I have again been reading Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical, a text which has become almost a comfort item to me over the course of the last six years. Affectionately termed Gray’s Anatomy, it was authored by Henry Gray; first published in 1858, it remains the classic anatomical textbook. I have always observed it with the same reverence as I have Modern Usage and On the Origin of Species – all three texts brim with their authors’ humanity, and are captivating in not only their concepts, but also the enthusiasm with which these ideas are presented. My having read them early, they also harbor the ability to soothe me as one of Chopin’s, Beethoven’s, or Debussy’s compositions might.
I hope that you will excuse me for saying this – Gray’s Anatomy reads like an enormously interesting novel. As such, I can hardly state that I prefer one of its sections to another; noting that it was a time to celebrate love earlier this week, let’s delve into a series of questions about the heart and blood-vascular system as they may be extracted from Gray’s.
1. “The size of the cavity of the thorax is constantly varying during life with the movements of the ribs and Diaphragm, and with the degree of distension of the abdominal viscera” (430). How, precisely, does the size of the cavity vary? Does this variance occur over the course of mere days, or prolonged periods (e.g., years)? Does it occur in every individual?
2. “The heart continues increasing in weight, and also in length, breadth, and thickness, up to an advanced period of life: this increase is more marked in men than in women” (434). It is noted that the heart continues increasing in a variety of capacities “up to an advanced period of life” – which period of life is this? Additionally, why is the increase more marked in men?
3. Gray stated that the walls of the right auricle were somewhat thinner than those of the left (435). Precisely how much thinner are they?
4. “It will be noted that the surface of the tricuspid valve next the [sic] blood-current is quite smooth” (438). What is the cause of this smoothness?
5. Why does the foramen ovale not develop until the middle period of foetal life? Why is it expressly necessary at this point? (445).
6. Is it particularly important for the greatest quantity of that blood which traverses the umbilical vein to circulate through the liver with the portal venous blood? (446).
These and many other tidbits of thought are very interesting to ponder.
I find it important to note that Gray is indescribably, erm, “cool”: only he can make the pulmonary semilunar valves seem like dedicated guards to the treasures of the pulmonary artery, and only he can get away with casually mentioning the cerebrospinal fluid’s “having a saltish taste” (620). He currently compels me to further explore the means by which the arteries develop, and how they existed in earlier organisms. They and their means of situating themselves in the most convenient of locations astound me.
Finally, whilst I’d initially thought that last week would prove a wonderful time for an abundance of posting, it, to speak quite simply, didn’t. I do, however, have many items to discuss; I hope to do so in the next three days, so please bear with me!