Radiology is, much like law or politics, a career choice I would never make for myself but am nonetheless grateful that not everyone shares that attitude. I can’t imagine devoting twelve years of my life to school and residency just to sit in a dark room and play “what’s wrong with this picture” for the rest of my life.* It’s not that reading scans is an easy task, or that it doesn’t require a whole lot of training—even spotting basic fractures on an x-ray is a challenge for me—but I’m pretty sure I’d fall asleep after about ten minutes of staring at black-and-white images on a computer screen.

On the other hand, if said computer screen happened to be located in the neurology imaging center at the university hospital, I might be persuaded to change my mind.

The professor I shadowed in neurology last week was about five foot three and wore a bow tie and round spectacles. He looked as though he would fit right into a Sherlock Holmes story, bent over a bubbling array of beakers and test tubes.

When I arrived he and his team (five residents, two med students and a nurse) were in the midst of morning rounds and were discussing a patient they suspected of having Guillain-Barre syndrome. Part of narrowing down the diagnosis involved spotting an inflammation of peripheral nerves on a MRI; a difficult task in a brightly lit hallway on a small laptop computer.

“All right then,” the professor said, “Let’s take a trip down to space-mountain.”

As the chief resident explained to me on the way down, the neuro-imaging center, where we were headed to consult with an attending radiologist, was brand new and ultra-modern. The main light source was a wall of dark blue glass panels that glowed just enough to illuminate the room enough to see. Computer stations honeycombed across the floor, each with two sets of large, rectangular LCD screens. Each cubicle was divided from the next by wide, geometric partitions. The walls that weren’t operating as a light source were lined with soft, concave pieces of foam that I assume were designed to dampen sound in the room, although I’m still not sure why that would be important.

Overall it felt as though I had accidentally stumbled onto the set of a sci-fi television show or maybe a game of laser tag. Space mountain indeed. I’m pretty sure if I worked as a neurologist there, I would find any excuse to consult with the radiologists:

“Do you think this might be a brain tumor?”

“Dr. C there’s nothing there.”

“Oh, good to know.”

“This is the fourth time today you’ve been down here today for non-existent brain tumors. Don’t you have work to do?”

“That’s not true; an hour ago I was here for a non-existent subdural hematoma.”

“That’s it, GET OUT!”

* Of course now there are interventional radiologists who perform basic procedures and have a lot more patient contact in addition to spotting tiny, barely perceptible abnormalities on scans.

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