Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tapped out?

Did you know MRI works because the body is mostly water?

Sorry, that's all I got this morning, in prep for a "Day in the Life" of an exhibit developer at the Detroit Science Center.

Today, the subject is MRI -- more specifically, an MRI exhibit in progress. The exhibit consists of a model Siemens "Magnetom Essenza" -- appropriately disarmed of its 1.5 Tesla power, but otherwise "operational" in the sense that the table and lights work.

The exhibit fabricators will build an 8-foot wall to house a 21" video monitor which will carry some of the burden of explanation . . . but the vast rest of expanse is mine to fill with text written on a 6th grade level.

Explaining MRI on an elementary level, well. . . the first skill required is patience with the inquiring reader. I must furnish just enough information to be credible and authoritative, without being overwhelmingly technical. (Not hard for an ad writer, with no background whatsoever in physics.) Second task is to be. . . engaging. Museum people know that the attention span of a visitor -- is about three seconds -- less than your average flea. So be clear, be concise and get on with it.

In my mind, at least for today, until review later this morning by a radiologist at Beaumont Hospitals, and a marketing representative from Siemens traveling from Philly to visit the museum -- my best shot at explaining MRI is in storybook style-- using a rebus. (Literally, words and pictures together) Very elementary, my dears, the text can be scanned in a glance, letting illustrations add the 10,000 words to explain just how hydrogen atoms behave in the body like biological compass needles, how radio frequency signals create a resonance - or a chatter in the matter -- and send off energy that is transmitted - this part I still don't get, but anyway. . . somehow the scanner can capture with precision this diversion of energy in your body, and according to different levels of H2O in its various tissues (blood as opposed to brain as opposed to heart or bone) it picks up the signals as gradients in hundreds of cross-sectional images that a computer assembles with remarkable clarity to show what's going on... thus, a perfect diagnostic tool for tumors or other abnormalities... and more recently, functional brain studies.

MRI is harmless, painless, uses no ionizing radiation, a totally noninvasive procedure. But it is a blast- a bit too confining for the claustrophobic and very loud. Best medical advice I can give you is my grandmother's: eat well, be well and with good fortune, you'll never see the inside of one of these monster scanners.

Sorry, creatively, that's all I got today.



  1. Oh wait! I want to see the rebus. We getting very high-quality posts here, Viv. Thanks for sharing some very interesting MRI wisdom and I totally agree with your grandma.

    Have you read Cutting for Stone? Apropos of almost nothing except the medical technology. I'm trying to decide whether to recommend it, but I certainly enjoyed it.

  2. Cutting for Stone! Our Book Club selection for September. Yes, haven't read, but it's up next, after I finish Zeitoun -- a quick (heartbreaking) read by Eggers as you probably already know. Also just finished Tinkers (at your recommendation) -- a lovely, lonely, elegaic tale, life affirming in an elemental way, worth re-reading.

    Our blogsite doesn't accept pdf's-- will see how to convert "little red hen MRI story" to jpeg ... and post (?) Or will send you an email.