Okay. Here’s Roger Frisch, getting paid nearly his whole life for what he loves to do. Frisch played the violin, in fact, he was a Concert Master for the Minnesota Orchestra. Until two years ago, he was considered the best in his position in the upper Midwest – even in comparison with the big shots in Chicago. Then he started getting tremors. And they kept getting worse.
At first, because of his virtuosity, he was able to hide the problem. But, about six months ago, the gig (so to speak) was up. His hands started to do weird things. He’d be playing a note and find that he couldn’t move his finger away from the fingerboard. In other words, one note would “keep playing” WAY too long. He had to quit.
Frisch tried a bunch of treatments, unsuccessfully, and looked into brain mapping as a possible aid in diagnosis. But, these “essential tremors” can’t be detected with current scans, as great and as powerful as those technologies are.
Luckily, Frisch learned about the work of Dr. Michele Tagliati, Chief of Movement Disorders (I’m not going to touch that one) at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She had had some success in reducing the severity of essential tremors by DBS, direct brain stimulation techniques. That is, implanting tiny electrodes into the brain and leaving behind a pacemaker-type device that keeps the electrodes popping on cue. The surgical question, however, is where exactly to put the electrodes where they will do the most good?
Now we’ve gotten to the fun and totally amazing part. Frisch didn’t need to eliminate all of the symptoms caused by the tremors. He only needed to kill the ones that were preventing him from playing the violin. So – get this – they had him play the violin WHILE HE WAS HAVING BRAIN SURGERY. What I’m about to say isn’t technically accurate. But, metaphorically what the surgeons did was move the electrodes around until Frisch could play (in real time)completely free from the shakes that had pretty much ended his professional career and the source of his most enjoyable experiences.
So, I’m happy to report that it’s now the tremors that are playing second fiddle.
Original references for any studies, books or articles cited by the Brain and Behavior Blogger can be obtained by contact with his very dear friend, Dr. Rob Snyder (firstname.lastname@example.org), an organizational psychologist with a severe neuroscience-research reading habit.