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Uncategorized, week 2

Ashley Yevick


The story “My Pain, My Brain” by Melanie Thernstrom is mainly about her experience of learning how to control her brain and level of chronic pain with simply her mind. With the technology of fMRI scans for a Stanford University study she was able to see her brain in action and begin to understand how it worked and what its triggers were. To make the sophisticated technology easier to read for the people in the study, the levels of pain were indicated as flames; the higher the flames, the worse your level of pain was being perceived by your brain. This took place over six sessions and the whole point was to show that “while looking at the brain, subjects can learn to control its activation in a way that regulates their pain,” Dr. Sean Mackey, the director of the Neuroimaging and Pain lab at Stanford. Melanie took the readers through her journey of trying to figure out how to take control her own level of pain by telling us how she had to pretend to be a martyr being tortured in order for it to go away and then pretend to be a victim for it to intensify.  IN the end she was able to learn how to control the pain during the fMRI scan, but not when something unexpected happened like spilling hot tea on her hand.

The purpose of Melanie writing this is to open people’s ideas to the fact that they can control their own pain. This type of technology was misconceived as being “the world’s most expensive placebo” and she wants to let people know that this is worth it and can be an answer to those who give it a try. Her tone is very friendly, open and most importantly honest. She lets understand her thoughts as she’s seeing and learning about her own brain for the first time and her attitude is very positive throughout the article even though this didn’t work immediately for her. Her true purpose is to give the reader (who may be a victim of chronic pain themselves) hope that they too can do this. You don’t have to be super smart or know exactly how the technology works and not even the doctors know how the brain and mind are exactly working together to make this study a success. All’s you have to do is stay positive, stick with it, and try. She also uses a familiar example to connect with us by mentioning Bethany Hamilton’s experience of getting her arm bitten off by a shark. It’s a story that most of us have heard of and Melanie tells us that she was able to control her brain this way so that she didn’t feel any pain and was therefore able to swim herself to safety. She did feel pressure, so this is not a total killing of neural stimuli, but the pain was not there and she did that by herself.

Even though her tone was light-hearted and positive, she did her homework and made sure her facts were straight before just writing how happy she was about participating in this study. She added some statistics about how “50-odd million suffers in the United States,” from chronic pain and she gets into detail about how this technology working with the fMRI scan works and also how the brain works by talking about pain perception and pain modulation. This article was very enlightening by teaching us about our own brain, the technology used to see it, about how our mind can control it and it was easy to read with her open attitude and tone.



One thought on “Ashley Yevick

  1. Good, Ashley! Your first paragraph is concise, and gives an overview of some of the main points of the article. Can you think of a way to paraphrase Mackey’s quote?
    I think your explanation of Thernstrom’s purpose is good — to introduce readers to the idea that our minds can control pain. One of the things in the article that struck me was the metaphor of the missing dial. We have a pain modulation system (unlike being able to modulate diseases like Parkinson’s or Huntington’s), but we don’t know how to use the dial. In a later paragraph you claim that the fMRI “was misconceived as being ‘the world’s most expensive placebo’ and [Thernstrom] wants to let people know that this is worth it and can be an answer to those who give it a try.” Who in the article calls is “the world’s most expensive placebo” and what exactly does that mean in the context of the article? I think what you are pointing to here is the skepticism or doubt that some people might feel about this therapy. Where do you think this skepticism — from both scientists and from general readers — might stem from?

    Posted by klucenko | February 1, 2012, 5:09 pm

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