Our brains one of the vastly strong and most important organs in our body, helps to control our nervous system in directing our bodily function, reactions and feeling. So important that if it is damaged, the lavish lifestyles we are so blessed of living will drastically change for the worse. As children in school we often taught, to know that we all indeed have functional brains which direct our every action, but what we fail to realize is that our brains aren’t perfected and can have genetic flaws that may affect our very existence. In a way we almost are oblivious to the fact that our brains may not be as in shape as we want but with a new neurological method we might be able to change it.
In the New York Times article “My Pain, My Brain”, Melanie Thernstrom gives readers a new understanding of how the flaws of the brain can truly affect the lives of the victims. While using her own personal reference of suffering with chronic pain, she also describes research on methods of not only improving her condition, but the conditions of others who suffer with a similar disorder. By writing this article she hopes to inspire people to believe that their disorder can not only be kept in check but though scientific reasoning, scientist themselves will possess the skill needed to combat all brain disorders.
To begin with, I feel the need to say that when I initially started to read “My Pain, My Brain,” I had doubts that I would actually be able to not only like the article but also be able to get the contexts I needed to understand it. It seemed so long and at first threw me off when Thernstrom begins by comparing her brain to a computer in which we could “reprogram it like a computer to eliminate glitches of pain, depression and learning disabilities.” I worried that a story such as this wouldn’t be an easy task to write about at all. In addition, the title didn’t grasp my attention and as she tries to introduce her ideas of watching her brain, I felt like it wasn’t relatable.
But as I continued I was more intrigued with the ideas, methods and practices that were helping patients suffering with chronic pain. While Thernstrom starts in her second paragraph about her own glitches and chronic pain it wasn’t until she explain that she too was suffering from the disorder that I began to feel that the article wasn’t going to just be about science. The article had a mix of scientific understanding and more of a personal awareness of disorder brought on by the brain. The article is more relevant to my daily life because as I pursue my life as a doctor I know there will be similar cases where I will come face to face with someone suffering with this disorder and knowing that I have passion to help, I hope that I will be skilled enough in the future to be able to help them given that this new scientific experiment is perfected.
In “My Pain, My Brain,” Thernstrom starts by giving us her own personal outlook of chronic pains. She describes suffering “chronic pain in my neck that radiates into the right side of my face and right shoulder and arm.” She gives us visions of a bad horrid place in her brain, “soggy, moldy dark or perhaps ashy, like those alarming picture of smoker’s lungs.” She uses the image of fire to show the flaring of the disorder in her brain and by using repetition of fire often in the reading she wants us to realize that her issue with chronic pain is a daily struggle to not only her but the people that are also diagnosed with it by giving us several moment of usages
Then she quickly introduces us to technology called f.M.R.I, to which she refers to as “ingenious new software”, which scientists hope to incorporate to help heal and/or control her disorder. The process being called Neuroimaging therapy that a person is put into a f.M.R.I machine and their brain is scanned than the brain scans are show to the patient so that they can see the flaring of their chronic pains and taught that although they have sensitive pain receptors they can possible control their pain modulators so that they can possibly live normal lives. She could have made the article boring and just talked about chronic pain and its effects, and the practices of healing chronic pain. Instead, she gives her own opinions and doubts, which allow the reader to connect with her. At the same time, in the other parts of the essay she is very informative and straight to the point, only giving fact and definite answers to questions from doctors in that field. She also uses this range of explaining modes to show that through science and personal imagination we can identify the problems we are having with our brains, and in time we will be able to completely modify our brains to stop future problems.
One of the things that stand out is when Thernstrom tells us that “thinking about pain creates pain” but with the process of neuroimaging therapy she was able to conquer her own experiment dealing with pain in which she discovered she was capable of controlling it. She introduces us to something that she calls the placebo effect. She explains that by using the placebo effect, even helped in case where 14 men were given stinging saltwater solution injections and even though they didn’t produce the endogenous endorphins needed to act like an “opiatelike substance” because they believe the placebo given to them was helpful they produced their own endorphins. In which it proved to be more effective in the healing process. Thernstrom describes the placebo effect through her use of distraction and her own personal belief she wasn’t in pain; as a result of the experiment and to her amazement, she suffered 2nd degree burns. She was able to control pain just by the use of the placebo affect and distractions by showing how simple it was to just try to forget about the pain or ignore it with things that aren’t so painful.
Amazing enough I’m sure that although this work has been proved to be helpful and effective, what made readers like me feel uneasy was the shift of tone of Thernstrom from very confident to unsure that it is absolutely possible to block out all pain. I actually started to doubt the use of the placebo effect being very effective process when Melanie Thernstrom tell us of a time when doctors tried to use the placebo on patient who were shown someone else brain images to test to see if it would work, it wasn’t at all effective as they hoped it would be. In some cases, Doctors tried to trick some patient showing them another patient brain. As an effect the patient who requested for the experiment and were trick have much of a change in controlling their pain led on by their chronic pain. I wonder how Melanie was able to bare the damages from 2nd degree burns when she had time to ignore the pain but when she was faced with a daily accident of spilling hot tea on herself wasn’t as successful in ignoring much of anything.
Although Melanie chooses to have an optimistic tone she includes a more realistic one where she wants the readers figure out if neuroimaging therapy is worth it. In a way Melanie doubted that the treatment could be affective for pains that are to instant to control. While Melanie questions about the methods of doctors during the process of healing chronic pain it leaves the reader to question the practice themselves. By seeing how someone who is suffering with chronic pain has such a change in controlling her disorder, the reader is hopeful. At the same time, by giving us the example of the effects of the hot tea, Thernstrom shows us that pain modulation is not a miracle and that in reality we won’t be completely cured from chronic or acute pain. In this way, readers are not given false hope.
Besides the fact that Melanie Thernstrom has given us her beliefs and doubts in this experiments, she fails to tell her audience one thing that wasn’t mentioned in the article: namely, how affordable or widespread this practice may be for people who are suffering with chronic pain. We also weren’t given a rate of how successfully neuroimaging is to helping people to control chronic pain. Even the risks of being treated in this manner are not shown in this article, and if Thernstrom, who herself suffered from a 2nd degree burn easily, we don’t know how long this process will last.
All in all, Melanie Thernstrom wants us to get more involved and support the research being done for illnesses like chronic pain. She expects us to not only learn about the practices but also know that through time if perfected those deadly and damaging disorders that have kept many of us afraid will be cured. I believe the reason that Melanie Thernstrom ends her article with questions is to get her reader to think and have their own opinion. It not as if she wants to agree with her but she wants us to react, learn, and find on our own information on this newly incorporated science method because she can only give you what she has experienced.