November 20, 2012

Midnight Madness

Before I begin, I feel it necessary to pre-empt this post with the following message:

Warning: Do not be fooled by the title! If you continue reading, you are, in fact, not reading about the insanely cheap yet awesome deals that stores put out, but about the (sometimes random) musings of a graduate student into the wee hours of the night .........

It's 3:00am and I find myself wide awake, in bed, with no hope of falling asleep anytime soon. Odd that this should happen on a Monday night, and even odder because I never have trouble falling asleep! Trust me, I am definitely one of those evolutionary anomalies that never outgrew the hibernating a.k.a. sleeping-for-20-hours-a-day phase. Lucky for me, I've grown up in the "technology at your fingertips" generation, so here I am hoping that writing this blog post will settle my mind some and help me get to sleep.

Monday, November 19th, 2012 actually marks quite a momentous occasion for me. I'm probably building this up to way more than it actually is, and most (if not all) of you reading this have probably gone through this at least once, if not more, but ...


Now before you start thinking I've gone a little off my rocker, just give me a chance and hear me out. After months upon months of reading numerous fMRI studies, learning how to analyze the raw data, taking a course on the physics behind fMRI, completing multiple level 1 and level 2 training sessions AND watching several others get scanned, it was finally my turn! I was so excited that I could barely sleep on Sunday night - I was awake every hour on the hour - even though I had told myself that I needed a good night's sleep so that I wouldn't fall asleep in the scanner. [Spoiler: I didn't fall asleep, thanks to the anticipation that had been built up for months on end.] For all of you out there that haven't had the opportunity to be scanned but would like to know what it's like, here's where it gets interesting (and for the rest, read on anyways!).

My first observation was that things were much more lackadaisical than I had expected. If I learned anything from the (few hours of) MRI training that I had, it was to be thorough from beginning to end. Be it with screening, set-up or even explanations to participants, it is crucial to make sure you cover your bases! I guess with this scan being for the purpose of our class only, some things were less important than others. Either way I was comfortable going in, and at the end of the day that's what really matters.

Prepping to go into the scanner was a breeze - I had gone in and out of the magnet room so many times before. Reality didn't finally hit me until I was actually being sent into the Bohr, and at that point all I could think was "holy [bleep]!!". The biggest issue that people run into when inside the MRI is an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia. Mind you, I am by no means claustrophobic, but some weird situations do set me off (i.e., sitting in the window seat of a bus/plane with someone sitting directly beside me and no immediate escape/exit route ... don't ask). Once inside the scanner, I felt that same feeling slowly creeping over my body, but shortly after Keith's voice came over the intercom and I felt much more at ease. I now know how important it is to immediately establish communication with your participant inside the scanner - it could mean the difference between a successful scan and a withdrawal from your study!

Shortly after the anatomical began, I noticed two things: first, that my vestibular system followed Keith out the door, and second, that my senses were most definitely heightened. With little to no visual periphery, I felt as if I was moving when in reality, I was stationary with no place to go. This quickly resolved itself after I closed my eyes for a few seconds. During the entire 45 minutes of scanning, however, I could feel my body tense and stay tensed. I had to constantly remind myself to relax - beginning at my shoulders all the way down to my toes - only to find that, when I got to my toes, my shoulders were tensed up again! I chalked this up to my way of keeping my head from moving - after all, the instructions "try your best not to move your head" is forever imprinted in my brain! Moreover, I felt as if my breathing was shallow and staggered, something that I could not ignore no matter how hard I tried. What was most unbearable, though, was the fact that I fell into a vicious "I need to swallow" "but I can't swallow because it will create an artifact!" cycle. All the information from the papers I had read and from the classes I had attended - all of that built up and released itself into my working memory as soon as the functional runs began. The more I wanted to swallow, the more I would tell myself not to because I wanted to be an ideal subject with hardly any motion artifacts; the more I thought about being an ideal subject, the more I wanted to swallow; the more I wanted to swallow, the more information I recalled on what not to do when being scanned. This cycle was almost the death of me - you have no idea how close I came to squeezing that emergency ball! And it's a good thing I didn't because the last part of the scan was by FAR the best part. During diffusion tensor imaging (DTI - a technique to track the movement of water particles to and from brain regions via neurons), the entire bed and head coil vibrates with quite some intensity. I had to stifle a laugh at the beginning because I couldn't believe how much it resembled a massage chair! DTI was a welcome reprieve after being all tense and stressed out, so if there's one aspect of today's scan that I would like to experience again, it would be that. I'd also like to do a resting state scan at some point, but I'm sure there will be time for that in the future.

So with this detailed recap on ... dashboard(?) ... I am finally tired enough to head to bed. I definitely did not expect this post to turn out as long as it did, but for those of you who've stuck by to the end I hope you'll take away with you a tidbit of knowledge. Overall? It was a great experience. I cannot wait to log some more hours inside the scanner - hopefully as a research participant next time!

*Pictures of my brain to come!*




As promised, here are some pictures of my brain! I am extremely fascinated by them and cannot stop staring ... is that normal?! Either way, they have totally made my day!!!