On the bright side
November 12, 2013 § 2 Comments
Two posts in two days – doesn’t Bianca have anything better to do? More effective things yes, but as I close in on hour 11 of studying for today, I decided to sneak a little break. My arms and back are in serious pain, which is understandable considering the amount of sitting we do…and the slouching that comes with it (good posture only lasts for the first hour max). I try to vary my sitting position often, throw in mini dance breaks or arm-swinging/stretching sessions, but sometimes it gets to a point where I just need to stop for a little while. So, here I am, sitting in Skjalg’s massage chair, arms rested at my side, typing away – which surprisingly enough isn’t aggravating my “student pains” as much as would be expected.
What inspired me to take this break (in addition to my body screaming at me) was an interesting topic we are covering for this week’s Physiology quiz. I find that I spend so much time focusing on – and writing about – the amount of material we have to cover and not mentioning anything about the material itself. What we are learning now is so much more interesting than what we learned last year. A whole new world of information has opened up to us and we now have the tools we need to understand it all. Yes it’s hard, but it’s also quite amazing. Sometimes I take a step back and look at the sentence I just wrote/read or replay a conversation in my head and I am instantly aware of how much knowledge hides behind those words. It’s easy to take for granted how much we have learned and therefore important to take the time to reflect on how far we have come. The easiest way to do that is to talk to someone outside of medical school. The majority of our time is spent with people just like us, which makes it that much easier to lose perspective. A social base of medical students and doctors is far from diverse…
So back to that interesting topic in Physiology. We’ve all seen movies in which a person receives bad news and faints. Having never seen anything like that for myself, I always chopped it up to a dramatic Hollywood stunt. But it turns out that there is truth to it! It is called vasovagal syncopy. Syncope is “fainting” and vasovagal refers to the effect of the vagus nerve (one of the 12 cranial nerves (nerves that exit directly from your brain), which is responsible for the majority of your “rest and digest” functions in your body).
Now, I hope I explain this right – if any reader knows better, please let me know ;). We have a system in our body that is activated during anticipation of stressful situations. This system causes dilation of the blood vessels in your skeletal muscle, so that when you need to act fast, more blood can flow through and supply your muscles. In our lecture, it was mentioned that this operates only under very specific situations and he used professional sprinters as an example. When people experience a vasovagal syncope, there is a malfunction that stimulates the part of the brain (hypothalamus) that controls this system. Now, the blood vessels in our body dilate/constrict based on the need of the tissue. We have about 5.5 liters of blood in our body and if all the vessels were to be dilated at the same time, we would die because tissues wouldn’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need. This gives an idea of what a controlled system it is! This malfunction causes the blood vessels in the skeletal muscle to dilate and since skeletal makes up such a large percentage of our body, the person’s blood pressure drops and as a result his/her brain doesn’t get enough oxygen – which is why they faint.
As for some other fun/exciting things I’ve learned or gotten to do these past of couple weeks:
- Learned that fat cells (adipose tissue) actually regulate how much energy you use/burn. So you can eat less and your body will actually work to keep more energy!
- In anatomy we got to use a bone saw to cut open the skull of our cadaver. Our professor told us that it is the same saw that they use when doing brain surgeries. Amazing.
- In physiology lab this past week we did a procedure with live rats (under heavy anesthesia) where we had to isolate the nerve in charge of controlling heart rate (the vagus nerve) and stimulate it with electric current to analyze the effect on heart rate and respiration. My group mates were nice enough to let me do most of the procedure – which was fascinating! We’re so used to cutting into cadavers that cutting into live tissue was a huge change. I was too gentle in the beginning of the procedure so the technician had to help me get it started. We would have been there for hours otherwise!
Alright, back to studying for me. Hopefully this massage chair has done it’s job!