Thursday, September 27, 2007


There’s a funny dichotomy to med school finances. Doctors are rich, but med students are incredibly poor. Your average homeless person has a net worth of zero dollars. Your average med student has a net worth of negative 150,000 dollars. Most of the time we ignore this massive debt. But every so often we panic and do stupid things, like become part of drug tests.

A couple weeks ago I volunteered for a new fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) study. The researchers are trying to test whether anti-hypertension medication can help autistic individuals increase their concentration. So they give the autistic patients various drugs and have them perform cognitive tasks while in the MRI machine. fMRI is interesting because it not only images your brain, but tells you which areas are being used and how strenuous this use is. So they can tell pretty well how each medication alters brain function, as well as recording the increase or decrease in actual performance on the tests. In order to be a valid experiment they need controls, so they’ve hired med students to come in and take the same drugs and do the same tests and they’ll see how our performance is altered.

The first week it went fine. I showed up, took my drugs and studied for 2 hours while we waited for the drugs to take effect. I felt nothing, but I think the drugs did lower my blood pressure. It’s a blind study, so I really shouldn’t know what my pressure is or else I’ll know when I’m taking the placebo, which will happen one of these weeks. After a couple hours I get into the MRI machine and have to lie completely still for about 40 minutes while I do a variety of mental tests, most of which are extremely easy. Rhyming, listing words that start with S, picking which words belong in an office and which don’t etc. The only hard one is when they show 3 words and I have to find a 4th word that connects them. For example, they show Jelly, Bag and String. The answer is Bean. Maybe that was easy for you, but they drive me crazy. Especially when I can’t move my head only have five seconds and am stuck in a giant humming tube. I don’t know how many the autistic patients are getting right, but I only bat about .50. I digress.

The first time is fine. But a couple days ago I have my second visit. I take my drugs and start reading about arrhythmias. Which, incidentally, are boring. So I’m not very surprised when I get sleepy and have a hard time concentrating. I thought back to the night before and am pretty sure that I got six or seven hours of sleep, which is normal for me. So I end up reading Readers Digest and playing Spider Solitaire instead until it’s time for me to take my tests.

We start off with my least favorite test. Nuclear, Album and Man. I think for a while and my time elapses. Was it Family? Yes it was, but I get it too late. At the end of the exam I figure I did about the same as last time. But while they’re recalibrating the machine for my next test I start to have a hard time focusing my eyes. Eventually they start and I list off about thirty types of clothing. Again they have the calibrate things and I get extremely tired. But soon enough it’s time to decide what rhymes with meat and what doesn’t. During the next break I fall asleep. These aren’t ten minute breaks mind you. This is about a minute and a half. The machine operator asks me if I’m ready for the next test and I don’t answer. He asks again and this wakes me up and I say that I am, hoping he just thought I wasn’t answering before. I manage to stay away for the rest of the 40 minutes, but just barely.

There’s a post-exam, which is uneventful. I mention that I think they medication is making me sleepy and they note this on my chart. I also happen to see my blood pressure on the chart (their security isn’t very tight) and am surprised to find that it had dropped from 120/80 when I came in (which is normal) to 85/?? now. That’s not a healthy pressure. But I feel better now so I drive home. I sit down in my recliner and figure out what I want to do for the hour until my next class starts.

I wake up 3 hours later. Fortunately my teacher is pretty cool and just has me sign the roll when I show up near the end of his physical exam lecture. But seeing as we were doing heart sounds and pulses and my blood had stopped moving I probably wouldn’t have been much help to the class.

So I need to make sure that I don’t develop high blood pressure, because at least one kind of medication knocks me out. But it did put 25 dollars in my pocket, which makes it all worth it.

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