Variations on a Theme

  • Peter S. Stack
    Requests for reprints should be addressed to Peter S. Stack, MD, Baylor Scott and White Health Care System, 4716 Alliance Boulevard, Suite 218, Plano, TX 75093.
    Baylor Scott and White Health Care System, Plano, Texas
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      One of the enduring memories from my first year of medical school in the late 1970s was a series of lectures given by a visiting professor of anatomy. He had an accomplished career documenting some of the many anatomic variants seen in autopsy studies. His talks were given as we progressed through our gross anatomy dissection, to provide a flavor for the potential surprises we might find. The number and breadth of these aberrations in human structure really fascinated me. As a neophyte to the world of medicine, I was absolutely amazed that human anatomy could contain so many inartful discrepancies. So much for the perfection that one might think a God would master in creating us in his or her image! As with many other areas of life, human anatomy is filled with imperfections, errors that range from mild to ghastly. Some so derange the machinery of the body that they are incompatible with life, but we learn to live with a number of less serious hiccups. Those that do not ordinarily interfere in a significant way with the essential functions of the human body are described as variant anatomy. Alterations in structure that commonly lead to significant functional impairment or disease processes are more properly described as pathology.
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