Wednesday, August 6, 2008

That's All She Wrote

Well, after taking time to mull over my final week at Weill, I can finally offer some parting thoughts on my immersion experience. Incredible. The opportunity that we were presented with is so unique and so beneficial that I can still hardly believe what I just spent the past 7 weeks doing. As a chemical engineer by training, all of my medicinal knowledge has been fairly limited to almost a decade’s worth of time as an EMS worker on an ambulance corp. I knew, while useful in small, contained scenario’s, this knowledge wasn’t passable to transform myself into a biomedical engineer. I find it impossible to be a successful biomedical engineer if there is a complete disconnect between one’s studies and one’s field.

What I’ve truly come to realize is that this 7 week crash course in medicine has exponentially increased my knowledge in my newly adopted field. The awareness of new terminology, treatments, and the field of medicine in general has come so far from my first week to my final weeks that I can hardly believe it. I also have had enough OR time to make any first or second year medical student jealous. It is still as mind boggling to me about the things surgeons can do in the OR as it was 6 weeks ago. This is why I find one of the final cases I was able to observe seems an appropriate way to end my blog posts.

On my final day I was privy to really see the advances in biomedical technology and how it is one of the largest driving forces shaping the medical field. The case I’m speaking about was that of a patient who had previously had an extensive hemangioma tumor removed from their brain. This type of tumor, while benign, can grow and cause severe problems (as one can imagine) if not treated. This patient had undergone surgery some time ago to remove part of the tumor and, due to its extensiveness, had to have part of their skull removed at the time. This missing portion of the skull was replaced by a mesh frame which sadly got infected shortly thereafter and had to be removed. For the past number of months the patient lived normally expect with a giant depression where their skin met their brain without any hard protective barrier. It was at this juncture in the patient’s care that I met them and watched as the original neurosurgeon reopened the skull to try to resect more of the tumor and then fit them with a new biomedical device. What was truly amazing here was how much the technology had already improved in such a short period of time. This meant that instead of a mesh cage molded to fit the patient’s head shape during surgery, a polymer made of Poly(methyl methacrylate) would be custom built beforehand using a rapid prototyper to make the 3d replica. This device was then anchored into the patient’s remaining skull and Dr. Spector made some very precise incisions to move the skin over to cover the new device. After watching this surgery and imaging the improvement in this patient’s quality of because such a device exists really brought the whole experience full circle.

In the end summer immersion had its ups and downs, its ridiculously long days (more than I would like to count), but when all is said and done it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Good luck to all the incoming 1st year PhDs, I hope you find the same fulfillment with your immersion experience at Weill as I did, because your time there is really what you choose to make out of it.

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