Friday, July 9, 2010

Zavrel - Week 4

This week, along with several other BME students, I took part in the first installment of MRI training. We learned the fundamentals such as how to alter scan parameters like resolution and slice thickness (and their effect on scan time). I was most impressed with how automated and user-friendly the MRI console proved to be. I had expected something more utilitarian but was surprised by the way in which the complexities of MRI scanning had been elegantly concealed from the operators and technicians. The MRI console featured a GUI (graphical user interface) in which the operator could click on the anatomical region of the patient to be scanned. Preprogrammed MRI protocols were then used to deliver the best possible images of the anatomical region of interest. I was excited at the chance to get my knee scanned as I had years earlier experienced some minor pain in it stemming from a training accident and was eager to be the recipient of a complimentary medical consultation. Unfortunately, my leg proved too large to be accommodated by the device designed to immobilize it during the lengthy scan.

One salient experience from my time on rounds in the neurological ICU with Dr. Alan Segal was that of a woman who had suffered severe physical trauma. She was wrapped in a special blanket designed to reduce her core body temperature in an attempt to mitigate brain damage through edema. However, the body's response to extreme cold is an attempt to raise temperature through the autonomic act of shivering. To prevent involuntary trembling in the patient, the staff had to induce artificial paralysis through the administration of a chemical agent. From this, I took away the realization that medical practitioners ― while exuding supreme confidence and carrying out their jobs with great aplomb ― do not act unilaterally. Rather, they are ever vigilant and wary, keeping a constant eye toward the possible ramifications of a treatment. Oftentimes, these unwarranted effects must be anticipated and preempted.

Most of my week was spent on my research project. I was struck by the profusion of research topics that Dr. Spielman was anxious to get an engineer involved in. Initially, I had concerns that I would not be able to find a meaningful, substantive project, but it seems that in fact the opposite is true ― every few days, Dr. Spielman discusses a new project he has had on the shelf or some inchoate idea over which he has been ruminating. The requisite parts of the sleep apnea reduction device were ordered last week but owing to the long weekend did not arrive this week. Given my undergraduate education in electrical engineering, I am excited to be tasked with an embedded design project that will draw upon my electronics, programming, and systems integration acumen. A possible new project is emerging based on a soporific (sleep-inducing) device to treat insomnia. I realize that this abundance of research topics and possible therapeutic devices reflects the relatively recent emergence of sleep medicine as a respected and canonized field of study. Not so long ago, sleep was regarded as a non-productive state of little consequence and disorders of sleep as nothing more than the manifestations of an indolent mind. However, people are now more appreciative of the importance of slumber and are going to great lengths in the pursuit of fulfilling sleep.

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