The Magic School Bus Tackles Depression

All the students were sitting in class, anxious to see what lesson Mr. Prenzel had cooked up for them the first day after winter break. Ralphie, Arnold, and Tim were sitting around all of their new toys while Dorothy Anne and Phoebe were showing off the new boots their parents had given them. Each student seemed to be in a pleasant mood, in fact, they were ecstatic. While other kids dreaded coming to school, Mr. Prenzel's classes always seemed to be bit happier. Maybe it was because of his aunt's, Ms. Frizzle's, reputation around the building.

 When she first start shrinking her students inside a school bus and traveling through the inner workings of logs, animals, and the solar system, no one seemed to mind. It wasn't until she lost Carmen, Jean, Molly and Phil inside a volcano that people appeared to notice. Mr. Prenzel, her nephew, seemed to take on a lot of her traits. Fiery red hair and ability to shrink transportation vehicles down to the smallest molecule to get students excited about the world around them. Today was going to be no different because Monday always meant field trip day.

      Disheveled Mr. Prenzel walks into the room biting on an apple. The students race back to their seats, smiling, nervous, excited for what is about to come.

"Hello, class."

      "Good morning Mr. Prenzel."

"Today is Monday, which means we are going on an adventure. But today's lesson, I want it all to be a surprise."

Surprise? Everyone seemed to be a bit nervous about surprises when it comes to Mr. Prenzel. He was usually straightforward in his lesson planning, and if he wanted to bring something up out of the blue, you just knew that something different was about to happen.

      "I need everyone to grab their lunches, their jackets, and their backpacks. When you have grabbed your supplies, meet me out back near the bus."

Ralphie was always the first one up and to his cubby. He just adored Mr. Prenzel, but he also loved getting A's and being a kiss ass. Thus, why he was always first to get his stuff. After he had got out of his chair, the other students followed suit and waiting by the bus doors. Mr. Prenzel was already on board and pressed the lever allowing everyone to hop aboard.

Some people like to describe this bus as magic, but most people would like to tell you that magic is not real. As for me, I don't know. But my opinion doesn't matter here. One by one the children get into their seats and wait for their teacher to make his announcement.

      "Now, since everyone had such a great learning experience when we went inside Principal Korning's lungs and discovered he had emphysema from years of tobacco use, I figured it would be a good idea to have us go back inside to a new human being."

Arnold was animated in his joy to go back inside the human body; he didn't tell anyone, but while they were inside Mr. Korning's lung, he grabbed himself a little souvenir: a real life alveoli. His mom thought it was gross but agreed that it would be better to have a part of her son's principal's lungs in a glass case than a real life snake. Arnold's mom did not like snakes.

"Class, settle, settle, please. Everyone meet Shaun; he was generous enough to let us move throughout his body today. I need everyone to buckle their seat belts because once I close the doors, who knows what will happen."

Mr. Prenzel was lying just a little bit. He was aware of what was about to happen. Once he received the all clear from his students, he closed the door and put his foot on the pedal. They immediately shrunk and traveled. It was a blur until they ended up shrinking and entering a bearded young man through his ear. Once inside the bus continued its trek until it finally reached the destination: the brain.

"Is everyone alright?" Mr. Prenzel asked. Usually, one or two students will get sick in the aisle way because they are unable to handle the shrinking or their teacher's driving. "Before we get out, let us quickly go over a few details about this young man."

This was always Dorothy Anne's favorite part of the lesson: the pre-planning. Much like Ralphie, she was also a kiss ass except she worked harder than any other student in the class to get an A. She was born wearing a Yale sweater, and while her parents weren't too excited to see Mr. Prenzel show up on their daughter's report card, they understood that maybe something different might work best for her.

      "Meet Shaun. He's a 25-year-old male, relatively healthy. He is allergic to cats, medicine, fresh cut grass, seafood and a wide variety of other things. But something is going on with him that I want us all to try and figure out."

Mr. Prenzel opened up the door and allowed the students to get off of the bus. They were wearing child-sized biohazard suits with oxygen tanks attached to the back. When they stepped off the bus, they started to look around only to see a bunch of wires. Phoebe almost got hit by a misguided spark launching off of one of the weird cables.

      "Mr. Prenzel, I know we are in the brain, but Phoebe almost got hit by some random electrode just now. Is this supposed to be happening here?"

"You are correct Ralphie in noticing something is quite wrong up here. See those two bridges over there, see how the light can travel from one end to other without any issues. Now look above you."

The students look above to see a broken bridge and the reason the spark came shooting down almost decapitating Phoebe. We can all be assured that if the spark did, in fact, hit her, Mr. Prenzel, like his aunt, would be locked away for the rest of his life.

      "What happens is that sometimes those bridges never connect, or we lose a connection and fail to re-build the bridge causing the sparks to go all over the place. When those sparks stop making it over the bridge, it's called depression."

      "Depression," the class said in unison.

      Confused, Tim raised his hand.

      "Yes?"

      "Why?"

      "Who knows Tim, some people are just that way. Some people are born without all of their connections working and they just need a little help along the way to get them going."

      "So if their connections aren't working, what happens?"

"They get sad. Sorrowful. They lose self-confidence, self-esteem, and just seem to be un-fun to be around in general. But if the person is strong enough, they won't let it define who they are."

      Suddenly more and more sparks come launching off of the bridge.

      "Everyone back on the bus!"

 Swiftly the students hop on, and Mr. Prenzel gets into the driver's seat and slams on the pedal. He races through the explosions dipping and dodging, dipping and dodging when the car slows to a crawl.

 Nervous chatter begins to fill when Mr. Prenzel just raises his hand signifying silence. A booming voice rattles the bus. At first, it is unclear, but as the bus continues to move forward, it becomes louder.

      "The creator of the knock-knock joke should get a Nobel prize!"

      "What did the right eye say to the left eye? ‘Between you and me, something smells.'"

      "Why don't you ever want to run behind a car? You'll be exhausted!" the booming voice spoke, then silence.

 The kids don't quite understand what is happening, but they're laughing anyways.

      "Be careful students, be careful. Where we are entering is a pretty dangerous area."

      "What are these jokes?"

      "It's Shaun's defense mechanism: when he gets down, he will try using humor to deflect the attention off of his sadness."

      The class oohed feeling a little twinge of guilt for finding them so funny. Shaun wouldn't have minded, though.

      After traversing through the brain, they begin to move down through the throat. Right, then a brownish hoppy liquid starts flooding the pathway. At this point, Phoebe decides she is going to start losing her shit. It was bad enough that she almost got hit by a rogue spark, but she did not sign up to be drowned to death.

      "Be careful everyone! Make sure you have your belts on!"

      "Ewwwww, what is this smell?"

 "Unfortunately kids, this is alcohol. Liquid, your mom, and dad, drink when they have awful days and just want to forget. Or in Shaun's case, many days he just wants to forget."

      The kids knew enough about this liquid thanks to lessons taught by Scruff McGruff and the rest of the D.A.R.E. team. With each stream the bus moved faster and faster, slamming against the walls of his esophagus until eventually breaking away from the darkness and stopping right in front of the heart.

      Staring in awe, the students just watched the majestic organ play its music.

      Boom. Boom. Boom.

 It was steady; it was soothing. Little lights bounced off it every once in a while. Imagine seeing the biggest, brightest skyscraper in the entire world. Now multiply that by 30. That's what this heart looked like. Each student got off the bus and just stared with their mouths agape, so awestruck at the beauty in front of them.

      All except for Dorothy Anne. She raised her hand.

 "Mr. Prenzel. What are we even doing here? Phoebe has almost died twice, we are inside some strange guy's body, who is drinking alcohol on school property, by the way, give me one reason I shouldn't call my parents as soon as we get off of the bus and get you fired."

      Her teacher, not shocked, looked down, looked at Dorothy Anne, and looked at the heart.

      "Takotsubo cardiomyopathy."

      "What?" asked Dorothy Anne.

      "Takotsubo cardiomyopathy." Mr. Prenzel turned and looked at his students. "Do any of you have an idea what that is?"

      Not one student moved.

 "It is the scientific term for broken heart syndrome. What we are witnessing, what is before you, is a young man with a broken heart. A lot of people say there is no such thing, but here we are. It's beautiful isn't it, the heart. So strong, so powerful. ..." Mr. Prenzel turned around to look back at Shaun's core. "Yet so fragile."

      "Will this kill him?"

 Mr. Prenzel smiled. "Nope. Not at all. This happens a lot; it happens to me; it's going to happen to you, and it never kills you. Everyone, look above. See that construction crew working near the top; they're busy patching things up for him. Working overtime, always reconstructing itself to be stronger for the next time. And there is usually the next time."

      Even Dorothy Anne was sucked in at this point.

 "But that's what is beautiful about the human body. We are miraculously strong; we fight and we fight and we are always fighting because we are never as weak as we think we are."

      "I brought you here today to see this, to learn this at a young age. Understand that you are going to have your heart broken time and time again but don't be afraid of that. Your construction crew will always be working to fix you up, even when you don't think so. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Broken heart syndrome."

      "Mr. Prenzel, can we just sit here and watch them work for a few more minutes?"

      "Absolutely."

      And they all just sat and watched the heart continue to pump blood, over and over again. And it was the second most beautiful thing Mr. Prenzel saw that day.

Before the school day was to end, they had to leave; they moved and exited Shaun once again through his ear. When they landed, Mr. Prenzel made sure to double check each of the students to make sure they were alright before letting them off of the bus and back into the classroom. As they exited, the students were nervous to look at Shaun as Mr. Prenzel shook his hand and followed them towards the door. Right when she was about to enter the school, Dorothy Anne turned around and looked at Shaun. His gaze was on the pavement when she jumped out of line and ran over to him. As Mr. Prenzel watched, without a word she gave him the biggest hug she could give, the one she usually reserved for her mom, her dad, and her stuffed pony name Toni.

Shaun, slightly surprised put his arms around her too. Her face buried into his abdomen; she whispered something.

"I hope your construction crew starts working faster."

She let go and went through the door Mr. Prenzel was holding open for her. He shook his head and smiled at Shaun.

It was the most beautiful thing Mr. Prenzel saw that day.

Garrett CarlsonComment