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We don't believe in winter around here.

January 20, 2011

Chinwe Okona ’13

You better believe it, people. I'm spending my Winter Term/WT/January term/J-term in Florida, the best place in the whole wide world (I talk up Florida A LOT, don't I?). Except I'm in north Florida, which is actually more like being in Alabama. Although the people are more conservative, there's less culture, and it actually gets cold here, it's still the Sunshine State; therefore, I am happy.

I spent my J-term my freshman year in Florida as well, but I stayed home and nearly beat my brains out. As cool as it seems to be chilling at home when all your friends are back at school, it'll actually make you completely mental. So future Obies, don't do that. Be adventurous, which is exactly what I did this year.

I'm currently in Gainesville, at the University of Florida.

An empty college football stadium

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, aka "The Swamp."

Why UF? I'd say this place is everything Oberlin is not, so I wanted to get a feel for a different college experience. Also, a lot of my friends from high school attend UF, so yes, I'm having a pretty good time.

My J-term project, however, is THE BEST. This past summer I ventured to San Francisco for a summer research internship, which consisted of purely lab work. I spent tons of hours inside a room with no windows, working with chemicals, and handling mice. This year, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of working at a lab bench, I'm doing clinical research.

Clinical research is the kind of research that involves working with humans. Here at UF, I'm working in the McKnight Brain Institute in the neuropsychology department.

A large brick building from a parking lot

A building with a sign "Evelyn F and William L McKnight Brain Institute

The Evelyn F. & William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida.

I was lucky enough to get started right when they were beginning a new study, called The Vital Study. The aim of this study is to determine how cognitive training and physical exercise interact to improve the mental function of healthy elders. So not only am I working with people, I'm working with elderly people.

The cognitive training in this study consists of a program that has games and activities to test different brain functions of the participants, such as working memory, long-term memory, etc. As for the physical exercise, participants will either be walking on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike (depending on the physical ability of the participant), or playing different games on Wii Fit for the Nintendo Wii. I'm so stoked about this. Even though I completely suck at them, I love video games. With clinical research (as opposed to laboratory research) there is a lot more of what I call secretary work (making copies, answering phone calls, etc.), but the fact that I also do a lot of "video game testing" makes it completely worth it.

Since the study revolves around elderly people and requires them to participate four times a week, instead of having the testing site be located at the Brain Institute, an assisted living facility is letting the university rent out one of their condos to use as the testing site.

A door with Florida Gator decorations
The door to the condo.

An address next to a door with the words "UF vital lab"
haha I thought this was funny.

A room with yoga mats and wii fit boards
The living room/Wii room.

A yoga mat with a Wii Fit board in front of a TV
One Wii work station.

Exercise machines in a room
The traditional exercise room.

Two computers in a room
The cognitive training room.

It's pretty sweet, I spend a little bit of time on campus and quite a bit of time at the condo.

In addition to ALL of that, today I observed a deep brain stimulation surgery. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery is a surgery that implants something called a neurostimulator in the patient's brain, which then delivers electrical stimulation to the specific parts of the brain responsible for motor control. This surgery is performed to help reduce tremors and Parkinson's Disease symptoms.

Being in the operating room was amazing. The doctor I shadowed was very down-to-earth, but still an excellent teacher. Before the patient was even brought into the room, we were looking at MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) scans and naming different structures and pathways in the brain. I have not yet taken neuroanatomy, but I seemed to impress him with how much I knew from taking introductory neuroscience (I was equally, if not more, impressed with myself with how much I remembered from that class!).

The coolest thing about neurosurgery is that there are many surgeries that are performed while the patient is awake. DBS is one of them. The patient was a female, about thirty years old, with sweet tattoos and a love for 80s rock. It was super neat to be able to talk her during the surgery, in addition to the fact that it was awesome how the doctor could give her a play by play of the surgery as they drilled holes in her skull.

I think I mentioned in my last entry how obsessed I am with Grey's Anatomy, and although there isn't that much drama, surgeons actually do enjoy themselves during surgery. In my operating room, Cake radio on Pandora was playing at a very generous volume and the anesthesiologist was taking pictures on her iPhone for the patient to view later. I'm becoming more and more certain that surgery is my life's calling.

As much fun as Gainesville is, I'm excited to be returning to Oberlin in the next few weeks. There's still so much to learn before I get to command my very own operating room. Until then, Obies!

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