere in between seriously unhappy, cross, sad and at a loss of what to do with this THING on his nose.

This was not the time for his sister Angie to jokingly say, “Hi Rudolph!”, referring to Santa’s favorite reindeer with the red nose!

Mom, examining the bruised pimple, reminds Henry not to squeeze his pimples, to take his medicine, drink lots of water, and use the medicated facial soap that the dermatologist recommended.



What mom can’t see is under the pimple. An aggressive war is raging – a microscopic war with a formidable enemy and equally formidable soldiers fighting the enemy.

The enemy is aggressive, microscopic, disease-forming microorganisms called bacteria, and the soldiers are brave single cell units called white blood cells.

New soldiers arrive in their millions, and there can be no doubt: the enemy is aggressive. It is secreting deadly toxins.

Even more worrying to the commander is the fact that these bacteria’s numbers seem to double every couple of minutes! This is a strategic battle. The bacteria just want to invade the body, but the white blood cells are frantically defending.



Some white blood cells attack with chemical missiles called antibodies while others engulf the bacteria and start to literally eat them one by one.

Small blood vessels in Henry’s body called capillaries have doors that open up and are offloading new white blood cell soldiers to wage this war in their millions.



The battle is fierce and has been raging for a number of hours now. Dead bacteria and dead white blood cells are lying in heaps everywhere!

The bacteria are slowly but surely getting greater amounts of toxins to pass the security checks of the defense army. More and more bacteria are able to join the war and extend the borders of this battle well into the night.



At three in the morning Henry slowly drifts into consciousness. He feels dreadful! Despite the warm springtime temperatures, he’s freezing cold.

Moaning from a dull headache, he drags himself out of bed and gets his winter blanket from the drawer.

For a while he feels too cold, and then he starts sweating. And so the night goes on, from him feeling freezing to sweating in a torturous loop over and over, until he mercifully falls asleep again.

But it’s a restless sleep. He dreams of little green monsters, a vague though grim reality of what was happening inside his body!

“Wake up Henry. You are going to be late for school!” The first, second, and third call for Henry to get up fall on deaf ears, but then dad walks in sternly demanding action.



Henry is red with fever, confused and dizzy. Mom measures his fever. “There is no way he can go to school like this,” she informs dad.

Mom makes an appointment with the Doc. Henry is very feverish and as if that wasn’t enough, that dull headache has developed into a splitting headache, sitting just behind his eye sockets, or so it feels.

Meanwhile, the battle in his body has reached fever pitch. Hordes of bacteria have slipped past one of the weak areas of the defense and landed up in a dangerous area.

They somehow got lost and were carried by a small vein from the nose to the eye socket, and from the eye socket to the blood channels around the brain, all the time emitting toxins and increasing in numbers.

The Defense System Commander declares DEFCON 1 in the body and the full weight of the defense system is brought to bear on this battle now.

It’s being fought on a number of fronts, the most dangerous of which is in the blood channels below the main frame computer, the brain.

At first Henry hears a vague voice – that of his mother saying his name softly – her whispering prayers for his recovery, and then it fades.



Over the next couple of days in his confused, semi-conscious daze, he hears the voices of doctors and nurses and constant beeps of medical monitors.

Henry doesn’t know it, but he was rushed to the hospital after his alert doctor diagnosed a rare condition.

The blood in the spaces below his brain clotted and the infection started flowing over into his blood stream – a condition called “septic shock”.

Within the depths of Henry’s body the body’s defense force is virtually beaten, but the white blood cell marines persist, consistently and accurately shooting their antibody missiles into the bacteria, and then engulfing and digesting them.

The doctors decide to employ an intelligent weapon of mass destruction designed to kill the bacteria in hoards while sparing the white blood cell marines.

This secret weapon, an antibiotic, starts to turn the battle in favor of the defense system and Henry starts to recover – slowly at first – but then faster and faster as the marines’ efforts gain the upper hand.

His condition is critical, but gradually Henry is hauled back from the edge of death by strategic treatment, dedicated doctors and nurses in the hospital’s intensive care unit, and his mother’s prayers.



Henry is back at school – and the biology project he is handing in today is titled:

“The Dangerous Triangle of the Face”

The project tells about a young man who suffered from a sinus infection, and developed the same medical condition that Henry did.

It is the true story of an 18 year old young man who came to the same intensive care unit a year before Henry did, but the difference was, this young man tragically died.

He also told his own story and explained how important it is to respect the area from the corners of the mouth to the bridge of the nose – the dangerous triangle of the face.


Background Information:

The human body needs to fight off many enemies every day. Most of these enemies are way too small to be seen with the naked eye, and are called microorganisms.

Bacteria refers to a large group of different strains of microorganisms. Most of them are quite innocent, and some of them are actually quite friendly and helpful, but occasionally the body encounters harmful bacteria, and it is the defense system’s task to protect the body by destroying these invaders.

Bacteria can enter the healthy cells of the body and destroy them or they may produce harmful chemical substances called “toxins” killing the body’s cells.

The battle between bacteria and the body’s defense system is called infection.  If the body wins the battle, the bacteria are removed and the person recovers but if the bacteria win the battle the person will remain ill or die.

The soldiers of the defense system of the body are the white blood cells. They kill bacteria by literally eating and digesting them. This process is called phagocytosis.

Certain white blood cells produce very special missile like chemicals called antibodies, and when these antibodies attach to bacteria, it makes it easier for other white blood cells to recognize, eat and digest these invaders.

Some bacteria have thick cell walls and occasionally slimy coats making it difficult for white blood cells to eat and digest them, but the ultimate weapon for bacteria is that they can reproduce very fast and sometimes so fast that they literally overwhelm the body’s defense system by mere numbers!

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