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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

Mrs. McGregor-Smith Was Right After All by Rachel Williams-Oakes

I can remember sitting in Mrs. McGregor-Smith’s junior kindergarten class when she told us that our brains looked like cauliflower.  Then and there, at four years old, I decided Mrs. McGregor-Smith must be wrong. I had already imagined my own brain to look like a large gold circle with a smaller gold circle attached to the top. I had no basis for this theory, just my own imagination. I was convinced that despite Mrs. McGregor-Smith being both a teacher and a grownup, she was sadly mistaken.

Six years later I was looking at an x-ray of my own brain. My junior kindergarten teacher was right; it did resemble cauliflower. My doctor was showing my mother and me an x-ray of my brain because months earlier I noticed I no longer had peripheral vision on my right side. After many eye tests, the optometrist could not seem to identify the problem. She suggested I get an x-ray of my head because sometimes sinus problems can caused blocked vision. After receiving this suggestion, my doctor accused me of faking the loss of peripheral vision to get out of going to school but was going to send me to get an x-ray to prove his point.

The x-ray, which was intended to see if I had some sort of sinus problem or to prove that I was faking it, actually revealed a cyst at the back of my cauliflower shaped brain on the left side.  As the doctor was showing me the x-ray he explained parts of the left side of my brain control aspects of my right eye and as the right side of your brain does for your left eye.

After CAT scans and MRIs it was discovered that this cyst was eroding the bone in my skull and I would need to have brain surgery at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.  Almost a year had passed from the time I had that first x-ray to the time I had my brain surgery. After the surgery was done I was well enough to go home only three days later with a cool new scar. I charged all the kids in my neighbourhood fifty cents each to see that scar.

Now as an adult I realize if I had lived in a different time, or perhaps a different region of the world, I may not have had access to those tests or to the surgery that saved my skull from erosion. Without the technology to look at my brain or perform brain surgery I likely would not be alive today.

Rachel Williams-Oakes is from London, ON

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