For Your Society

My Not-So-Bad Birth Defect

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It all fit, though I luckily did not have the webbed fingers that, I learned, often appear on the same side as the missing muscle. I also read that many people with Poland syndrome have brachydactyly, or shorter fingers on the hand on the affected side.

Ridiculous, I thought, and then, as if to demonstrate this, I pushed my palms together and — for the first time in my life — saw that the fingers on my right hand were indeed shorter.

And not just a little shorter. A half-inch, I measure now on my adult fingers, from pinky to thumb — except for the pointer finger, which is a full seven-eighths of an inch shorter on the right.

I remember staring down at my mismatched hands, feeling betrayed — not by my genes, but by my observational powers. How could I have had hands of different sizes my whole life and never known it? What other strange features was my body hiding?

In the years since then, I have read more about Poland syndrome. In severe cases, people have kidney or lung abnormalities or their heart is on the right side instead of the left. I feel lucky not to have these more serious issues. Of all the syndromes to arbitrarily have, this one seems fairly easy to put up with.

But was it arbitrary? The day after my AltaVista search, I presented my findings to my mother, thinking she would be proud of me for solving the mystery. But she was aghast. She immediately homed in on a section of the medical paper that I had not even bothered to read, which dealt with the hypothesized causes of the syndrome.


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