December 10, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Poor brown barnacles

By |2018-10-05T16:06:00+02:00October 5th, 2018|"Bio-Lingual"|
I see these brown chunks not as chipping paint, but as barnacles. Author photo.

ditor’s note: In these vignettes, Lorien Menhennett takes a break from her medical writing to peer at the New York City world around her from her fire escape.

Clusters of brown scabs peel away from my window frame, exposing the naked, vulnerable wood underneath.

The window frame is soaked from the morning rain, and my brain is soaked from medical school. With water on my mind, I see these brown chunks not as chipping paint, but as barnacles. Specifically, barnacles that have developed an allergic reaction to their wooden boat host. And, given a five-borough shortage of Benadryl, barnacles that are slowly self-dissolving the glue they secreted in their attachment phase of infant larval-hood. While sailors might compare this glue with epoxy, some scientists equate it more with the enzymes in both vertebrate and invertebrate blood that form “cross-linking of clottable protein.”

In more simple terms: enzymes that form blood clots. This gets me thinking about how barnacles are maybe more like scabs, maybe more like my paint, than I previously considered. Still stuck in my sea-life fantasy, I continue to stare at my stuck-on, allergy-plagued crustaceans. “Humans have fingernails to pick at their enzyme-induced scabs,” I muse. “My poor brown barnacles don’t.”

About the Author:

Lorien Menhennett wrote the "Bio-Lingual" column from 2014 through 2018