On how I did surgeries

In my last post, I mentioned that I had performed surgery.  It’s a somewhat interesting tale that may make you wonder about me a little more than you already do.  Ok, so where to start?  I entered college pretty sure of myself.  I wanted a job that made great money and was intellectual and all that crap that high school seniors think is important.  I also had no interest whatsoever in dating or romance or ever having a girlfriend, so electrical engineering seemed right up my alley.

Within weeks, it was clear to me I had no idea what college was all about though.  I didn’t want to be an engineer and I didn’t mind the idea of a date now and then.  The first semester passed (and I shall speak no more of it here) and I knew I did not want to be an electrical engineer.

I met Emily during the first week of an honors philosophy class we both were taking (I also learned I did not want to be a philosopher).  We weren’t anything but acquaintances at that point.  I was minding my own business in the library during finals week, probably studying for that very class, when Emily and her friend came over and sat down.  Emily declared that I had studied enough and invited me to her dorm room for some hot chocolate.  I didn’t like hot chocolate but she was far too cute to let a little hot chocolate come between us.  It took 6 months of drinking hot chocolate before I finally worked up enough courage to kiss her.  Well before that, however, I knew I wanted to hang out with her more…so I decided to become a psychology major!  Yeah, if you know me, you know I don’t like people that much…not a smart move.  Anyhow, we graduated with degrees in psychology and prepared for graduate school.

We ended up at Western Kentucky University (we called it Western but they frown on that now) where I studied retinal physiology of zebrafish.  The neuroscience program was technically a part of the experimental psychology program which was technically a part of the  regular psychology program so I was legit.  I wrote software to do the data analysis and drive the data collection mechanisms which we used to study fish eyes.

I really thought I liked that a lot so after finishing at Western, we decided to head to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.  I enrolled in the PhD program in neuroscience at Vanderbilt where I studied brain anatomy and physiology in rhesus monkeys (and other creatures to a lesser extent).  The work I was doing was pretty sexy and unusual at the time.  Most anatomy and physiology work requires a short future for the animals involved.  They are always treated humanely at Vanderbilt, but it required an extreme commitment from the animal subjects.  My lab, however, was unusual in that we did surgeries to implant sensors in the monkeys’ brains and then woke them back up and did various tasks on which we had trained them.  They had long and nearly normal (lab animal) lives .  While they did their tasks, we could collect data from the sensors.  Truly, it was amazing work!

As I mentioned, the sensors were implanted in the brains (and eyes…I did not mention that) of the monkeys.  As students, part of our training was learning how to do both types of surgeries on the animals.  We used a sterile, human-grade operating room with human-grade tools and all of the “stuff” a surgeon would use on people if ever there was a need to put eye and brain sensors in a human (remind me…there is another story there).  Monkeys, of course, have many similarities to humans so it truly was an amazing experience but incredibly terrifying.  Every surgery we did was so stressful and I didn’t even have to worry about a human life or any sort of litigation.  Ok, I digress.

I eventually decided I did not like monkeys any more than I liked people so I ended up leaving Vanderbilt and monkey research.  I did like writing the computer software that we used at Western and Vanderbilt to collect data and drive the machinery.  Upon leaving Vanderbilt, I enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University where I earned a masters degree in computer science.  I am much better suited to this gig…I get computers and they get me.  It really is where I needed to end up, even if it was through a roundabout path.  The coolest part is I still get to spend lots of time with Emily!

7 thoughts on “On how I did surgeries

  1. Well that is quite an enlightening tale. So I guess you are a brain surgeon then. Now I know who to call if I ever need an inplant…wait a minute…wifey wants to know if you can write a program to get me to do housework???? Especially dishes !!!

  2. Great story!

    Isn’t it funny how many of us take a roundabout way (and many years) to figure out what we actually like to do? I actually find that encouraging—since that means I’m not the only 30-something still trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.

  3. Wow I knew you were smart-but not that smart : ) Very nice to hear more about your life-and how you and missus met too!

  4. My background is in neuropsych. I love that stuff! I wouldn’t have liked operating on monkeys though. The only surgeries I ever did were cat neuters when I worked at a vet during college.

    So when do we get to hear about this mystery project?

  5. I was never so relieved in my life as I was the day that I left that place. I should have known the first day…I had to go up to the hospital so they could take a blood sample. They keep a frozen “baseline” blood sample in case I catch something from the monkeys…they wanted to know how my blood looked before I came in contact with monkeys…

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