Look at the cute figure with the wavy arms! He’s getting your attention to remind you of your own mortality. This is a myelin figure, and it’s probably wiggling on the side of some of your cells right now.

That’s what sprouts in your cell wall when the cell isn’t getting enough oxygen. It’s called a myelin figure, and it’s a little aggregation of damaged cell membranes. The cell membranes are damaged because, when the cell is injured or starved of oxygen, it can no longer pump sodium or potassium across its membrane. This means it can’t control its uptake of water and can either swell or shrivel.

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This rather sweet little figure, waving its arms, is a sign that the cell is in real trouble. Although most sites agree that myelin figures are signs of damage that can be reversed, the waving is a bit like a drowning person waving their arms—a bad sign.

If the damage isn’t reversed, phagocytes will come by and devour the failing cell. There’s no mercy in the cellular world.