Thursday, March 17, 2016

On Being a Guinea Pig

I recently agreed to take part in a pilot study on campus that is looking at the cognitive and physical health of middle-aged women with multiple sclerosis; I volunteered to be a control. There were three parts to this experiment: first, I did exercise tests, including a max-fit test. It was quite the set-up: I'm on a seated elliptical machine (a NuStep), with a clip on my nose, wearing a headpiece holding a flexible tube coming out of my mouth to measure gases and respiration. The resistance got harder every minute, and around 15 minutes I was sure each level would be my last. I conked out at 18 minutes.

The next time I came back for cognitive and memory testing. I quickly figured out that if I could categorize the nine words the tester asked, it was easier to remember them. We also did two sorting tasks (my favorite: patterns!), and a couple of activities on the computer whose point I couldn't quite get. One was to memorize the relative locations of little squiggles on the screen (the "dinosaur" went next to the "angel," which was above the "saxophone"--or did that one look like a "squirrel"?); the other involved remembering which alien creatures went with which landscape photographs. That one had an ignominious end, when a piece of bad code ended the session early.

Finally, I went in for a brain MRI, my first ever. I know they are supposed to be claustrophobic and loud, but I wasn't prepared for the reality. I was all snuggled in under a fresh warm blanket (blanket warmers are the best!), with a pulse oximeter on my finger and a panic button in my hand. There was also a strap around my chest to measure respirations and earphones wedged between my ears and the headpiece. The "helmet" was the worst. It looked rather like a football mask and blocked my vision--that was worse than being in the tube. There was also a mirror, but all I could see was a blank television screen. I had to lie still for at least 45 minutes while they ran different tests. I had hoped to catch some ZZZs since I'd been up late writing, but hold on--that little knocking became banging and other alarming sound effects. I bet everyone is tachycardic during an MRI; even metoprolol couldn't give you enough bradycardia to overcome the noises in that thing. I swear, you could not design a machine to sound more like the patient is being shot at with space lasers than this MRI machine. Speaking of being shot, I seriously think the waiver or consent form should have asked about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in addition to shrapnel and other foreign metal bodies. I could easily see the experience being triggering for someone who had residual experiences from a war zone. Personally, my least favorite scenario involved 12 minutes of having the air pillow under my head rapidly inflated and deflate at various frequencies. I felt like I would vibrate for days after that one ended. I didn't. A little ibuprofen for my poor knees, and then hoping they get enough participants to learn something useful. Just doing my academic duty for the amazing women in my life who actually live with multiple sclerosis every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments let me know that I am not just releasing these thoughts into the Ether...