Friday, January 20, 2006

Bad Hair Day

For those of you who may not know, I have an infrequent but alarming problem with my left hand. Roughly once a month, all five fingers on it will start jumping around and twitching without any prompting by me. I still largely retain control over the fingers during these spasms, but I can't keep them still. Even if I clamp my other hand or my arm over them, they'll still try to move, and I can watch my veins pumping blood to them madly. It feels as if someone else is controlling the hand, and, needless to say, I find the entire experience to be rather unnerving, although I have become accustomed to it over the last several years.

If you're curious why I'm sharing this unpleasant problem, it is in order to explain why I had an EEG, or electroencephalogram, yesterday morning. I've had this problem for years, but I generally will only go see my doctor after I have a laundry list of at least a dozen problems built up, and I'd forgotten to mention this on my previous trip a couple of years earlier. So, when I finally mentioned the problem to him during my most recent trip a few months ago, he seemed to be concerned, and he scheduled an EEG for me. If you don't know what an EEG is, don't worry-- I didn't either before a few months ago. An electroencephalogram is a brain scan where lots of sensors are attached to your head and various neurophysiological measurements of your brain's electrical activity are taken and analyzed. More important than that more technical explanation, however, is what it does to your hair. :-)

I'm going to explain the process in detail now, but I want to stress that many of these are uneducated observations and inferences on my part, so I may not have everything right. If anyone is inclined to correct me, feel free. First, the woman who was conducting the examination had me lie down on a bed and then pointed a couple of cameras at me. Then, she measured my head's dimensions (news flash: it's big!), presumably to help judge how she should space out what she was going to do next. At this point, she took out a marker and began to mark points all over my head, and the way in which it grated against my hair was rather unpleasant. My best guess for these markings were that they served one of two purposes: either they were simply a guide for where she should attach each of the upcoming sensors, or they were a special ink that would be picked up by the cameras and used as reference points. I lost count of just how many markings she made, but I'd guess anywhere from a dozen to thirty.

At this point, the time that I'd been fearing had finally arrived-- it was time to mess up my hair. She was about to place roughly twenty of what I will, for lack of a better word, refer to as sensors (those little suction cups with cords that you always see on TV-- can a non-invasive sensing device be called a probe?) all over my head, and in order for these sensors to take proper readings, each spot where they were placed had to be coated in what I believe was a conducting gel. Now, twenty sticky spots all over my head might sound like my worst nightmare, but it was far better than the procedure from a couple of decades earlier that the gel application had replaced. You see, my uncle Royce once had an EEG many years ago, and when he had it done, they'd had to shave little holes in his hair at each point where the wanted to place a sensor. So, all things considered, I'm fortunate to just have to worry about sticky hair.

In any case, she applied all of the sensors (as well as one on my chest), wrapped my head several times in what I believe was gauze to keep them in place, and then went to the other side of the room to begin the test. I didn't actually get to see myself in this state, but I suspect I looked like one of those involuntary experimental subjects you see escaping from sterile facilities in movies. She then shut off the lights and told me to close my eyes. I hadn't gotten much sleep over the last several days (and still haven't), so I asked if my falling asleep was a concern. Far from it-- apparently they prefer it if you fall asleep, as it makes for more accurate readings. I was happy to oblige, so I tried to have a little nap, with limited, but existent, success.

My biggest problem was that she wanted me to relax. As anyone who knows me is aware, relaxation is not a state that comes easily to me, especially in an emasculating situation like this. It wasn't helped by the fact that she wanted this relaxed state to consist of several specific qualities: slow steady breathing, eyes closed, teeth separated, mouth slightly open, etc. For much the same reason that I can't swing a golf club properly, this proved difficult. You see, whenever I try to swing a golf club, I think to myself "knees bent, back straight, arms straight, feet spaced, eye on the ball" and so forth, and I get so tense running through that mental checklist that I have no hope of hitting the ball well.

Regardless, I tried to relax as best I could, and the test began. For some reason, I had considerable difficulty keeping my eyes closed. If she'd just asked me to lie there in the dark, I'd probably have closed my eyes anyway, but, in much the same way that a person told not to think about pink elephants invariably turns their thoughts to pink elephants, I desperately wanted to open my eyes once I was told not to. There were a couple of times that I had to resort to furrowing my brow in order to simulate blinking in an effort to resist the urge to open them. I perservered, however.

Not all of my time was spent napping in the dark, though. At one point early on, she had me breathe deeply and rapidly for three minutes, which got pretty distressing by the end. I'm sure it had a point, but that sounds like just the kind of task I'd make up in her place if I felt like having some fun at the patient's expense. Also, near the test's end, she brought in a bright light and placed it over me. It proceeded to blink in bursts, with the time between blinks slow at first but progressively getting faster and faster until it was almost faster than I could perceive. This too proved distressing.

After that, I was done. I'd asked when she had first placed all of the sensors if there was any chance that they'd take hair with them when they were removed, and she'd assured me that they would not. This point was driven home, when, after the test was completed, she simply grabbed a big handful of cords and easily yanked them all off in one big pull, including the one on my chest. I barely felt them come off. All that remained after their removal was for her to take a wet cloth and do her best to wash the ink and gel off of my head. Unfortunately, the only thing that gets it off completely is a good shampoo and wash, and when I stepped onto the elevator soon after and looked in the mirror, I realized that my hair was quite possibly the messiest it had ever been. Certainly the messiest it had been in the last decade, at any rate. It was wet and sticky and pointing out in a dozen different directions. Needless to say, I went home and had a shower before returning to work.

All things considered, it wasn't a bad experience. In fact, I would characterize it as a pleasant experience, given how much difficulty I generally have during hospital visits. I got to take the morning off from work and catch up on my sleep in a dark room, at the expense of my hair. I've been told that my doctor will have the results in a couple of weeks, but I'm hoping that I won't be hearing from him, since he'll only want to talk to me if they found something, and I don't think there's such a thing as a trivial brain problem. *crosses fingers*

[Note: Travis has a blog now. The link has been added to my sidebar.]


Anonymous a dave said...

eeg machines are zombie makers good luck!

Friday, January 20, 2006 2:12:00 PM  
Anonymous vern said...

I'm pretty sure the marks on your head were just to make sure the electrodes were put on the proper place. The breathing was probably the same reason they put an electrode on your chest; to have some sort of baseline measure about blood flow and oxygen to your head, not that I'm entirely sure about what this will actually do. I suppose it's probably cuz your neurons, even when doing nothing, will fire anyways, and the entire head fires in some kind of order usually. I've never heard of anyone's description of having an EEG. I think it's pretty cool.

Zombie-maker? The electrodes themselves input nothing into your head.

Friday, January 20, 2006 4:31:00 PM  
Anonymous a dave said...

yeah but its what they take out

Friday, January 20, 2006 6:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Kim said...

Whee, an EEG! I'm getting my fourth.. no fifth one Monday morning! My God are they boring. You're lucky in only having the free standing electrodes. They can also use electrode caps when they use more electrodes. In terms of the marks, they were probably for placement since you need to know exactly where the EEG readings are coming from for diagnostic purposes. The electrode on your chest was so they could subtract out the electrical activity from your heart that can be picked up by the EEG. If you blink a lot it will cause artefacts on the EEG. You should try it with your eyes constantly open and being told to blink as little as possible.

As for the breathing test, I'm not sure. I presume you'd want normal breathing to get a baseline. I'll have to ask. You want to have another one done sometime? I know people who are always looking for volunteers. :)

Saturday, January 21, 2006 9:00:00 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

You want to have another one done sometime?

Ummmm, I'll pass. I doubt I'll be in the Halifax area any time soon in any case.

Monday, January 23, 2006 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous mike said...

jordan would make a powerful zombie, I fear for the race

Friday, January 27, 2006 1:06:00 PM  

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