Sunday, December 18, 2011

Curiosity Cured the Cat

Curiosity seems to be a defining characteristic of many people that seek out a career as a physician. Obviously, I'm basing this observation on what I've seen in myself, my fellow pre-med students, and other doctors and researchers, but I think it's an accurate statement. Most of us are simply curious by nature, and I think it's that curiosity that leads us to study (well, aside from the exams and grades and such), investigate, research, and learn. Ultimately, it's this curiosity (seasoned with a healthy dash of dedication) that allows us to care for, diagnose, and cure other people.

In that spirit, I have begun a list of questions to which I hope to have answers by the time I'm done with medical school. Whether I come by those answers by learning on my own out of textbooks, finding out in lectures, directly asking a professor, or just by talking with fellow med students, I'm looking forward to learning everything I can about the normal and abnormal functions in the human body. This list isn't complete yet; as with most things, as my medical knowledge grows over the next few years, the number of questions I have will probably grow for a while as well. If you know an answer to one of my below questions, feel free to post it in a comment. However, before you do, please observe the following qualifying paragraph, bolded for emphasis:

I reserve the right to doubt you if your "knowledge" seems suspect or incomplete. For example, maybe you thought you heard somewhere once, perhaps from your doctor (or could it have been grandma?), that the reason your eyelids twitch sometimes is because you haven't gotten enough sleep. That's an incomplete explanation for muscular twitches of the eye. It doesn't explain what is causing the twitch. Is it a nutrient imbalance in the myocytes resulting from a lack of replenishment during sleep that causes the muscles to twitch because you didn't get enough sleep? Or is it neurological in nature, originating from a fatigued brain that is no longer able to correctly monitor eye muscle function? Maybe a combination? Obviously, these are just made-up possible explanations, but factual, accurate versions of those are what I'm looking for when I say I want to find out the answers to my questions. Aside from the completeness and detail that I'm looking for, I want reliability. Simply having "read it somewhere once" isn't good enough for me. I need references, or at least, "We learned that in my anatomy class last spring."

Now that we've got that out of the way, here are the beginnings to my list of Curious Questions:

1. Why does your skin itch sometimes, and what makes it stop itching once you've scratched it?

2. Why do your eyes water when you yawn? Why do they water when you pee - or is this just me?

3. Is there a connection between sadness and pain that makes people lacrimate from both, or are these two completely separate sensations that just happen to result in the same physiological response?

4. Why do children cry more easily from pain than adults do? Is it just an increase in pain tolerance and self control, or does something change neurologically?

5. Why does drinking milk when you have a cold or sinus infection make you seem to produce more phlegm? Is it really happening, or is there no real correlation between the two?

6. Why do muscles sometimes begin to twitch when you've gone without sleep? Why do eyelids seem to do this more frequently than other muscles?

7. Why do peoples' eyes dilate when they're on certain drugs?

8. Why does hair turn gray or silver when you get older, and why does stress accelerate this part of the aging process? What makes some people's hair turn gray, while others' might go right to white / silver?

9. Why does one person yawning initiate a yawn in another person?

10. What is the cellular-biological explanation for why older people recover more quickly from sickness and injury faster than younger people?

11. Does a cross-eyed individual perceive two distinctively skewed images, given that they eyes often point in different directions? Or does their brain compensate by merging the image? Do they have blind spots in their vision, or perhaps just separate frames for each field of view?

12. Why do your limbs prickle as they "wake back up" after going without oxygen for a time? What is actually happening to the nerve cells? Are they flicking on and off, "restarting" in some way, or is it a perception based in the brain as it begins to receive signals once again where it had grown used to receiving none during the small period of time during which the limb had been "asleep?"

What about you? Do you have any questions that would be good for me to add to my list? Is there anything about which you wonder but have never really learned an explanation? Feel free to post below!

6 comments:

Bekah said...

OMG...you will love Dr. Stephenson in Physiology if you come to MSU. He is all about the mechanistic paradigm. Good writing all those down. You will be the person in anatomy that everyone else is telling to shut up because it isn't something on the objective list. ;) Ask me how I know...

Susan said...

Nice questions...I'll have to try to come up with one good enough to post! It may take awhile ...you noted some that I've always wondered about.

Sam P. said...

Hangnails... Why do they exist? Why do they grow out that way? Is there a way to prevent them? Why are they more present on fingers than toes?

Addison H said...

7. Parasympathetic and sympathetic responses. Basically sympathetic are your flight or fight responses. Heart rate increases to supply the blood to the muscles that are about to contract quickly. Respiration increases to help supply the oxygen demand (though an oxygen debt will still happen.) adrenaline is released to help with all of this. Several other things also happen including dilation of the eyes so that you can see better to fight or see better running away. The opposite is true as well. Miosis (constriction of the pupils) occurs will several other types of drugs (heroin, opiates, etc.) This information will be important on your step 2 licensing exams (the ones you take at the end of 3rd year/early 4th year) because you will be given case presentations of patients coming to the ER with an overdose. Dilation/constriction (miosis/mydriasis) will be something that will give you a good hint for the correct answer. this is a combination of physiology, biochem, pharm, and ER knowledge.

But keep asking questions and thinking about things, we can never learn enough.

And my eyes dont water when I pee, im thinking it is just you, haha

Susan said...

So what IS going on with gray hair? Why do some have gray earlier than others? Is it truly "in the genes"? Why so many different colors/shades of gray? Seems like there are surely answers to these questions (I don't want to look it up right now). So then, why doesn't someone figure out a way to reverse or prevent it from happening? The genius who does will make millions. Maybe the hair coloring companies are jinxing the discovery....

Anonymous said...

In my experience, most people do not lacrimate when they pee. (Read, I have never, ever heard of this before!) However, some people have a genetic something-or-other (it's recessive - like being able to curl your tongue) that causes them to sneeze when they look at the sun.

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