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Body Parts

By Scott Roeben

How much do you know about your body? I, for one, have had my body nearly my entire life and I have no idea how it works or why it does what it does, and more importantly, why it chooses to do what it does at formal dinner parties, in many cases.

The whole biology thing seems a bit complicated. The largest brains in our country, and around the world, spend a lot of time and government grant money trying to figure out what makes us tick. Medical professionals devote volumes simply to naming body parts. You can't just call it an "ear." There's the cochlea, utricle, Eustachian tube and vestibule. You can't just call them teeth--it's the bicuspid, incisor, canine or molar. Even brains aren't just brains. You've got the hypothalamus, corpus collosum, medulla, pallium and several other parts that sound like members of the Roman senate.

But no amount of naming and labeling and designating, it seems, brings us any closer to answering some of the most commonly asked questions about our bodies. Like the nipple question. Since I am male, and it is unlikely that I will ever need mine, why do I have them? I also had an appendix I rarely, if ever, used. I eventually traded it in for a scar that is my only physical imperfection, especially if you exclude my spare tire--that from certain angles looks as though it might have been the spare tire for a DC-3. Why do we have appendices in the first place?

Why do we see stars when we receive a sharp blow to the head? Why not something else? Although, I understand you do see something else when your blow to the head comes from members of the L.A.P.D. and is recorded on videotape--namely, you see dollar signs.

Why does yawning seem to be contagious? And if it is, why do there seem to be greater outbreaks in places of worship and places where attorneys hang out?

What makes that sound in our stomachs when we're hungry?

What accounts for the variety of physical characteristics between different ethnicities? Like dark eyes in South Americans, and curly hair in Africans...or the lack of a spine in the French.

What is that stuff we find in our ears every now and then?

What causes an itch? I mean, besides the ones resulting from patronizing escort services. And why does a scratch relieve an itch, for that matter?

What is that high-pitched whine in your ears that you hear sometimes? I'm not talking merely to married men here, either. The rest of us hear it, too, sometimes.

Why does your face turn white when you're afraid?

Why is it only the skin on your fingers and toes that wrinkles when you stay in the tub too long?

Well, it is far easier to ask questions than it is to answer them. Still, members of the medical community--you can pick them out because they have white coats and allergic reactions to the terms "malpractice" and "synthetic fibers"--have made great strides in answering lots of questions about our bodies. Some of the more interesting of our bodily quirks are included here.

On most human hands, the middle finger is exactly as long as the hand is wide. Southern Californians are especially proud of their middle fingers, which might explain why they are always showing them to each other on the freeways.

We can't taste food unless it is mixed with saliva.

In one year, the average human heart circulates up to 1.6 million gallons of blood through the body.

Pain travels 404 feet in one second. Unless it is wearing pumps, then it is considerably slower.

There are 206 bones in the human body, one-quarter of them are located in the feet.

The amount of energy expended during sexual intercourse is roughly equivalent to the amount required to climb two flights of stairs. With me, however, it is more akin to taking the elevator.

Blood has to go through your entire body to get from one side of the heart to the other.

They are called "eyeteeth" because the roots of those teeth extend upward, almost to the eyes.

One out every ten men in the U.S. is impotent. I read that. Somewhere. I swear. It's not like I just knew that off the top of my head or anything.

There are 35 million digestive glands in the stomach. Yet, even working in concert, they have no real effect on my mother's meatloaf. A true medical mystery.

There is no word in the Albanian language for "headache." Albanians do have the phrase "Not tonight, honey, I've got a handgun." It seems to do the trick.

If all the veins in the human body were laid end to end, they would stretch around the world. If you unraveled the alimentary canal--the esophagus, stomach and intestines--they would reach the height of a three story building. My next question would concern exactly who cleans up after these charming experiments are completed.

Blood is thicker than water--six times thicker, to be exact.

We breathe an average of 700,000 cubic inches of air every day. Interestingly, in Los Angeles, you can have your air in either "regular" or "chunky style."

The indentation in the middle of the area between the mouth and the nose is called the philtrum. Among the ancient Greeks, this part of the body was considered one of the most erogenous zones of the body, hence the many recorded transcripts of romantic interludes including statements such as: "Come on, baby, let me touch your philtrum...the other ancient Greeks are doing it."

The skin on your body least sensitive to pain is on your heel.

The largest tumor ever recorded was an ovarian cyst weighing 328 pounds removed from a woman in Texas.

The largest tumor ever recorded was an ovarian cyst weighing 328 pounds removed from a woman in Texas. I know that's here twice. I just wanted to hear it again.

The human body is truly complex. But with all its complexity, we get away with abusing it, keeping it up too late, feeding it things like Pringles and bacon...and even then it's still fairly likely we will wake up in the morning. I was startled to learn that the human body can survive even without the stomach, the spleen, 75 percent of the liver, 80 percent of the intestines, one kidney, one lung and virtually every organ from the pelvic and groin area. But frankly, I'm not sure that living without a groin area can really be considered living. Or maybe that's just me.

Many of us spend a good portion of our lives struggling to become comfortable with our bodies. We think our feet are too big, or that we're too short, or that our thighs have the same girth as your average truss bridge. Some people become obsessed with their bodies, sometimes to the point of developing serious psychological disorders, although not "serious" in the sense that we cannot ridicule the more extreme ones. Bromidrosiphobia, for example, is a fear of body odor. Geniophobia is the fear of chins. Coprostasophobia, the fear of constipation. Ommatophobia, a fear of eyes. Odontophobia is the fear of teeth. And you thought I was going to mention something like bulimia. Actually, people who make fun of such illnesses for their own selfish purposes make me want to throw up.

Our relationship with our bodies is a complex one. Especially in cases like mine, because I have been romantically involved with me since I was a boy.

Not making the understanding of ourselves any easier are the myriad misconceptions we have about our bodies. Perhaps the best example, and if not the best then certainly the first, concerns our ears. Well, what we think are our ears. You see, the two flaps of skin attached to the sides of the head are not ears. The ear is an internal organ. The skin-covered pieces of cartilage on the sides of the head are called "pinnas." So, technically, the phrase should have been "Friends, Romans, countrymen...lend me your pinnas." Who knew?

Another misconception is that the word "pinkie" is just some childish term we held over to describe that short digit. Actually, the word is derived from the old Dutch word pinkje, which means, not surprisingly, "little finger."

Perspiration is a nearly clear liquid, and is completely odorless. It is the action of skin bacteria that produces the odor. And racquetball, apparently.

We don't have just one jugular vein. There are five veins in our necks known as jugular veins.

The "funny bone" is called that because it is located below the elbow, at the end of the humerus bone. That sharp, numbing sensation you feel is known as the "olecranon process." The other numbing sensation you feel is most likely a result of your having read this far.

Lastly, while not commonly known, only about five percent of the human body differs between the male and the female. I suspect that five percent is the portion that causes one of the genders to become deeply emotionally involved with swatches.

These things are surprising because the fact that we spend all our time with ourselves gives us the impression that we understand our bodies. We don't. And that lack of understanding leads to us to mistreating our most valuable possession.

Think of your body as a home. Smoking or drugs lowers its value. Exercise is your mortgage payment. That's right, mortgage. Because if you think about it, you don't rent, you own. Unless, of course, you are Hindu, but I really can't go into that right now.

I have some sit-ups to do.


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Scott Roeben, 1999, 2000. All rights reserved.