Saturday, March 31, 2007

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan MRI In A Nutshell

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan MRI In A Nutshell

By this stage, I've had so many MRIs that I can't remember how many I've had. But my concept of the process has always been vague. It's a magnet that takes a photo of what's inside the body, okay? And you'd better not have any metal inside your body when the magnet gets to work, because other people in the neighborhood may get killed or seriously injured as the magnet rips the metal out of you.

And that, up until now, has been all I've know about the MRI process. I gave up, long ago, on researching issues that I don't really need to know about. I never knew how the tooth fairy did his stuff, but I knew that the money was always sure to arrive, so what more did I need to know?

However, in an issue of the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, the issue of Thursday 29 March. On page 6 of the IHT, as published in Japan, I found an article headlined PAUL LAUTERBUR, CHEMIST WHO DEVELOPED IMAGING. It's an obituary.

Lauterbur is one of the three people who share the responsibility for the genesis of MRI technology, the others being his fellow Nobel laureate, Peter Mansfield, and a guy whose work inspired Lauterbur's research, Raymond Damadian, who published a paper back in 1971 about how the response of some cancerous tissue to magnetic fields was not the same as the response of normal tissue.

In the article I found a simple paragraph which puts MRI technology in a nutshell and gives me a much clearer idea of the process, at least down at the atomic level:

"The nuclei of most atoms act as tiny magnets that line up when placed in a magnetic field, and if the field is set at a specific strength, the atoms can absorb and emit radio waves."

The article goes into more technical detail than that, but I didn't understand the added data, so I won't supply it.

When I was working on my cancer memoir CANCER PATIENT I realized that I could very easily sound erudite by paraphrasing globs of technical data that I was, in fact, totally incapable of understanding. But I didn't take that approach. So I'll follow a similar policy here, and stick to repeating the stuff that I actually think I understand.

On the same page was an article about how MRI technology is now being recommended for women who have an unusually high risk of breast cancer. My consciousness of breast cancer had been tweaked by perusing the pages of the breast cancer memoir CANCER VIXEN, so I read the article through from start to finish, and was astonished to find that, in the United States, the average lifetime risk of developing breast cancer for a woman is about 12 or 13 percent. That strikes me as really high. If you'd asked me to guess, I'd've guessed much, much lower.

I actually wasn't scheduled to buy a paper that day, as I hadn't finished the one I'd bought earlier in the week, but I got the paper because all the teachers had been talking about the British woman recently murdered in Japan, Lindsay Ann Hawker.

There was an article, in THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, which is bundled with the IHT when it hits the newsstands here in Japan. But it wasn't much of an article. The key facts were there, but the teachers who had been talking about the case at Waniguchi Gakko, where I teach, had learnt details about the alleged killer which had been covered, apparently, by the British press, but not by the Asahi.

The British media, I gather, has been making a real meal out of this case, but it's not such big news here in Japan. It was one of the items that made the TV headline news, at least initially, but by Friday 30 March it was no longer in the NHK TV news lineup.

The thing is that Japan, like any other nation state, year by year delivers the public a series of gruesome murders, and this latest killing of a teacher is one of a number that have made the news in recent months.

Because I live here, I know that Japan is not a crime-free experience. I have personally experienced crime in Japan, as, this year, one of the teachers who works for the same company as I do went and stole my second-best umbrella right out of the teacher's room. (I'd gone home and had forgotten to take the umbrella with me, and the teachers had exited the teacher's room at the end of their shift in the middle of a cloudburt.)

And I knew, from watching TV, that people are murdered in Japan just as they are in other countries.

Out of curiosity, I Googled for data, and arrived at:

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur-crime-murders

Here I found that India has 37,170 murders (in a year, I think), far more than the USA, which has only 12,658. Thailand, land of smiles, has 5,140.

The UK has 850 and Japan has 637. Germany outdoes both of these with 960. New Zealand has 45 and Ireland 38.

I did a wrap-around search of the page for "Iraq" but got no result. My surmise, however, is that Iraq would be far and away the leader in the world's murder stakes.

With hundreds of murders every year in Japan, it's understandable why the English teacher's murder soon dropped out of the TV headlines. But I was interested enough to set up a Google alert for her name, setting up Google alerts being something I've only just learnt how to do.

These are free, and very easy to set up. Having Googled your way to the appropriate page, you enter the search term you want plus your e-mail address. To activate the alert, you have to click on an activating link contained in an e-mail which will be sent to you.

Having discovered how to use this neat toy, I went and set up a bunch of them.

I was told by one of my e-mail correspondents that spammers had managed to contaminate the Google alerts system, and I found that this was true after I set up an alert for SINFUL SURVIVAL, my novel in progress.

I got three items in the alert for this, two from material I had posted online and the third the following:

""free video gay men sample - CHANNEL
Granitic free video gay men sample vanilla orchid vomit the sinful survival with bankrupt myiasis. Photochemical hobbler consubstantiate free video gay men ...""

Some busy person, or maybe some machine, is making text files aimed at capturing as many combinations as possible, the word "granitic," which I've never before associated with homosexual activity, plugged into a text aimed at people who are wowed by "Photochemical hobbler consubstantiate," whatever the hell that is. I resisted the temptation to click on the link. I'm just not that curious (just not that curious, I mean, about what else is in that text block).

While the newspaper didn't deliver what I wanted on the murder case, it did give me the MRI article, and also a couple of other things which I was particularly interested in.

One was an opinion piece in the Asahi section of the paper about how there is a move in Thailand to make Buddhism the national religion. The writer thinks that this would be a bad agree, and I totally agree. Given that there is already an Islamic insurgency in the south of Thailand, declaring Buddhism the state religion would be like throwing petrol on the flames.

Back in the main IHT section, a headline which caught my eye was on reading "We were torturing people for no reason." Now, is there a prize for guessing what that is about, or is the answer too easy? I checked it out and, yes, the answer was far too easy to be worth a prize.

It's our happy American allies at work again, details provided by one of the guys who did some of the dirty work and saw a lot more of it being done, his name being Tony Lagouranis.

I punched his name into the search box on the Google News page and got ten hits. Here is one of the Google snippets:

"TV torture scenes torment activists
The Age, Australia - Mar 12, 2007
During his time in Iraq, military interrogators were told "to be creative", says Tony Lagouranis, a veteran US Army interrogator who worked at the Abu ..."

Meantime, the big news here in Japan is that the cherry blossom season is in full swing. If you wanted to see cherry blossom in Japan this year, you really should have been on the plane yesterday. Right now, here in Japan it's Saturday 31 March, and, in Tokyo, all the cherry blossom is out. And that stuff definitely doesn't last long.

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