Friday, May 18, 2012

An Update

Hello (very) loyal audience!

It has been far too long since my last post and I actually feel really guilty about it.  I really enjoy(ed) writing in this blog.  So, rather than continuing to wait for a self-proclaimed profound thought worth sharing I figure I'll stop procrastinating and write a post about what I've been up to since my last post. 

So first and foremost, I have been working.  As most young professionals in my generation are discovering, saying that I have been working doesn't quite do it justice - it indicates that I have a job but doesn't quite give the flavor of reality that I'd like to offer for taste-testing.  I am currently involved in 5 biomechanics studies at work and I'll try to lay them out in non-engineering terms to try and maintain the image of being a normal, sociable, real, not nerdy person!  Disclaimer - I am very nerdy.

The first study I worked on when I started my job at HSS was called the Juvenile ACL reconstruction study.  The primary significance of the study is addressing the fact that adult ACL reconstruction techniques are inappropriate for juvenile patients because the growth plate of their skeletally immature bones (the part that causes the bones to elongate to full, mature length) would be disrupted with a drill tunnel, thus stunting the growth of the bone and dwarfing the patient.  The clinical alternatives generally involve methods that use extracortical fixation (a screw that enters from outside the bone and doesn't pass too deep) and wrapping the ACL graft around the back of the femur and then through a bone tunnel in the tibia, sparing the epiphysis (growth plate).  There are many surgical variations on this procedure and the Juvenile ACL study set out to evaluate two such techniques with the hopes of finding that one was more kinematically stable or reduced pressures in the joint relative to ACL-deficient knees, or both.  The testing is conducted with a large robotic arm that manipulates the knee in predetermined ways that are deemed relevant for recording measurements based on past literature and functional clinical exams.  All in all, 11 cadaveric knees were dissected, prepped, tested, operated on, and analyzed by yours truly, one of my coworkers named Carl, and a surgical resident named Moira.  Dissection and prep took place on the same day, testing generally took one 18 and one 12 hour day, and the surgeries were performed on testing days.  The study took us 8 weeks to complete from start to finish.  Doing some rough retrospective number crunching, I was involved in cutting up 11 knees, performing 22 ACL reconstructions, and 330 hours of testing - IN TWO MONTHS!    I've never been in a place that's so efficient and productive with its research.  Data processing took Carl and I about 3 weeks to munch through after which Moira turned an abstract around in about the same time.  The study has been finalized, a paper written and submitted, and plans are currently being made for designing future research thrusts based on our findings.

I suppose I should take a minute or two now and explain what testing is like.  It involves sitting in a room about the size of 4 H3 hummers with a huge robotic arm, 2 freezers full of..... parts....., the specimen you are currently working on (in the robot's grips), a computer cluster from which we researchers play God to the robot, and usually a coworker or medical resident to keep you awake and entertained.  Operating the robot is a matter of running specific house-written (MATLAB) computer codes, watching the readouts on the computer screen to ensure that you haven't told the robot to perform its own, violent surgery on the specimen accidentally, and keeping the specimen moist so the tissues don't dry out.  Needless to say, Carl, Moira, and I learned a lot about each other during those testing days.  On the really long days (nights) there always seemed to be a bewitching hour between 8-10pm that always rendered us slap-happy, irritable, and karaoke-prone for the rest of the testing day.  Carl gave brief introductory lessons on the finer (innapropriate) words in the German language, Moira continually demonstrated a desire to understand what was going on with testing but, frustratingly, not being able to grasp engineering concepts, and I blessed the crowd with a witty, satirical sense of humor that can only accurately be described as that of Jeff Tucker's.  Those of you that know my father (or maybe myself - .....scary) understand what it was like.

Another important aspect of this study that I have failed to mention up to this point is that a senior, attending surgeon from the main hospital, Dr. Frank Cordasco (Google him!  He's really cool!) came over to perform the surgeries with Moira, Carl, and myself.  Now that the study has been submitted, he will be writing me a letter of recommendation for medical school.

(dramatic pause)

You did read that correctly.  I am, yet again applying to medical school.  If there is one thing that I have learned from my experience so far at this job, it is that I LOVE surgery!  I generally don't take well to being held back and I would generally hold a grudge against medical schools and spite them for not accepting me in the past but I have found a real passion here and I am throwing my hat in the ring again one last time. 

Note - at this point I am realizing that I will have to tell you about my other studies in another post (but at least the topics for future posts are decided so I have no more excuses to not write!)

I spent a large part of the day today filling out the all-too-familiar-to-me common application for AMCAS which opens up for submissions on June 5.  I will be submitting my application on June 5th and, therefore, will be quite busy between now and then with work, applications, and continuing to study for the MCAT, which I intend to take in late July this year.  To further belabor myself (and much to my surprise), I will be applying to some schools for their MD/PhD program, adding more years onto the time it would take me to graduate.  I have developed a soft spot for research since starting this job and would like to stay involved throughout my career (or at least that's how I feel now).  So that's the long-put off update - stay tuned as I intend to get back on the horse and post more regularly!