the last time I saw my friend James at the small town bar near our old high school. He’s been working on rooftops for a few years now and is no longer a skinny teenager with hippie hair. I just got back from working in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan. We think back to the summer after our freshman year when we were inseparable—adventured in a creek through the woods, debating the merits of Batman versus the Raven, watching every movie in my dad’s pirated VHS collection. I don’t know what I want to do next.On the other hand, his future has been decided: he recently joined navy And started boot camp the following week. He wants to serve in Afghanistan.
For the next three years, James Rafito trained as a special operations medic. He got married and, shortly after, was deployed to southern Afghanistan. About four months after his first tour, just after he was treating a local woman’s sick daughter, he stepped on an improvised explosive device — an ingenious device triggered by a balsa pressure plate that the bomb detector couldn’t see . He recalls finding himself face down, unable to correct himself, screaming “No!”
His platoon teammates asked him what to do. James instructed them to stop the bleeding in his limbs, inject him with morphine and tell his wife Emily how much he loved her. A week later, he woke up in a Maryland hospital with the loss of both legs, his left arm and three fingers on his right hand.
I was on the other side of the country at the time, doing my Ph.D. Neuroscience. We messaged several times. He said it was difficult for him to accept help after years of intense competition.
James’ injury prompted me to attend a workshop on emerging fields brain-computer interface– Devices designed to read a person’s neural activity and use it to drive robotic prosthetics, speech synthesizers or computer cursors.At one point, a member of the Brown University Neuroscience Laboratory demonstrated video involving a person named Cathy HutchinsonThe researchers fitted her with a system called BrainGate, which consists of an array of tiny electrodes implanted in the motor cortex, a perch plug, a signal amplifier the size of a shoebox, and a computer-run software that decodes the patient’s nerves. . Signal.
In the video, Hutchinson tries to use a robotic arm to pick up a bottle of coffee with a straw. After a moment of concentration, her face was as hard as a fist and she gripped the bottle. Hesitating, she brought it to her mouth and took a sip from the straw. Her face softened, and then a happy smile broke out. Her eyes radiated a sense of accomplishment. The researchers applauded.
I want to applaud with them. Neuroscience is a field that lacks specific therapies. Few neurological drugs are more effective than placebos, and researchers don’t understand why. Even Tylenol is a mystery. Without clear mechanisms, new technologies and procedures can have surprising effects; these protocols are developed through trial and error. So the promise of tangible improvements in the lives of people with movement disorders and physical disabilities is intoxicating.i imagine james playing video games, carries out repairs around his house, is unrestricted in his career choices, and holds his future children in his arms.