Skepchick readers don’t need more excuses to love science, but when you mix music and kick ass medical science, you have the recipe for awesome. And when that music comes in the form of a bluegrass banjo virtuoso,Â it’s likeÂ awesome with cheese on it.
Many of you may have seen this story recently (video included). Jen posted a link inÂ theÂ Quickies a couple days ago, but I thought it was worth a fullÂ post.
Eddie Adcock, whoseÂ fast picking and unconventional style made him world famous as a bluegrass banjo innovator, suffered an essential tremor, which is an involuntary trembling in the head or hands that afflicts 10 million Americans. Doctors thought brain surgery could correct the hand tremors that were threatening Adcock’s music career, not to mention his well-being.
So, after applying only local anesthesia and tuningÂ Adcock’s stringsÂ for him, they went to work. That’s right, Adcock was awake during the surgery! And not only was he awake, but he was playing the banjo!
AdcockÂ picked his banjo while doctors fiddled with his gray matter.
The idea was toÂ reduceÂ the brainÂ signalsÂ causing the tremors and to dialÂ in to a pointÂ where his banjo playingÂ abilities matched those he had before the essential tremor set in. They had to be careful not to stop short and leave traces of the trembling, or go too far to where he had no motor skills at all.
Using a procedure called “deep brain stimulation”,Â they place an electrode into Adcock’s thalamus and connected it to a type of pacemaker. When the pacemaker is activated, a bolt of energy jams the tremor, allowing Adcock to regain control of his hands.
So, if you think of the banjo playing spectrum as follows:
Sam Ogden –>Â First year student –> Avid practitioner –> Steve Martin –> Roy Clark –> The inbred kid from Deliverance –> Earl Scruggs –> Eddie Adcock
They had to listen to him play while they operated and take cues from him about how he felt to verify how much to jam the tremors. If his skill level dipped toward the Sam Ogden end of the spectrum, they knew they had not jammed enough of the signal, and they made adjustments. TheyÂ listened to him play and adjusted the settings untilÂ they zeroed in on the Eddie Adcock end of the spectrum, and then set the energy-emitting device at that level.
Now Adcock can control the tremors with a switch on his new “pacemaker”. He can literally turn his talent back on.
How cool is that?