My not-so-terrifying encounter with a syndactylist.

July 22, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More

My family shared a vacation house with several other families this year.  One afternoon, one of my wife’s friends (a philosophy professor in his 40’s) was relaxing on the porch when I looked down and noticed his unusual right foot:

I found myself blurting out, “So tell me about your foot.”

He explained that his condition is known as “syndactylism, ” (which is Greek for together + finger).  It means “having two or more fingers or toes joined together.”  He looked me straight in the eye and announced, “I am a syndactylist.”

I pulled out my camera to grab a photo, while my embarrassed wife sternly pleaded, “Erich!  No!”   But how would I possibly pass up a scoop like this? The syndactylist explained that his big toe and second toe were wrapped in one skin ever since birth.   He explained that he has no functional deficit from this condition other than his inability to wear flip-flops.  Here’s a bit more on the condition.

To make the story a bit better, he explained that he was actually born with six toes (the sixth toe was between the current second and third toes).  The doctors “took care of that right away.”   He indicated that he is coping quite well in the non-syndactylist world in which he has found himself.  He also explained that each of us is a syndactylist, at least for awhile, while we are in the womb.   For most of us, though, the skin webbing surrounding our fingers and toes dissolves away.

As several of us were mulling around, actually starting to marvel the syndactylist’s special foot, a little girl, one of the daughters of another family walked through the porch, barefoot, and we noticed the she, too, was a syndactylist.

Based on my survey of the two syndactylists that I’ve now met, I would warn you that they all seem normal and they like ice cream, and that they could turn up anywhere, when you least expect it.

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Category: Medicine, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erika Price says:

    While it will embarrass me to say this and seem intolerant, I must admit I have an initial reaction of slight revulsion and disgust to even minor deformities such as this. I suspect this comes from an evolutionary underpinning, a creeping desire to remove oneself from the strange, malformed body parts that hint at genetic inferiority. Often, though, this instinct protects us from nothing at all: your syndactylist carries no dangerous condition, and suffers no physical impairment from his strange extremity. We shouldn't fear him! We shouldn't even notice the trait! Yet his conjoined toes do summon up a weirdly immediate internal red-flag: a sense that something is not right here.

    In this case, I can only feel thankful that we have both a strong foundation of evolution-driven behavior and a developed frontal lobe that can help us override its prejudices!

  2. I'll bet he can swim faster than you!

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